By Rachel Skinner, Big Lottery Fund, communications officer
No one in the huge crowd looking down the Shankill Road last Friday night could miss the incredible sight approaching from the lower end of the road: a ‘Shankill Shooting Star’, the new Lantern Parade’s artistic float (a huge, spinning, shining star with glowing tails) was leading a galaxy of 500 paraders carrying their personally-made star lanterns.
My eyes were drawn to the children and adults in celebratory procession, lanterns joined with dancers – and accompanied by festive music from trumpets, samba drums and flute band. The route from Lower Shankill onwards was lined with families from the neighbourhood, waving at everyone taking part including Santa and Mrs Claus, elves and reindeer-costumed performers. When the lantern procession arrived at Mid Shankill Community Garden, groups then performed on stage and Christmas Tree Lights were switched on.
This was the first Shankill Lantern Parade, organised by Beat Carnival and part funded by Big Lottery Fund through our Celebrate programme. A range of funders contributed towards this event that brought people together from different areas in Greater Shankill for a community-focused Christmas celebration.
To create the event, 700 people of all ages from community, youth, school, cultural and arts groups plus individuals and families in Greater Shankill and across the interface took part in workshops and rehearsals, most making their lanterns, some learning dance and music. We provided a grant of £5,000 that supported the community workshops programme and construction of the shooting star float.
David Boyd, director of Beat Carnival said:
“There is now no doubt about the importance of this event as a new and significant celebration on the Shankill Road. The groundwork that Beat did in encouraging the community, in creating partnerships to plan and preparing together, has all paid off – as everyone can see. The buzz on the road is remarkable and already people are asking how do we all make this celebration bigger and better next year.
“We started with an idea and no funds, so we initially set a ‘reasonable’ expectation of having 250 people making lanterns in 25 workshops led by Beat Carnival artists over November. By the end of the short project those numbers had more than doubled. It’s the same with audience: at first we imagined 2,000 to 2,500. Then we thought there could be up to 5,000. The official number at the event is actually 7,000. We are all bowled over.
“We were able to achieve such high levels of engagement thanks to Big Lottery Fund’s support. The very special nature of this celebration, and people’s eagerness to be part of it, was summed up for me by a community leader from Twaddell Avenue. At the event with families and their lanterns, he told me: ‘this is so important: our children haven’t had an opportunity like this – for three years they have been stuck behind the protest that was on-going right at our doorstep. This is the first time we have been out celebrating and doing something creative together and it’s fantastic.’
“At Beat Carnival we are now thinking about the developments that will spring from this. After Christmas we will be generating discussion and ideas – and increasing community representation along with current key partners such as Greater Shankill Partnership; Greater Shankill ACT & WBACS who have been organising the Christmas Tree and lights; the Shankill Arts Forum; and the many groups around the neighbourhood. In 2017 we will definitely be painting more into this bright picture.”