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You-knee-tea Day

August 25, 2008

…as some of my friends call it, or ‘Unity Day’ if you prefer its official name, is an annual event taking place in Hyde Park, Leeds. According to the organisers’ website, it is “a day of celebration for the local community to show the best of whom we are. The community had lost a local Pub, the ‘Newlands’ through riots in 1995, which attracted intense national media coverage and this led to a negative portrayal of the area which we as a community had to come to terms with ourselves. Hyde Park Unity Day is an association of individuals who give their time and talents freely to create a day celebrating our area and our diversity.”

Hyde Park Unity Day is a series of events leading to a 12 hour day of "celebration for the community and visitors of Leeds 6". Photos from last Sunday 17 August 2008. (All photos & text © Christos Stavrou. All rights reserved)

I walked through the park and the tents wondering what meaning the terms 'celebration' and 'diversity' take in this place and time. (© 2008 C.S.)

Various acts with influences from all over the world, whether reggae bands or belly-dancing shows, were a quick hit, highlighting the diverse roots of the local community. They mixed well with affluent alcohol and sporadic sunshine to combine into a cocktail of escapism. (© 2008 C.S.)

There were several music bands playing around and even more loud dj sets. However, someone could hardly listen to any smaller acoustic acts. Is spluttering noise and a dizzy feeling in the head what our contemporary attractions are supposed to be made of? (© 2008 C.S.)

Community stalls and local organisations offered valuable information and stimulating interaction with the visitors. Here, people were invited to write on a board what 'psychosis' means to them. The immediate reward was a piece of.. stale cake but the exercise deserves praise. The most important news I found out was that the well known Common Place in the centre of Leeds is now threaten with extinction by the local authorities! (© 2008 C.S.)

Speaking of cakes, there was really no competition... Because out of all the million sweet pieces offered in the park that day - and apologise to those I didn't try - nothing compared to the home-made and moist little creations coming out of the boot of this car :) Their cake sale was linked to a charity project in Peru emphasising the links between local and global. (© 2008 C.S.)

There was something bizzare in the whole celebration, which left me with mixed feelings. I felt that it was a great effort but it needs to rethink many of its aims and the ways to achieve them. I could not fail to notice creativity, a sense of humour and inclusion of difference. Efforts for social awareness and bonding. But, making as much noise, drinking as much booze, and producing as much rubbish as we can, were also manifested as the main focus everywhere - not to mention the instances of blatant commercialism, such as the overpriced festival food. Almost as if these are the essential materials of enjoyment today; those ones which could glue together the actually very diverse - culturally and generationally - and rather quite distant, local groups of people... The irony is that 'celebration', 'diversity' and 'community' have become very politicised notions in the English context, (not only in Leeds), which I am afraid do not flow naturally any more. In the Thatcher years they were fiercely undermined, lately they are systematically and rhetorically reworked. Well.. if you plan them too much they become like manufactured over-baked sweets that none wants to eat, if you let them loose they are usually overwhelmed by prevailing customs of recent neglect, social poverty and blatant profit-making interests which come to fill the existing gaps. In a way, I see these festivals as festivals of exotic poverty. I'm smiling thinking that they would surprise anyone who has not lived in the UK. Because they deviate so much from the unrealistic, stereotypical images that Britain has traditionally produced for picturing itself abroad. But also they stand for their raw slice of reality and the underlying seeds of creativity and expression. (All photos & text © 2008 Christos Stavrou. All rights reserved)


Relevant posts:

Links & References

  1. Unity Day Website
  2. The Common Place
  3. Project Peru
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