Girls, Women and Older Ladies: A conversation with the ladies behind Kentish Town Festival 2015
We arrived at the Kentish Town Community Centre (KTCC), headquarters of Kentish Town Festival a few minutes early amid a bustling hub of pre-festival activity and the sound of children down the hall. We’re meeting Hanna Berthaut who heads the publicity and marketing for the festival to get a first hand look at what they have in store for us this year! We also wanted to find out what it takes to run a festival from Hanna, one of the many volunteers, who makes it happen. “Hannah is on her way, she is just picking up a gazebo,” the festival organiser Isabelle Fathimani tells us from her seat in the office, in between phone calls rearranging last minute deliveries of festival goods that had apparently gone astray. We walk around the community centre, reading the leaflets on pin boards for workshops, activities, courses, advice. There is a large hall, a dance studio, a crèche, a meeting room, an IT suite, communal kitchen, toilets, storerooms, and office. In short, everything you need to run a festival, or indeed the world! We set up and wait in an adjacent room, evidently a store for festival props—we see a glimpse of a hula-hoop, hand-fashioned DIY signs on bamboo sticks with instructions for use of the bouncy castle (oh my!), polythene mats. We couldn’t help but notice the colourful parade whistles, face paints, festival branding tie-dye shirts, a box of festival pamphlets, in the office earlier. The counter on the Kentish Town Festival 2015 website tells us there are 19 hours, 57 minutes, 5 seconds to go… but the excitement here is palpable in every person waiting for to do their part and every object waiting to be put to use on the day.
Hanna bounds in, head through the door, “I was carrying this big, big gazebo box all the way from east London. I’ll be right back!”, and out again. She is getting us some refreshments, it is hot outside; let’s hope the English weather holds out for tomorrow.
“I am a talker,” Hanna says when she returns, “I talk a lot!”. She begins with KTCC itself: the place, and the charity. “Last year we celebrated ten years of KTCC, it was our anniversary. It was also the first year of the festival, I joined as a volunteer, leafleting and helping out. Community centres, you do have them in France (Hanna is originally from France), but the feeling that I got when I walked thought the door for the first time… there is something special about this place.” She places her hands to her chest to punctuate the statement.
It is easy to see why Hanna feels so connected to KTCC, it is a thriving multi-purpose community centre that offers space, resources, activities, and information to the community and is open to all residents of Camden and Islington. As we talk there were people of all ages and walks of life walking in and out, lots of chatter, laughter, and heads popping through the door to confirm this or that… KTCC is an independent charity that runs core services for children under the age of five, the youth, and the elderly, all of who is the focus of the Kentish Town Festival. “This year, the second year of the festival, we wanted to represent our special community.”
“The feedback from last year’s festival was so positive that we wanted to make it even bigger and better this year. I don’t mean that we have more stall, more acts, more resources but we have more ambition to reach as many people as possible and continue to grow our community.” KTCC and the Kentish Town Festival have gone beyond the circle of people who are regulars at the community centre to reach even more people in Camden, reaching far out to every corner of the borough. “Kentish Town feels like a small village within a big city, so this year’s festival theme is the ‘Urban Jungle’. We have been holding free dance and craft workshop to encourage people to take part! We worked with school children in particular, they have made costumes representing their ‘Urban Creatures’ and they will also have a chance to parade and perform the dances they have learned in the Urban Jungle Parade (at 2pm). They have been learning and getting prepared for their performance, rehearsing in the community centre. I was canvassing yesterday in the neighbourhood and a little girl said “I don’t need it, I am in it!”. So sassy of her.” Hanna enthusiastically shows us the some photos of the children wearing their own imaginative creations. “They will be the highlight of the festival!” Again, her hands are on her chest. Hanna points out that the parade is the work of three fabulous ladies, volunteers Jayne Peak, Emilia Liberatore and Nina Gebauer, who have been working with the children to put together this amazing show.
We ask Hanna about the role of women in the KTCC and just then Halima Begum who heads The Youth Service at KTCC walks through the door. She is was doing some festival related thing but stops to talk with us anyway. Of the three core services open to everyone in Camden, their youth service is the most developed has its own part in the festival, a Fit5 multi-sports tournament entirely organised by the youth group itself. “I am the site manager for the multi-sports tournament, organising it together with the kids. This is the biggest thing we have done so far. We wanted to make an independent youth event in the festival, so they have their own thing.” The Katalyst youth group is in its second year and is one of the youth groups at KTCC. “For the festival, a core group of boys and girls (aged 14-16) studied event management, leadership skills, how to hash tag, what is a hash tag? The have planned and will be running the Fit5 Youth Sports Tournament tomorrow (1pm-5pm), we are expecting 100 young people to participate, and all of their friends. We hope we can get them credited with a AQA for all their hard work!”
The youth group is focused on sports; it gives young people self-confidence, a sense of achievement and a chance to work as a team. “There are girls too!” Halima points out, “I hated sports at school; we had to do it with the boys. When I was growing up sports wasn’t taught in a inclusive way, I think it is better now. We try to make it as inclusive as possible. Everything is open to boys and girls. Going forward, we want to build interest in more girls going into sports. We are looking into it!” KTCC has identified there is a lack of free, green spaces for sports in their community. Small charities and groups find it difficult to afford fit for purpose sports spaces like that one at Market Road Halima tells us, so they are always on the lookout for ways to access sports grounds for their young people. A partnership with a local school means that they have access to a pitch once a week, but more work needs to be done. We chat about the importance of providing good female and male role models in the sports, particularly in primary and secondary schools and of individuals discovering spots early in life. Halima has big plans for the future of KTCC, but right now needs to get back to whatever she was doing before to make sure the festival is a success.
We ask Hanna a bit about herself and her role in the festival. Hannah is currently a marketing student here in London and heading the marketing for the Kentish Town Festival is a part of her studies. “My background is advertising, but I am getting a master in marketing right now. I felt like I needed to get back to studying. I am doing a course called ‘managing for social impact’, they asked us to get involved in a social impact project from a marketing perspective, and I saw this as a great opportunity to spend a lot of my time doing something I love while studying at the same time. It is also something I felt I had to get involved in. Last year I helped flyer for the festival. I got passionate about it straight away. Yesterday, I skipped school to work on this project!
We ask Hanna about the Kentish Town Festival flyer, which is absolutely everywhere! “It is just a flyer, but I am going to keep it forever. I recruited so many of my friends to help me design it. You see, I used InDesign for the first time the other day and stayed up until midnight designing the festival programme. I think I developed a finger cramp. It is nice to be the voice of such a great event, reaching out to the press, local business and learning to speak with the voice of the community centre, much important than your daily life and your battling with the design. But it is important!”
“I am really excited about tomorrow.” Hanna continues without not so much as a pause for breath. We are developing finger cramps. “If you want me slow down a bit? I am a talker.”
We went out canvassing together in the local area, we even got a hug from some of the residents! (pictured) On Saturday, from 1pm-6.30pm, there will be kids activities, face painting, a bouncy castle, a fire show, live music and spoken word performances, hula-hooping, a tea party, the youth sports tournament, food and drinks stalls, the all important parade and more! For a full programme see the KTCC website.
“I am considering wearing face paint tomorrow, but I am meeting the new mayor! Should I do it, you tell me?” Hanna asks. Do we even have to answer that?!
“There is an enjoyment in running around giving performers food and cups of tea, that is what I am going to be doing tomorrow too. Of course we are going to feed everyone who helped with the festival! At the end of the day we will gather with the fifty or so volunteers in the community centre, eat pizza, and drink beer. It is nice to have that moment at the end of the day to wind down and think about all that we’ve achieved together. The volunteers are local residents, students, KTCC trustees helping us on the day, an elderly French lady who recently moved to London who wanted to meet people. And, our youngest volunteer has just arrived; he is one year old. His mum Natalie has been relentlessly organising the stalls, coming to every single meeting with her son Noah, who is the cutest little thing. She is our stall coordinator for tomorrow; we’ll have food stalls and craft stalls all over Busby Place. Most people who are selling their products are local people, individuals, from the community centre and beyond. I imaged a London craft market, when I first got involved but this is much more grass roots. This is not their job, it is their hobby, and they share it with everyone else. I am also very enthusiastic about the raffle; all the proceedings go to the community centre. It reflects the community feeling, generosity, and donations. And we are going to have a mental health awareness stall, a health bus and information stalls. I am keen to learn more about it! It affects everyone directly or indirectly; spreading awareness is the most important thing.”
Isabelle opens the door again, “If you want to have a go at the hula-hoops, I found some!” Hanna picks up a red hula-hoop and has a go. “How did it go with the gazebo?” Isabelle asks. “We have a lot of strong women working here.” Hanna answers.