Over 70,000 attend Waltham Forest's Borough of Culture opening event

Waltham Forest town hall formerly Walthamstow town hall in East London, Waltham Forest, England.

Waltham Forest are the inaugural London Borough of Culture.

Waltham Forest's year as the London Borough of Culture kicked off this weekend with an event called Welcome to the Forest. Tens of thousands of people turned up on Forest Road to mark the opening weekend of the inaugural Borough of Culture.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan attended the opening night of Welcome to the Forest, which ran each evening on Friday 11th, Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th. Khan has pledged £1.35m (BBC News) to Waltham Forest which has been ring-fenced for spending on various cultural events throughout 2019. Waltham Forest is London’s first ever Borough of Culture with Brent awarded the 2020 year.

Welcome to the Forest

Sam Hunt, Waltham Forest’s the Creative Director of the Borough of Culture, claims that more than 70,000 people took to the streets to support the opening weekend. The atmosphere was vibrant as people flocked to East London to celebrate the beginning of the Borough of Culture programme.

Hunt said (quotes from Broadway World): “This weekend we showed off the very best of Waltham Forest as over 70,000 came to experience our opening show Welcome to the Forest.”

Taking place in Walthamstow, the light-themed festival included a projection displayed on the front of the Town Hall embracing poetry, music and art from people in the local community.

The theme of diversity was also very clear as Waltham Forest residents of various ages and ethnic backgrounds shared their stories.

Various acts marched down Forest Road, linking the Town Hall and Lloyd Park. Samba dancers, Bollywood dancers and drummers encapsulated the feel-good mood by filling the evening air with sound and colour.

In Lloyd Park, The Nest proved a hit as a laser installation attracted a huge audience and the extraterrestrial-style light show beamed into the night sky. The popularity of the event was measurable by the size of the queues outside Lloyd Park and the Town Hall. Long lines of people snaked down Forest Road and even into the side streets.

Controversy

A Police forensic officer searches the scene in Waltham Forest where a 14-year-old boy died after being stabbed last night on January 9, 2019 in London, England. Jayden Moodie, 14, was...Jaden Moodie was stabbed to death in Waltham Forest last week.

The event was not without its controversy at the end of a difficult week for the local area. On Tuesday evening, schoolboy Jaden Moodie, 14, had been knocked off the moped he was riding before being stabbed to death in Leyton.

Former Metropolitan Police superintendent Leroy Logan criticised the London Mayor’s decision to allocate more than £1m to the Borough of Culture programme while only offering £500,000 to the Violence Reduction Unit.

Logan told The Telegraph: "The timing [of the festival] couldn’t be worse. It is such a contrast compared to what some families are going through. If they can give £1m to celebrate culture but only £500,000 towards violence reduction on the streets it sends a very strong signal.”

But a spokesperson for the Mayor has defended the decision to go ahead with the opening of the Borough of Culture, also adding that £6.8m had been pledged to the Violence Reduction Unit recently, The Guardian reports.

Waltham Forest council leader Clare Coghill also defended the event. She said: “Culture is not an optional add-on, an afterthought, or something that is just nice to have. On the contrary, investment in culture is essential to ensure that everyone enjoys a great quality of life and gives our young people something to inspire them.”

Celebration of diversity in Waltham Forest

circa 1963:  British film director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) poses with a seagull and a raven perched on either arm in a promotional still for his film, 'The Birds'.Film Director Alfred Hitchcock was from Waltham Forest.

With more than 70,000 people reportedly attending the opening weekend, it is an exciting start to Waltham Forest's year of culture. The opening weekend saw unprecedented scenes of community spirit, cheer, and hope in a borough that does not come together like this too often.

The Borough of Waltham Forest has given us William Morris, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Beckham, as well as many other famous and important names in British history. The landscape of the borough is ever-changing and it is important to acknowledge the past, present and future of this diverse neighbourhood.

Its rich history and diversity of culture deserves celebration and the people of Waltham Forest are clearly willing to support this year. With more events to follow throughout the year, this endorsement of culture can boost morale within the community and help bring Waltham Forest together.

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