Blog – The Feastory of Feast



An old acquaintance messaged to ask if I’d like to drop down to the West Norwood Feast in October last year and play a short set. I’m always happy to support community minded, charitable, philanthropic, altruistic, humanitarian and environmental type projects when I can, and said sure. The weather really brought it in the most glorious autumnal way – sun and clear blue skies. And the buzz cooked up by the market, spread by its merry band of fantastic volunteers, and the infectious jubilance of talented performers like these guys below and the crowd’s response, was a bonus!

Held on the first Sunday of every month, April through to December, in West Norwood (London), I was one of many volunteers involved in the early days of this street market come festival – even before it came to life. Meeting up with locals in workshops in 2011 held by reps from Space Makers Agency – who were funded by the Council and I think later a little pot of money from City Hall – we were tasked with assisting the community in bringing something special to the area. See a brief Feastory here.

Thriving in its sixth volunteer-powered year I was now returning having bowed out a few years earlier to tend to my music and creative muse.  Inspired, I felt really proud to see it flourishing, and to know that some five thousand plus locals take to the streets each Feast day to join in the fun or just hang out.

One of the largest areas of the market is the ‘street food hub’ in the grounds of St Luke’s Church – at the fork betwixt Knights Hill and Norwood High Street. With the imposing colonnade of the Church as the backdrop, the landscaped forecourt rolls down into grassy slopes divided by a pathway through the middle.  You’ll find people lounging about chatting, necking some street dish or guzzling the ol’ amber nectar – ale and cider by small brewer – or joining in a free kid’s activity. The Church also offers free tea, coffee, and cake or biscuits du jour, inside along with respite on a busy day.

That spectacular facade set the scene for one of the earliest Christmas Feast events (2011- I think) which I coordinated with a bunch of dedicated and so hard-working volunteers. A chance encounter at City Hall put me in touch with an outfit called Creatmosphere (light artists). I got sign off from the Feast committee for a light display and installations in the grass – which I think got jumped by some kids, whoops!  With street foods stall, spiced mulled wine and cider, and a programme on the portico and steps of musicians, a Salvation Army band, a local choir and Christmas carols with hurriedly printed and shared lyrics- madness and dashing about – we had everyone joining in and singing.

Despite technical hitches and all kinds of glitches with power supplies, health and safety, logistics, equipment and transport, along with the last minute vagaries of people, flake outs and temper flares, we still managed to pull it off!  Miraculous. And by other accounts a success.

What I love about Feast is that it aims to draw in and weave within the fabric of the community – in the broadest possible way.

Plenty of ‘community events’ and ‘markets’ have sprung up in the UK, particularly in London, over the past twelve or more years. But how many actually tap into and cater for diversity – in the widest sense – weaving within existing community spaces, places and functions, fostering and holding the space, is debatable. I think a good community event has something for everyone, regardless of socio-economic or other circumstances, builds bridges and removes obstacles to inclusion.

As it is and in their words “Feast has around one hundred market stalls, over five sites along the high street. Volunteers book the stalls and organise a full programme of free fun and creative children’s activities (from sports days to mural making) and live entertainment (musicians to brass bands to live DJ’s, and open mic performance spaces for young people).  It is a farmer’s market, a craft fair, a flea market and a street food hub all rolled into one, even though the main goal is to provide an experience wider than that”.

On that note and I love this bit: “each monthly Feast is themed by volunteers who organise free community engaging events in addition to the core market activity. This ranges from talks on Caribbean cuisine for Black History month, a fashion event showcasing local talent and retail, art trails up and down the high street, to a Sports Feast featuring all the local organisations that promote active lifestyles”.

Yay Feast! It really is a unique and extra-ordinary market.

My journey in Feast didn’t come without its challenges. What worthwhile thing in life does? (If you got something feel free to share?). Among the many, many, great experiences and interactions with so many people there were also ideological tussles with other volunteers, Agency peeps, annoying egos (including mine no doubt 😉 and challenges finding stall-holders or dealing with their last minute absence, technical glitches and the occasional tricky punter and the like, all wrapped in differences of opinion in approach, direction, style, misunderstandings, silences, self-reflection and questioning.

But Ochone (alas in Gaelic ;-), that is the way and politics of life. And is it not also what brings true value, in the painful growth and development, and what makes us the beings we are and turn into? And what it is to be a living, thinking, feeling being within increasingly complex social and societal structures? – grist for the mill as they say!

Definitely one project with a meaningful legacy (I can’t say that about every one I’ve done) that I am proud of (and I rarely, if ever, say THAT)!

Anyway, back to business.… these guys from One Drum West African Workshop were fantastic, uplifting and elevating the crowd to another level – standing – evidenced by the truly ‘not easy to achieve’ crowd participation!

Love Feast?  Get Feast!  Hook up with other locals and make ‘your’ Feast, or mini project, idea or event.  Get on Facebook and find volunteers or go through the local services or the library or other community spaces. Pots of funding can be found through local government initiatives and/or city-wide programmes. Or drop me a line if you want to brainstorm.

Adieu. Over and out!