There are many amazing things about organising a local event such as Roman Road Festival but one of the main ones is meeting the rock stars of our community: the residents who offer their precious spare time, the local businesses who go above and beyond what is required of them and the local community groups whose enthusiasm has no bounds; all sharing our passion to improve the area in which we live, shop, work and play. Without these wonderful people we couldn’t have delivered our third community festival, Roman Road Summer Festival 2015, so here is a big thank-you from us.
A high street community event like Roman Road Festival is a great opportunity to bring a bit of village life to urban living. It’s a friendly way to meet your neighbours and get to know local shops and businesses a bit better. However, we also wanted to share the other ways it is helping to improve our local high street, both in the short term and long term.
Improving public realm
Each time we produce Roman Road Festival we try out different concepts and ideas to test their viability and demonstrate the possibilities of Roman Road. Last summer we trialled a cross-shaped festival space near Parnell Road and back-to-back stalls in Roman Road market in December. This year was even more demanding as we trialled two different areas of public realm on two different festival days: Gladstone Place and Roman Road car park.
Gladstone Place is the closest thing Roman Road E3 has to a ‘town square’ so we wanted to see if this oddly-shaped, uneven ribbon of land with its municipal lighting, seating and street fixtures, could ever be our ‘village green’, an area for local residents to gather and celebrate local life. The ‘Village Screen’ returned (SEE PICTURES) with a bigger outdoor screen, more bunting, more artificial grass and the new addition of straw bales. With food and drink stalls around the perimeter and sports and children’s entertainment zones making the best use of dead-end alcoves, the space felt welcoming and homely and the day attracted nearly 4,000 people without ever feeling crowded.
The second public place we tested was the carpark on the corner of Roman Road and St Stephen’s Road on which we hosted a Sunday market and Eid party (SEE PICTURES) to celebrate the end of Ramadan. This car park is at a critical junction on Roman Road: it’s at the heart of our high street neighbourhood and is a vital connecting point between Roman Road and the entrance to Roman Road Market, benefiting from high visibility and footfall. There were many logistical problems about using the car park, but on the day the space exceeded all expectations. It brought this usually dead space to colourful and vibrant life, housed a Sunday market and Eid party with plenty of space for the circa 3,000 people who visited, including a lot of passing trade who came in because they saw what was going on.
Feedback from each public realm trial will be submitted as formal recommendations to the local authority for public realm improvements and also for funding bids to deliver these improvements.
Supporting local economy
Unlike many festivals, enormous effort is put in to making sure the event is ‘made from 90% local ingredients’. Rather than use national agencies to source entertainment, food stalls, crew and management services, we turn to the local community wherever possible: local design, print and distribution services to print and send flyers and posters; local grocery stores, hardware shops and photocopying services to purchase festival materials and supplies; local designer-makers, artists and new businesses for the Sunday market, including many first-time stall holders; local artists, singers, dancers, school choirs and drama groups to stage productions; local food and drink suppliers for the street food and drink stalls, and local community groups to help deliver elements of the event. Keeping it local means local businesses are the ones that benefit.
Showcasing local shops/reducing empty shops
To ensure local shops gain from the publicity and footfall of the event, we encourage local businesses to host special events, workshops and discounts during the festival week. This year 14 local businesses hosted festival events. All ‘fringe events’ are listed in a dedicated section of the printed festival programme as well as online (see list of Festival Fringe Events 2015). Over 30,000 printed festival programmes are distributed in the shops along Roman Road; in community hubs in Bow; to every child in six local primary schools, and hand-to-hand outside local tube stations. Each event was posted on our social media channels. The festival attracted over 6,000 visitors to Roman Road during both days offering a unique opportunity for local businesses to benefit from the publicity and to convert the increased footfall into new visitors.
By raising the profile of the road and by demonstrating the vibrancy of the area, the event is also a way to attract new businesses and traders to the road and market. The long term benefit of this will be the reduction of the number of empty shops on Roman Road, which is above the national average and the highest in Tower Hamlets.
Encouraging community cohesion
To be as inclusive and accessible as possible the event is free. There is no ticket entry and the entertainment costs such as the face painters, henna tattooist, craft workshops, guided history tours are free, funded by the festival so that it costs residents nothing. Additionally, this year the festival teamed up with Summer Night Lights to give away tokens for free food, which went down a treat of course.
The festival is the single annual community event in Bow that brings together together local residents, businesses, artists and community groups on one day, in one place, all united in celebrating local life. The event provides a fertile ground for new introductions, connections and collaborations within the community. Feedback from the events shows that the ‘community atmosphere’ is one of the main attractions of the event.
Supporters & Sponsors
To organise this feat of logistics and community coordination requires a huge amount of energy and support. To keep this going we need as much as help as possible, not just in donations and volunteer-power but also in expressions of interest. If you want to see this work continue and improve, please add your expressions of support and any feedback for improvements in the comments section at the bottom of this article. And please join us in thanking the following brilliant people – without whose shared love and passion to improve our local area, the festival couldn’t have happened:
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH website
- Canary Wharf Group Plc (Canary Wharf Group website)
- GMB Union (GMB website)
- Summer Night Lights (Summer Night Lights PDF)
- Circle Housing Old Ford (Circle Housing website)
- Riney (Riney website)
- Attic Self Storage
- Stephen James Estates (Stephen James Estates website)
- Keatons (Keatons website)
- Lovebox (Lovebox)
- Vinarius (Vinarius website)
Donations in kind from local businesses
- Riney who provided enthusiastic, nothing-is-too-difficult staff and help whenever we needed it including lorries and cherrypicker to put up bunting and collect straw bales
- Nice & Secure who gave us discounted security services and the loveliest team ever
- Calverts printers who provided a discounted rate on their fantastic design and print services
- Sam Valliant from Radiance Audio who donated a whole day’s work to be our PA and DJ technician
- Rachel Kolsky from Go London Tours who led the wonderful Battling Belles of Bow walk
- Katie Haniford and Nick Knox from FabriKatie for liberally sprinkling glitter and glue all around the Guerilla craft corner
- Abbotts who passed on a smashing discount for the artificial grass plus access to their yard. It must’ve been very odd to find a magician standing inside the locked yard!
- Sixt Car Hire for arranging and supplying vastly discounted van hire
- LBTH car parking who waived fees for using the car park
- LBTH Market department who waived traders licence fees for the festival market stalls
- Brewers who offered us free paint supplies to create our signage
- Zealand Road Coffee Shop for helping us source cups and other supplies for our drinks and food stalls
- Sara Pitta illustrator and caricaturist for running the sensory drawing workshop at Zealand Café
- Tillie and Matt Parties for offering us a community discount for their children’s entertainment services
- London Food Centre on Roman Road for supplying our ingredients and drinks with a ready smile and a ‘can do’ spirit
- Same for Iceland who kindly stored all our cold ingredients, drinks and ice for easy access on the day.
Support from local community groups
- Thanks to the Lucy Schofield and the Where’s My Boozer Gone geezers for bringing their black cab to highlight the plight of East London’s disappearing pubs
- Thanks to Torange Khonsari and the students of Cass school of Art and Architecture for working weekends to create the new community room adjacent to the car park. It’s so great to see that sliver of land put to good use!
- Thanks to Thandi Loewenson from Collective Works for designing and leading the delightful pavement art project
- Thanks to the young coaches and players of the Limehouse Laces girls football club for running the delicious homemade limeade and lemonade stand, a marathon effort!
- Thanks to Roman Road Adventure Playground for supervising the giant street games zone, with their usual enthusiasm
- Thanks to Tower Hamlets Tennis for putting on free tennis workshops to inspire the next generation of champs
- Thanks to West Ham Foundation for leading football skills workshops for Bow’s eager footballing apprentices
- Thanks to Idea Store Bow for hosting special Eid craft workshops and reading sessions
- Thanks to Eastend WI for loaning bunting to decorate Gladstone Place
- Thanks to Tom Maher, Ray Gipson and Brian Godfrey from Tredegar Community Centre for use of their tables and chairs
- Thanks to the Chisenhale Ladder Neighbourhood for loaning their street party bunting
- Thanks to Father Brian Ralph from St Barnabas Church for loaning their Pimms jugs
- Thanks to Andrew Nowakowski from Circle Housing for co-ordinating the Summer Night Lights project
- Thanks to Bangabandhu Primary School for loaning us their carrom boards
Local shops hosting fringe events
Thanks go to the many local shops and venues who entered into the community spirit and put on fringe events during the festival week including St Paul’s Church, SNAP store, Anchor + Hope, Bonnieboo Baby, Zealand Café, Roman Road Art Café, Jakss, Barüch, M.C.Lewis Dental Practice, Costa, Appian Court, Domino’s, Dear Deer Café, and Idea Store Bow. You’re all trailblazers.
Thanks to the following brilliant and generous people for donating their time, enthusiasm and skills: Stephanie Fox who helped source the sports themed kids cartoons for the Big Screen; Adam Wood who oversaw the scheduling of the cartoons and Wimbledon on the Village Screen; Peter Rowson, Rachel Warrington, Jeryl Whitelock and Holly Stout for delivering flyers and posters; Cheers to Clare Burnage and Lee Sargent for organising and running the Strawberries & Cream and the Pimms stalls with the help of Lee’s fabulous family and a lot of pizazz; Sarah Richards, Rachel Warrington and Amanda Williams for making beautiful bunting and Shahena Begum and Masuma Khatun from LBTH for volunteering their services as first aiders. Many thanks to the stewards and crew who volunteered so magnificently on the day including members of the Tower Hamlets GoodGym team, Danny Loker, Alex Scott-Gall, Lauren Mustill, Marta Arechaga, Lucy Rix, Rosie Kachere, Rachel Warrington, Shivani Vijayapalann, David Garrard, Punita Shah, Uche Onwubiko.
Organising an event of this complexity involves a lot of enthusiastic input from local people and groups. So here’s a special round of applause to:
- Lee Sargent for being a font of community knowledge and volunteering for practically anything;
- LBTH Highways for removing the car park height restrictor for us;
- Samuel, Anatole and Michael, the caretakers at Circle Housing, for helping move six wet rolls of artificial grass – yuk!;
- John at Bonner Primary School for giving us access to the playground to dry out said wet rolls – hurrah!;
- Mudchute Farm for providing the sat upon, played with and much enjoyed straw bales;
- The stewards at Nike Victoria Park for helping us lug tons of donated bottled water across the park (what were we thinking);
- Bob Dawson and Mark Lovelace for running the art to music workshop at Roman Road Art Café;
- Shah from 504 Gallery who let us use his shop as a dressing room;
- Jason Minette from LBTH Highways department for being an all-round good egg;
- Danny Loker and Jon Burgess for designing and making festival signage, creating metres and metres of postcard bunting as well as endless fetching and carrying;
- John Gleeson and his team from Veolia for getting the car park cleaned at less than short notice;
- Richard Adams at Basebuild Services for allowing and co-ordinating access to Tesco car park to store straw bales and artificial grass;
- Adrian ‘Ginger’ McKay from Roman Road Market for pulling the rigs and pulling out the stops;
- Local documentary photographer Oliver Lynton for covering our Village Screen & Sports Day at a generously discounted community-rate
- Festival photographer Natasha Quarmby who travelled all the way from the West County to cover our Eid Party & Sunday Market, also at a discounted community-rate
- and special thanks to Jeremy Lyne from Riney, Christine Hevey from Circle and Karl Fone from Community Links for going above and beyond their jobs to support the festival.
You’re all stars in our eyes!
Finally a big thank you to the main festival organisers including volunteers Tabitha Stapely and Clare Burgess who gave hundreds of hours of their time; Lindsay Edmunds for sharing her expert event management skills and pulling together a demanding Event Management Plan; Holly Stout and Nick Pettersen for coming up trumps when we needed them, and Naznin Chowdhury from London Borough of Tower Hamlets’s Enterprise Team for her enthusiasm, support and help in dealing with all sorts of Council requirements and services.
See more Village Screen & Sports Day PICTURES
See more Eid Party & Sunday Market PICTURES