Students bring history of Leeds West Indian Carnival to life

A six month project researching the history of Europe’s longest running West Indian carnival comes to fruition this Friday.

Students from the University of Leeds will showcase the results of their research into Leeds West Indian Carnival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017 and is the biggest of its kind outside London.

The history undergraduates have been looking into the history and development of the Carnival, recording oral history interviews with its founder Arthur France MBE and fellow organisers, as well as other members of the West Indian community, the police and other groups involved in its evolution as one of the city’s most compelling cultural events.

There will be Caribbean food, costume exhibits, historic photographs and a lively atmosphere of discussion about the history and future direction of the carnival.

Mature student Klaire Heyliger, from Chapeltown, had the idea for the project. A niece of Mr France, she has been involved in the carnival throughout her life.

She said the research had underlined the event’s African roots, asking three key questions.

“We’ve asked, does carnival have the same meaning to people today as it did at the outset and if so, why?” she said. “We also wanted to know if the diversity of carnival had impacted on the cultural identity of the event, and how much African culture is retained and displayed in modern day carnival?”

Klaire has worked with fellow undergraduates Kristen Hartley and Katheryne Kenward on the research project, the full title of which is “Critical analysis of carnivals: transitions, culture, diversity and purpose past and present”.

Kristen added: “We are promoting the study and interest of unknown elements of black history. There was a great deal of media interest during Black History Month, in February, including comments made by the actor David Oyelowo that not enough black history was taught in schools.

“We hope this project will help raise awareness of the importance of black community celebration in West Yorkshire.”

The event, which is free and open to all, takes place at the city’s West Indian Centre, Chapeltown, from 1pm-3.30pm.

* For more details, see the group’s Facebook page: and Instagram site:


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