‘The common denominator in the communities were the similarities, and not the differences, between cultures in Caldmore; an enjoyment of food, the arts and music.’
Caldmore is a culturally diverse area in central Walsall. The Caldmore Village Festival project was a massive undertaking to involve all communities to celebrate the area. The creation of it was a team effort involving scores of people.
There were two people in particular who saw the potential of using the arts as a cohesive force in the Caldmore community: Mark Webster and Mohamed Arif.
Mark, a Caldmore resident for over twenty-five years and a founder member of Walsall Community Arts Team, approached the Team and suggested the idea of looking into a multi-cultural festival.
The chance to make it real came when Arif, a Walsall Councillor representing St Matthew’s ward, worked with the Team on a Council- led, borough-wide evaluation of the Local Committee process. After an initial evaluation, Arif asked the Team to come back and take a much more in-depth look at Caldmore’s social problems and see if they could, working with local people, find a way forward.
These meetings were supported by the Council’s Deputy Director for Neighbourhoods, Keith Stone. He added weight to the development of the project. The common denominator in the communities were the similarities, and not the differences, between cultures in Caldmore; an enjoyment of food, the arts and music.
Through these meetings the creation of a large scale three-day long multi-cultural festival came to life. A steering group of local people was formed. The volunteer committee masterminded the myriad of tasks and problems associated with putting on an event to which thousands of people were to come. With the support of the Team, The Council, Caldmore Housing, Accord Housing, Walsall Housing Group, Tarmac and others, funding was raised and the festival was made reality.
The festival spawned many related activities: Akhlak Hussain, a Caldmore business man, joined the steering group and it was Aky who developed the sports focused event, the Mela. The Melas were a huge success and Aky’s friends and contacts in Caldmore and Palfrey developed, organised and delivered the Mela under the banner of Cadmore Village Festival.
Local Churchmen Will Losher and Daryl Prew led the ‘Caldmore Tidy’ campaign. Throughout the Festival’s activities, they organised a regular clean-up of the area’s streets, filling skip after skip with discarded rubbish.
The caretaker’s house and garden of Caldmore Community School had fallen into a ruin. Arif, deputy head teacher Stella Pettifer, Margot Lambert, Steve Breeze and Anna Rogozinska – all active festival committee members – took on the challenge and secured money to rebuild and transform the ruin into a beautiful house and garden open to community use.
Caldmore Village Festival demonstrates how a celebration, run by and for local people, can give a local authority and related agencies something community-led to get involved in and be seen to be supporting. Using the arts as a way in to disadvantaged areas and finding people locally who want to be active in improving their lot can bring many opportunities for other types of community development.
The small amounts of money that pay for excellently produced community arts projects in places like Caldmore repay their investment many times over.