Black Lives Matter – social justice and protest during the pandemic

In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.

– Angela Davis

If being in the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the last month brought about an intensifying and urgent need for social change and activism in the short term, and hopefully in the long term. The reason for this watershed moment is the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Police in Minnesota USA, with bystanders recording the arrest showing officers restraining him and one, in particular, resting a knee on his neck, whilst Floyd can be heard pleading “I can breathe”. This racial violence was recorded on smartphones and shared on social media, which made the brutality of his death on camera go viral across the globe. You can only imagine what happens between the police and black men off the camera – hold that thought. Shocking and uncomfortable to watch and discuss. Floyd’s death has given greater coverage and a wider mission to the Black Lives Movement (BLM) from the across the USA, UK, Paris, Rome, India, Hong Kong to Oceania. In the same month, there was the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks. This has exposed the emotion, anger, annoyance and the solidarity with the BLM cause and movement.  It has made the social justice fight more obviously to everyone’s consciousness, and this is an opportunity for positive change to correct the disparities in inequality between rich and poor, black and white, good and bad. I also know that there are good cops… and there are bad cops but some reform, training and education are needed.

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Obviously, I am speaking on behalf of the black population that are marginalised and systematically oppressed over four centuries. For balance, we must also remember there are lots to celebrate in the black community’s resilience by the successes and excellence they gave and have achieved in all walks of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish there were more police walking the beat in my neighbourhood after having two police stations decimated about 10 years ago, and even greater reductions across the United Kingdom. However, the main issue is that Black Lives Matter, but there are high levels of the black population who are more than twice as likely to die in police custody, with little justice received by families. There are fewer opportunities for black people due to inequalities of wealth, education, employment and numerous barriers due to the colour of their skin. The prison service has a large number of black people who may not be able to live the normal peaceful life that most of us take for granted. There is a cycle of lack of opportunities and social mobility in very rich countries such as the USA and UK. In addition, there are not enough opportunities for black people in normal organisations…and higher up the corporate ladder.

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Shop Window on Wood Street.

It also seems that centuries of history of Afro-American slavery, the Americas’ and Europe’s relationship to the black community are being put to test due to the systemic, institutional racism and prejudices that continue to exist in society. We cannot deny this fact.

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The Black Lives Matter movement started about seven years ago to respond to high levels of deaths and discrimination in the Black population and has a wider remit to encompass and campaign with activism for more equality in a world, which has been shaped like this over centuries of inequality, injustice and white supremacy – especially in former colonies. The shackles of slavery to the Americas have created insurmountable inequality and racial tensions throughout the centuries – Atlantic African Slave Labour was used for consumption and industry in Europe too. The wealth and remnants of slave traders, “West Indian Trader” and merchants are still honoured in our city centres, buildings, and richness treasures – procured, stolen or extracted with human slave labour and is still very much in our midst.

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I didn’t study American history but we were taught indigenous history of the Americas and the Caribbean up to the modern-day. It is no shock to learn about the brutality and de-humanisation of slavery. There was no whitewashing of history and there is intellectual confidence in my peers in the Caribbean. Luckily I have personal insight and experience to know that the story is one of redemption, reconciliation and resilience for the descendants of slaves who still live in my homeland. The Afro-Caribbean community in the Caribbean are mainly okay now and have excelled in their chosen fields. They do not have the same levels of inequalities and barriers you get from the USA and UK. The societal structures are less rigid or oppressive, and you can have great levels of social mobility with a well-rounded education and opportunities. There was no knowledge deficit.

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Consistent. Some things don’t change for me. This is my A’Level West Indian (we did European History too) history book.

Learning about the Caribbean, and Europe, gave us a well-grounded and balanced reality, which meant we are able to rise about it. I am also the descendant of indentured labourers and business migrants from India, and so I empathise and understand with my Caribbean heritage its’ global influences. One thing the British Imperialist get wrong is the imbalances in the historical narratives – the feeling that they are better than others because of the Empire, the imperialistic pomp and ceremony, riches and splendour that accrued over time from the colonies at the expense of black (and other people of colour) lives.  You just have to look at some modern-day black lives film (e.g. Twelve Years a Slave or Selma), and TV dramas to see that it was one rule for them and one rule for the others.

Putting this simply – the term white privilege and white supremacy was brought about as a form of oppression between classes and races that the elite-controlled to keep the status quo. The rules and infrastructure of segregation between the races were created for the so-called ‘white supremacy’ to uphold privileges and prevent integration of races. We are talking about systematic and institutional racism that still exists in the UK, and most evidently still in the USA. You just have to look at the issues with Windrush Scandal in the UK, and other major inequalities to see that this issue has not gone away. Lack of empathy and knowledge is the real impact of colonisation in the 21st Century. There is also a need for humility and recognition of injustices in the past from our white community as the celebration of Empire and colonialism had deep scars and hurt. This is one of the reasons for a call for decolonisation of history and adding Black British history to the curriculum. In recent weeks, I have seen many discussions on the lack of teaching about centuries of African Slavery in British Colonies in British schools today.

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I am not naive to think in the Caribbean and other parts of the world do not have their own racism. I also think it will not ever go away and we will need to keep reminding people to think of our privileges, unconscious and conscious biases. We must aim to be anti-racist as civilised human beings in the 21st century.

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Home – Upper Walthamstow.

It was twenty years ago that I was asked to catalogue the Macpherson report when it was released on the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence, and the institutional racism that prevented his family from getting the justice they deserved. You could say that I don’t know what I am talking about, or that I am a trouble-maker but these are the same issues we should be talking about as librarian and information professionals who are serving various communities across our countries in a global world. At the SLA Leadership symposium in New Orleans, there was a strong focus on Diversity and Inclusion with a practical exercise on white privilege. This endorsed my libraries and information professional stance. There is also a test for you to check your privilege and there are numerous resources, best practice and reading materials I have helped collated, seen and shared in the last few weeks. We are also looking to make these into actionable targets, to make a genuine change with organisation culture and in wider ways with the Black community and everyone.

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I also mentioned the Black Lives Movement and Decolonisation campaigns in my talk in September 2019 at the SLA Europe conference. It is rigid and unfair institutional racial structures, media irresponsibility and personal unconscious and conscious bias that makes humans behave this way.   In recent weeks, the sheer shocking emotions and discrimination witnessed by everyone are being discussed now and has come to the forefront of our social consciousness for social justice. It is with this momentum that I was asked to take part in the SLA Diversity Inclusion Community and Equity (DICE) arranged talk on ‘What is the reality of COVID-19 where you live now; What does the protest movement look like where you are; and what have these individual or combined epic events mean to you? ‘. This solidarity and standing up for the injustices for people in our community is not something we can just let it go by until it blows over. There does seem to be a real sea change for action and genuine empathy and understanding in the current mood during a global pandemic that is not just a few weeks old…but a couple of centuries late!

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The protest movement in Bristol a couple of weeks ago on the dismantle of Edward Colston’s statue was a defining moment in British Slave History. I don’t know much about British Slave owners in the UK but I do remember learning in secondary school about the champion of freedom such as Toussaint L’Ouverture in the Haitian Revolution and abolitionists such as William Wilberforce. It is a shame that slave owners and traders are still glorified today without some context to their supposed acquired wealth and glory. I must admit that I was pleased to see that the statue was dismantled considering the enormous part Colston played in slavery, death of Africans bound to the Americas and the pretentiousness of his philanthropy in Bristol. When we talk about plantations in the Caribbean and America – we know whose labour was used for the sugar cane, cotton, minerals etc. These products were then sent back to Europe – where there is very little to explain where and how the raw materials and wealth came to Britain. The death of George Floyd in the last few weeks created a wave of protest against institutional and systematic racism which still perpetuates today and the dismantle and vandalising of statues and buildings that glorify this dirty and seedy economic and human history are only catching up with the shady past. Obviously, I don’t encourage the damage of property but the wounds, emotion and feeling in the current generation of all races are raw as ever. The Black Lives Matter movement has given an identity and a label to this energy to make a difference just like Toussaint and Wilberforce.

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Shared on Facebook.

A lot of white people are saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ – yes they do but…the correct argument is that Black Lives are more disproportionally at risk from death in police custody, poverty, inequality, injustices, employment, promotion, reward and life chances. A young black boy may be stopped by the police 40 more times than a young white boy. The young black boy may be more exposed to crime due to the area and the lack of opportunities he has (I do know that not all young black men are into crime). The black role models in our media are lacking in the UK in positions of authority and power. Even as an adult, there are still struggles, barriers and oppression. White Privilege means that you are unlikely to experience these barriers, obstacles and constant judgement based on the colour of your skin. I am brown and I am certain that I do not encounter all the issues that a black person may experience throughout their life. You Gov have recently published a survey on 1001 BAME persons which states that virtually identical numbers of people believe racism exists in the country today (84%) compared to (86%) thirty years ago. This is the true negative ‘lived experience’ of being Black and British from four hundred years ago…to now.

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I am also grateful to see that my employers and others leading businesses have taken a stance on correcting some of the wrongs, allowing and partaking in open discussions in large groups, which is being enabled by video conferencing. On the one hand, we are still trying to work through a pandemic of COVID-19…and on the other hand, we are trying to focus attention on Black Lives Matter – a pandemic within a pandemic as it has recently been put in protests. It seems that racism within the police force mentioned in the Macpherson Report is still happening now in the 21st century. It is not enough to just not be a racist. It shows great leadership to demonstrate and work towards being an anti-racist organisation at all levels in a global community.

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There are other issues too with lower-paid and front line jobs compared to the white middle-classes who tend to have better jobs, reward packages and benefit from social mobility and better quality of life. In COVID-19, there have been higher deaths in the BAME population both for health and social care staff employees, but also for patients who have died. Inequalities, being in the front line for lower-paid jobs and racism are some of the reason for the disproportionate levels of the death being higher in the BAME community in the UK during COVID-19. We have every reason to shout BLACK LIVES MATTER!

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Only in darkness can you see the stars.

– Martin Luther King

The Black Lives Matter protest movement has been great for bringing communities together to protest and campaign for better rights, better equality, understanding and respect to the black community for their part in building societies from America, the UK and other parts of the world. For far too long the rhetoric and the ‘systems’ have been prejudiced against black persons, indigenous and people of colour. I loved seeing the Rolling for Rights protest videos last week in San Diego – there were thousands of young and mixed supporters marching for Black Lives Matter, this has been replicated in various cities of the world.

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In my own neighbourhood, the Stand Up to Racism campaign with volunteers has brought about solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter causes from the long term and new instances. It is a meeting place for young and old supporters to tell their stories of biases and what still needs to be done to improve relations and representation in a multicultural city. Multiculturalism and multiple ethnicities are the legacies of colonisation and imperialism. There is a disconnection with other cultures and the people in this world that played the part of all our shared global histories. The saddest part for me is hearing of deaths in police custody or at the hands of the police at this event. I am also not happy with the high level of deaths of young black men in the city that I live in too due to gang culture and drug dealing! I also do not like terrorism in the city that I live in. There is a lot of hatred and misunderstanding as a result of race, cultural and religious differences. In all aspects of life, we try to avoid talking intelligently and fairly about race and politics, but they have been put on the agenda in the last decade (or forever!) due to the current political and racial tensions. Race is uncomfortable for all of us to discuss but there are some tips here by the Smithsonian Museum.

So what do we do now?

Big and small businesses are responding to the situation by being proactive with changes and actions in their messages, recruitment and corporate culture in a world that is diverse. At my employers, the British Library, we are working on Black Lives Matter and it is on the agenda for the long term. There have been some proactive demonstrations of leadership on BLM and I hope this will be sustained in future.  Some best examples are SONY, Ben and Jerry Ice Creams, KPMG, Netflix etc – this is the best practice. It is also up to us to have a personal responsibility to be anti-racist and to check our own biases and privileges for a fair society for humanity. We should use creative arts, culture and education to connect us to our history and the myriad of colours and people that are part of the same history. We should also re-balance history with the great ancient civilisations of Africa, as I saw mentioned recently by a Black British celebrity.

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Read and be Educated on the Topic.

We should be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement just as you may want gender equality, LGBT+ equality and rights, and even white-male-bonding-without-the-racism. We should aim to make steps forward, take positive and confident action to bring about genuine change in a colourful world that is far more interesting in just black and white.

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I have had my own little battles over the years but generally do not encounter overt racism. People tend to look at me and see an Indian woman – they do not know that I am Trinidadian and I am way ahead of the game in my knowledge of slavery, my respect for black role models and black culture, which is part of my Trinidadian culture and identity. What I can do for my black brothers and sisters, is to share my insight, support and knowledge of our place in global history, the present and hope for the future. I will take personal responsibility to stay true to my authentic self, and will stand up for other races, cultures and lives in a multicultural connected world.

We may have come on different ships, but we are on the same boat now.

–  Martin Luther King.

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Cabaret, Clubs and Art Scenes – Heart of all the Action

After the festive season, January is always really difficult to keep you self-motivated as it is a start of a busy new year, with resolutions, work targets and goals to finish off. Despite the difficulty staying focus, there will be challenges with keeping to your own self-imposed promises. However, it is also great to make time to relax and spend with good friends by going out and about in the many attractions that we have as Londoners. This year I didn’t have to do any of the social planning…I just had to join along in the good cheer, to not one or two events, but six in total! Some of them were low cost and some at the high-end of the price range but all equally enjoyable. Here, I discuss some of the fantastic ideas for making most of the cultural venues in the colder and darker nights.

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Firstly, one of my dear friends was visiting London and asked us to see the satirical cabaret ‘Fascinating Aida’ which was being shown live at the National Theatre on the Southbank. I had no idea that the show has been touring since 1983 and has a dedicated following around the country. It was also very funny, entertaining and heart-warming with all the lovely stories and anecdotes. My friend warned me that there will be a lot of swearing but mostly it was the swear word ‘Brexit’ that received the most laughs! I was pleased with that. It was also very amusing to hear the songs and engagement with a live audience in a fabulous venue on the Southbank. A great fun way to start the New Year 2020.

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The same weekend, I was able to fit in some local art landmarks at God’s Own Junkyard for the fabulous display of neon lights in their coffee shop and gallery. The William Morris Gallery also had the ‘Pioneer: William Morris and the Bauhaus’ exhibition on until recently. This was my first exposure to the Bauhaus, whereby the exhibition aimed to fully explore the common values and relationship between the English Arts and Crafts and the Bauhaus movements. The designs are truly simple, striking and recognisable. It is always a pleasure and a privilege to have the William Morris Gallery so close to where I live, where I can see the new temporary exhibitions, but also to visit time and time again the permanent William Morris exhibition.

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The next amazing event I went to see was the Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’ held at the Barbican Centre with my information professional/librarian friends. It was nice to get ready early on a Saturday to catch the short train ride to the Barbican Centre (I hope to spend more time doing fun things there when I have free time). The exhibition was very interesting to see the global movement that explored the social and artistic role of cabarets, cafés and clubs focusing on global locations from New York to Tehran, London, Paris, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Ibadan. It depicted time spanning the 1880s to the 1960s in various cities of the world also with the common dynamic themes and multi-faceted history of artistic production.

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It was a simultaneous avant-garde movement where there was art from a part of the world influencing another part, such as the Parisian theatrical Le Chat Noir show influencing the Chat Noir paintings that you may know. It really was an excellent exhibition and some of the highlights for me were the art pieces, Loie Fuller who was innovative in her dancing movement with fabric staged at the Folies Bergère in the 1890s – these were truly trail-blazing with the copyright of her dance and experiments in costume, choreography, light and movement.

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We treated ourselves to delicious cocktails on this particular night before the exhibition but I didn’t realise until I was in the exhibition that there was a recreated multi-coloured ceramic tiled bar installation in the exhibition of the Cabaret Fledermaus from Vienna (1907), designed by Josef Hoffmann for the Wiener Werkstätte.

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During this period simultaneously in New York, the literary and jazz scenes flourished and “co-mingled in the predominantly African American neighbourhood of Harlem, where black identity was re-forged and debated”. And so, there was also some live American jazz and spoken word that evening whilst we held our freshly made Vienna inspired Champagne cocktail!

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For me it was also great to see and feel the artistic carnival spirit of the cabaret and the clubs – from dance, costumes, music, spoken word, performance theatre, street theatre, drumming of Yoruba, silhouettes of dangling stencils and so much more! This is not only an enjoyable night…it was life-affirming stuff of the history of artistic practises and cultural exploration.  Even artistic expressions that were different in other regions, were happening and influencing each other demonstrating the common energy of the human condition and aspirations at a very turbulent time. I will remember this exhibition and the evening for a very long time!

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My next interesting event was to see a film for Federico Fellini’s 100 centenary celebrations at the BFI in London’s Southbank Centre (again!) for the film ‘La Dolce Vita’.  I obviously knew of the film and the director, but couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the bold original film on the big screen at the BFI cinema. It truly was another avant-garde art from a period of the most iconic and cliché films on Italian life,  highlighted by the neorealism of the film movement for its time. It was also interesting to follow the life of a journalist from his own life with his encounters with all the other people he is observing. There were highs and lows, happiness and sadness, fun and fear. I thought it was very cleverly filmed, and love the crisp and familiar scenes of Italian life. I am also hoping to see ‘Amarcord’ in a couple of weeks too but this really was a true appreciation of an excellent, avant-garde and innovative filmmaker.

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And as if it couldn’t get more interesting…I went to the BFI Archive in Berkhamsted for a tour with other British Library staff. It was interesting to see the archives, film restoration, editing, and machinery but also to hear about the various items, services and content that they store and conserve. It was amazing to know that they also keep commercial news and broadcasting (including advertisements). I believe the BBC has its’ own archive. We were very lucky to be shown around by their knowledgeable staff, meet the teams and also to see some of the ephemera ranging from film such Kes, Star Wars script, and artists such as Derek Jarman and Ken Loach. The BFI is where all good films go, and the archive is the equivalent to moving image heaven.

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The month ended on a high note with evening tea at the Savoy in London. I have been meaning to go for 20 plus years, although I have been to a ball a few years ago. I certainly loved the flavours of the handmade sandwiches and teacakes with Champagne and splendid tea. It was a special treat and I enjoyed the art deco interiors in a very chilled ambience. My friends and I didn’t realise that there was going to be a pianist and a jazz band playing beautiful music – so that was an extra bonus. Instead of staying a couple of hours, we stayed longer for about 4-5 hours! The venue is such a great attraction still and was known for creating a place with ‘stardust’ by theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte being influenced by celebrities, royalty, leading actresses and opera singers of the time.  D’Olyly Carte wanted to keep that sparkle and it certainly still maintains its’ shine today.

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There are a few more January celebrations like Galette du Rois for Epiphany, and a British Library tour for SLA Europe I did with my colleague Neil, which was rounded off in the pub – both events were also nice get-togethers.

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As the dark and cold nights as here to stay for a few more weeks, it has been a pleasure to spend time in a usually uneventful January doing all these wonderful and entertaining things with dear friends, contacts and family. However, I do feel that it has been a very positive and busy start to 2020, and with more activities, I have planned for this year…it will certainly be a show and will keep me busy. Do come back here to see what action I am up to!

A Christmas Carol – Dickens’ Classic December story

‘I wish to be left alone’ said Scrooge. Since you ask me what I wish, gentleman that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry’. – A Christmas Carol

Ebenezer Scoorge is a miser and Christmas-hating protagonist in the Victorian book by Charles Dickens called ‘A Christmas Carol’. If you don’t already know the story, we have a classic tale of someone lacking in kindness, which is even harsher when it is told to us during the festive season of goodwill and good tidings to all men. Dickens created a character of pity, scorn and loneliness, but also one where he is able to tease out compassion and redemption by the end of the story on Christmas Eve. The themes of this story are in the forefront of my thoughts this festive season, but also due to my participation in a local pantomime run by local people for the community in early December.

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Charles Dickens wrote the book in under six weeks in 1843, which was then published in time for Christmas. The novel gives us an insight into the poverty and urban living conditions in the Victorian ages. It is reported that Dickens was horrified after reading the government report: The Parliamentary Commission on the Employment of Women and Children which showed the horrific conditions in factories. Dickens was moved after reading the report and visited similar poor conditions in Manchester. The result was the idea to write ‘A Christmas Carol’, and the most he felt he could do was to make the horror of the report more known by writing a story… “Something that would strike the heaviest blow in my power”. This was the conception of his now renowned timeless social and moral human story of ‘A Christmas Carol’.

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“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” – A Christmas Carol

I remember seeing on television the story in a film of Scrooge as a child in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970/80s. I even remembered miserly persons called a “Scrooge”, and so the story has a wider readership and context than a Christmas story. However, the book was suggested a couple of years ago for our book club and therefore I was happy to finally read this classic story. I didn’t realise the meaning of the simple anti-Christmas term “Bah Humbug!” until I read ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The other characters in the book are interesting and add the element of wonder and awe to what is essentially a ghost story – the business partner Jacob Marley, the three spirits of Christmas past, present and future, the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim are like a conscience for the mean, bitter and solitary Scrooge. The spirits take Scrooge on a journey through his sad life and display his obsession with money and callousness, but also with some remedial twists like Bob Cratchit still toasting to Scrooge although he is a mean and demanding employer. The spirits are there to have Scrooge’s life flash by him highlighting his wrongdoings, but also the spirit of the future brings the perceived truth of this own demise…and death should he not change his wicked ways. This is just my short synopsis but ‘A Christmas Carol’ has the recurring theme of compassion and redemption that can help us to lead better lives, especially in a Christmas story during the wintery December month.

 

This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” – A Christmas Carol

There is a lot written about the book and I am lucky to stumble upon a whole page dedicated to it on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website here. There is much to learn from the book about the historic Victorian way of life, the issues faced with publishing the first copy, and the importance of the book in cultural terms. It is just as popular as it was then as it is now!

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Dickens apparently was not protected by copyright laws, as there was no copyright legislation at the time to protect creative works. His novel was copied and performed by theatres within weeks, and there were various versions of the story being circulated at the time. It is mentioned in this Osgoode Law School blog post that he was annoyed but also one of the first advocating for copyright laws to protect creative works. You can also see how profitable the show was for its’ time by the Theatre playbills, which are available to view digitally. What is remarkable to this day is the beautiful illustration that were commissioned and created by John Leech in the first version of the book. They are still splendid and are able to light up social media to this day. Like Dickens’ story itself, these playbills and illustrations are available for reuse without fear of copyright infringement. I do hope he was able to get some financial benefits at the time for his work.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew.  “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”

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It has been an extra special experience this month to be involved in a pantomime of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a local volunteer group, Panda Pantomime Productions. Pantomime has a long history of fun and informal theatre. This year we aimed to have four performances on the streets and in local venues – I only took part initially as a payback to Tom, who had helped me with fundraising musical entertainment in the past. I was happy for him to ask me to host the pantomime in my neighbourhood but didn’t expect to actually take part in it!. We started rehearsing about eight weeks ago to a very uninspiring ready-made script but thanks to the creative writing skills of Theresa – she was able to adapt the story to our times, local area and topical issues that we can all relate to. Luckily there are no copyright issues too! In the end, I am really proud of being able to participate in one of the highlights of my year.

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We had brilliantly engaged audiences, both children and adults, and lots of great feedback and fundraising at the performances. Local businesses donated raffle prizes, the council gave us a little support, venues opened their doors to us, and a big thanks to Audi Car Showroom in Chingford for their donations and time given by dedicated staff in the pantomime. It was a great way to challenge my non-existent acting experience and also to get to know a whole new group of lovely people. I was able to live, breathe and absorb the true story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a contemporary setting.

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‘The Christmas Carol’ is one of the stories that were being shown as Pantomime across the country when I checked on Twitter. Pantomime is a great way to experience theatre in the colder months of the year and is great to keep the venues profitable – it is reported that 2.7 million tickets were sold annually (BBC Source). I also still have much admiration for the team at PwC who started their corporate pantomime in the 1980s and still put it on annually by their staff, for their staff and communities. Over the years, I have also attended a few excellent Pantomimes at the Hackney Empire, where you are able to get value for money with great actors in a fabulous historic East End theatre.

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This December, in classic coincidence, the BBC aired on the run-up to Christmas the screening of a three-part episode of ‘A Christmas Carol’. It was great to compare it to the books, and also our low-budget version in pantomime. I liked it all the same and it was extra interesting to see all the characters played in different ways by professional actors, but also to a bigger budget with special effects, elaborate costumes, makeup and in Dickensian architectural scenes in London. The use of a mixed-race family for the Cratchits, contemporary issues and dark atmosphere created a lot of conversation on social media. I only recently realised that there is apparently a good version of this classic story by the makers of the Muppet Show. Perhaps I can look at that version another time.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” – A Christmas Carol

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And so with this moral tale, there is a spiritual conversion in the ending with Scrooge finding a second chance having examined ‘an intimate inspection of his soul’…bringing about regret and redemption for his past misdemeanours and miserliness. In the month of December, this Dickensian story will be around for a long time yet to entertain and warn us of the human condition. It is a great reminder that it is best to live in the present with goodwill, compassion and good cheer to others. This is a festive happy ending that will guide us in whatever time lies ahead.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

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2020 Vision – looking at the past, present and future

As we get closer to the year 2020 and the closing of the last decade, I have been looking back but also thinking of the years ahead. It has been a decade of great change on the political, social, technological and human landscape reflecting on what is going on in the world. There have been numerous highs and lows as expected in such a long period. The present is grounding us to what is happening now but there is bound to be a wonder with what is ahead when we look at New Year’s number ‘Twenty Twenty’ – 2020. We even have to get used to saying, writing, hearing and seeing it. This blog post gives me the opportunity to reflect, adapt and anticipate what trends may be coming our way.

Past, present and future: it makes it easier for me to look at this in these three categories to clarify what this means, mostly for my own self-awareness. However when I started researching this topic, I quickly learnt that it is an analytical and forecasting technique that is also being using to show how quickly the world is moving on major issues for example sustainability, climate change and technology due to changes, innovation and higher levels of disruptions. In my busy personal and professional life – there are great experiences and photos for me to share these three timeframes with you here.

 

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The Past

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step,

they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.”
― William Golding

The last decade has seen a lot of changes for me professionally.   I was working at City Hall in 2010 with changes already happening with the arrival of the dire austerity plans hitting libraries and other public services across the United Kingdom. I hung on with our team to our jobs until early 2012 right on the cusp of the start of the Olympics. There was so much anticipation and preparation on the one hand with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but then we were dropped like hot potatoes to be made redundant and disbanding of services. The heartache of seeing colleagues lose their job in the heart of London with the Olympics which was in our breath and bloodstream was very hard to get over but we survived.

We were able to experience sadly one of the defining moments of the austerity decade that thousands of people have to endure. Some of us are not better off financially and thankfully for the support of family – we are able to manage. This first-hand experience is only the tip of the iceberg of what austerity really meant for basic infrastructure to people’s health, well-being, opportunities, education, public provision (no police station with the increased crime) and degeneration of libraries in the UK. I know some of the stronger survived but it certainly wasn’t fair for many people and this is with the benefit of hindsight. I also had people cut me off on social media when I left City Hall but most importantly the ones who mattered…stayed with me. I knew this would happen from my experience in the 2000s. I was just waiting for it to happen as an ever-present information professional.

 

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Eventually I was employed again at the British Library and this has been one of the highlights of the early 2010s. I have grown and developed in many new areas but I was also able to use the experience I have built up over many years. I don’t feel so odd when I have to use old and new information and library skills. It also helps when I see the past brought to the present in exhibitions, collections and digitally in the libraries and museums world. This month I visited the London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library’s exhibition on Buddhism – and you will get this point.

 

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We have also seen a lot of changes on the regeneration of my local area in the last ten years and it was one of the defining eras of new volunteering and community activism for the neighbourhood and me. Due to having free time due to redundancy, I was able to take part in the Street Party to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012…but then I never stopped!!! Due to my amazing neighbours and community spirit, we have been able to put on 8 fabulous street parties, poetry events, book clubs, Christmas parties, use social media, promote civic activism for local issues, and look after our community with great camaraderie. We literally look out for our neighbours and neighbourhood, such as creating What’s App groups and social media accounts for all of this!

 

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My neighbourhood has changed from a sleepy suburban town to a buzz hive of activity. There are negatives for this – such as Anti-Social Behaviour (ASBOs), drug dealing, professional beggars and high levels of litter. However, I was able to push myself to new activities such as writing basic poetry, organising Spring-cleaning, starting guerrilla gardening and this winter I am participating in my first pantomime in ‘A Christmas Carole’ by Charles Dickens. This was also my inspiration for writing this blog post looking at the past, present and future!

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A Christmas Carol

I was also able to do a lot more volunteering for my profession with SLA Europe and stopped being Fundraising Chair for The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity in 2016 after 12 years. I will look back at the last decade with fondness for the new and exciting things I learnt, the new experiences I gained and also the fabulous time I spent with great people and loved ones. The holidays and travels are always a great highlight in this enormous world and are entrenched in my memories of the past.

 

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The Present

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

As in LIVE in the moment of now, it is both exhilarating as well as concerning. All the big topics I can honestly think about presently are Brexit, Climate Change and much progress already made is being damaged! Most things in my life are stable but there are still everyday worries and stresses that make me wonder what the hell is going on. Just look at some of our media and politicians! Politics is affecting all of us at present but they are very disruptive and move swifter than the previous decade. This could be a result of social media, but also the volume increase, manipulation and incensed use of mainstream media that is used to polarise us. It seems to be an on-going battle with new life and professional challenges such as data protection, fake news, privacy, racism, bullying, and various negative broadcasting. Information certainly is more intense with some people probably rightfully switching off from all forms of media. I do think that presently social media is still a very good facility for communication, and the world is generally a better place for it. Politics will affect us all and is currently in an awful state but we are more engaged regardless with an opportunity to share our views, voice our concerns and opinions with the people we want too online and offline.

 

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Climate change and sustaining our planet are hot topics that are right up the agenda in the last years and especially the last few months. We have seen young Greta Thunberg mobilise children and adults across this great big old world for environmental concerns and activism. We also all know about Extinction Rebellion. Food, travel, air quality, poverty, homelessness, diversity and inclusion etc are all various topics where work is still in progress. There are good days and bad days for all of these issues, and like so, we have to live in the moment but also find ways to make good choices that will sustain us as well as our fragile planet and environment. It’s only a few years ago we implemented the plastic bags ban, saw more of the reusable cup and ‘single use plastic’ become a no-go. Positive policy and behaviour change are possible and we should not give up!

 

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It is not all depressing in the present, I still find ways to keep my positivity flowing by exploring the new, interesting events and shows in the city. I love that you also see all the ‘live’ moments people are having around you on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, the present is not perfect but somewhere in this world, the sun is shining and a new day is dawning. I am also very grateful for every new day that I am alive to be with my family and friends in the present.

 

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The Future

“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
― Zadie Smith

As we creep into 2020, it is great to know that some things will always remain the same but it is obvious that there will be new developments and ways of living that we will adopt and adapt in our lives. After all, 2020 is just a number created to represent time.

I am certainly not a clairvoyant with a crystal ball and will not predict the next day, much less the next decade. However, this is what scientific, evidence-based and good research is able to do for us. Trends and forecasting are used all the time to help us plan and prepare what may or may not become a reality. I have the privilege and access to authoritative published research in my role as an information professional, and therefore I am able to research very serious topics that will have an impact on all of us.

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I recently popped into the busy technology department of Selfridges when I went to collect an online order that I couldn’t find in local shops. Seeing all the smart technology is a great eye-opener (pardon the pun!). There are innovations and inventions that are here already and there are more to come on the horizon. Wearable technology is here and according to Mintel market research on “Wearable Technology 2019” – “There has been an increase in ownership of all wearable devices, with the most significant jump being in the adoption of smart ear-buds. As a result of the increasing popularity of these products, more and more manufacturers are offering their versions. Meanwhile, fitness bands/sports watches continue to be the wearable that consumers are most likely to own”. Consumers are also using it for controlling smart home devices, making contactless payments, monitoring security, social media, fitness etc. The smart glasses were certainly a new way to see and interact with things.

 

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One of the burning issues is consumption of natural resources and the environment. There are questions on how can we make this world more sustainable and ethical in our policies, businesses and our own personal responsibility. GlobalDataOnline has their great Trendsight predictions and analysis to tell us about the MegaTrends that will affect us all regardless if we are generations from: Baby boomers to iGeneration. In the report ‘Trendsight overview: Sustainability and Ethics – Meeting social and environmental challenges amid growing populations and energy brands’, these megatrends highlighted are: Social Responsibility, Ethical Wellbeing, Fairly Traded, Created Fairly, Ethical Luxury, Localism, Trust and Transparency, Resource Scarcity and Environmental Responsibility. These are all great topics that make my heart sing! The same report looks in great detail at the past, present and future trends. One of the great sector examples with the changes we have seen in the last few years is plastic pollution and recycling which concludes that: “in the past five years, recycling schemes were being used by several types of retail outlets, and will remain a crucial consideration for retailers in future. Retailers at present are more prominently shifting away from the use of plastic, while innovative recycling schemes will propel into the mainstream five years or so in the future”. Do make some time to look at these reports and you will be inspired or in-the-know on what is in store for the future.

 

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My own personal view, simply and most importantly, of the future is that I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I also want this clarity and vision for humanity and the Earth. I know there will be developments in technology and gains in progress with living standards but there is so much work still to collaborate and work on together as so many people are outside of these acceptable levels, struggling with being happy and healthy. I am not able to control this but in my own way, step by step, little by little, I can only hope that we keep this beautiful planet and its’ people safe and well for years to come…and certainly to 2030. Ask yourself too what you want for the future.

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Information Professionals get Future Ready – Proofed and Prepared

For an Information Professional, it essential that we understand so many aspects of the customers we serve, technology, infrastructure, resources and society in general. It is hard to isolate all of the threads that make a good information service. In the last few months, I have been keeping a close eye on the role and conversations of information professionals in relation to the term ‘Future Ready’. It is a term that has been used by schools in the USA to prepare their librarians and information services for the “leading edge of digital transformation of learning”.   It also seems to have been used by other companies to signify preparedness, trends, adaptability, continuous change and innovation as shown in Accenture’s view on it.

My first recollection was in 2011, when Future Ready was launched as in initiative by SLA to prepare members for the concept with a dedicated 365 blog posts. The term was used then to motivate professionals to harness the following Future Ready ideas:

  • Collaboration to accelerate the availability of useful information
  • An adaptable skill set that anticipates and responds to the evolving marketplace
  • Alignment with the language and values of the community you serve
  • Building a community that connects stakeholders in mutually beneficial relationships

Currently, there is more information on the web on what it means to be ‘Future Ready’ for information professionals, with the most apt piece mentioned in the American Libraries Magazine stating that expecting and preparing for change is one way of being ready, but also digging deeper to find ‘change is useless without considering values’. The article elaborates: “we need to look at trends and changes with consideration of our own professional values (confidentiality and privacy, diversity, equitable access, intellectual freedom and expression, preservation) and the values that we seek to provide to our communities (a civic commons, democracy, discovery, education, literacy, public discourse). And so looking at changes, we need to ask ourselves what they might mean for intellectual freedom, for education, for equitable access, or for any of the other values that drive our work”.

 

 

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Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, has presented on what is ‘A future ready information profession’, which also aligns all the guidance I have mentioned above and the link has some great slides too. This was interesting to read as another CILIP article on the British Library leadership reiterated that our values are at the core of what we do. It is on this basis I was able to prepare for my talk on the theme ‘Future Ready’ entitled ‘Promoting and Celebrating Diversity in Delivering and Managing a 21st Century Information Service’ at the inaugural SLA Europe conference held on 5-6th September 2019 at Newnham College, the University of Cambridge. I felt I had to cover this topic in my blog this month as the conference left an imprint on me, and having researched my own speaker topic on ‘Future Ready’, I wanted to highlight this here with you. I am unable to cover the whole conference programme but there are some key points below for future proofing as an information professional.

 

 

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The conference was my first full attendance at a UK conference. I reminded myself that it was extra special for me as President-Elect of SLA Europe, organised by great people who I know well, and also not far for me to travel. Newnham College was a great venue choice and the whole inclusive programming and organisation was an excellent and thoughtful experience for me, and hopefully other attendees. The setting and history of the college at this recess time was peaceful, invigorating and ideal for a conference. I particularly liked the garden tour and hearing from the head gardener about the plants, the layout of the garden, and the past and present women and men who developed the college. The college library tour was also interesting and gave us a practical insight into the working of a historic and functional library. The venue is inspirational now by past and present famous and influential women, and some men, who gave the college its’ great reputation. The college is bound to create future influential and great leaders.

 

 

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To set the tone it was interesting to have Dr Jessica Gardner, the University Librarian and Director of Library Services welcome and opened the conference on our role in organisations and society as information professionals. She reminded us of our strengths in building networks, learning together, collaborative working, our deep knowledge of resources that is transferable to other settings, and that we should aim to work well in partnerships.  I also loved the slide with the words – Integrity, Diligence, Honesty. There was a call for us to not be neutral when there are obvious levels of inequality, and the important role that information professionals have in their organisations and communities for the future of research and information services.

 

 

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The Opening Key Note on ‘A practical model for distributed digital leadership’ by Cerys Hearsey of POST*SHIFT was great for demonstrating digital leadership where it is not only top management’s responsibility but also everybody’s responsibility. I liked the example of some of the effective and open digital leaders being the ones who listened to staff that were closest to their customers, for example the leadership at the company Haier. It was also a different perspective from the digital giants we know and a very non-hierarchical approach to digital transformation.

 

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There was also a common theme of the digital archive, information services and the future of these services. I am familiar with the The Guardian’s Archive, and so it was interesting hearing Richard Nelsson on the selection of stories, the use of data mining for analytics for gauging popular keywords and how a simple historical newspaper article could lead to a more creative outcome such ’12 Years of a Slave’ film. Apparently anything on The Beatles always draw in a popular readership. It was interesting to hear about uses in past content to create new media stories.

Maria De La Pena from the IE Business School Library in Spain also spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and libraries. AI is becoming more prevalent in various walks of life and so Maria spoke about the ways it can improve and free up time for library and information staff, who may be under pressure with budget cuts, and have to use AI so that they can carry out more value-added work. Obviously there are pros and cons of more AI in the sector, but it was good to hear with some excitement on what opportunities it will bring to the services we provide.

The theme of collaboration, project management and cross-cultural services were put across by two talks by the multi-site Judicial Office of Scotland and Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs.   The speakers have all had experience in challenging projects of change, influencing stakeholders and creating efficiencies. In the library world – they are working with people, physical library spaces and also content that is paper and digital. This all requires a vast array of skill sets and competencies to offer cutting edge services.

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Chatham Library, Royal Institute of International Affairs

I love learning new topics and one of the newest I learnt was ‘Nudge in Libraries’. It is the subtle use and awareness of ‘human behavioural economics and psychology can, if channelled ethically and effectively, lead to the development and implementation of behavioural nudges which collectively enhance well-being’. I loved the Nudge techniques introduced at Coventry University to create a better UX (user experience).   I can see this being adopted with colleagues in the workplace, or even in the home, as we all need a little coercing sometimes.

The first day ended with Xuemai Li from York University in Canada sharing her experience on mindful transitioning under library structuring. She shared tips for undergoing change in roles, departments, the ever-present restructuring, budget constraints and how to still provide the same level of service and developments. I personally understand this pressure and the impact it can have your health and well-being, therefore this was a useful reminder and inspiration for me to think of mindfulness exercises that has worked for Xuemai. I had the practical session on Mindfulness first thing the next morning, and I really have to include the exercise in my busy diary daily for my own good!

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Workshop on International Standards in Cataloguing

I also attended a fab workshop facilitated by Anne Welsh of Beginning Cataloguing (@beginningcat) on cataloguing and the metadata practices. It was a fun experience to demonstrate international standards in cataloguing, and how specialised information adjust to these confines. During lunch and dinner, it was nice to get to know other delegates better in a more informal and social way. Being a member for SLA Europe for a number of years, I was able to meet old and new counterparts.

 

 

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Day two presentations started with the brilliant Dr Katherine Schopflin on the use of Knowledge Management as an asset for organisations and the value that has created when this is part imbedded in the culture of an organisation. It was interesting to hear about the individuals who are the ‘aristocrats’ and the role they play in the knowledge gathering and harvesting process. It is also a valuable lesson on losing knowledge of staff when they depart an organisation, and therefore some on the advantages of capturing and re-using knowledge.  Katherine has co-written the book ‘Practical Knowledge and Information Management’.

 

 

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Good information governance, record keeping, ethics and data integrity were covered in the three morning talks. The Qatar Foundation had implemented a high tech enterprise-wide information management change management process with high levels of information governance and records management. Matthew Platt spoke about the cultural importance, significant differences and languages in the Middle East,+ but also the values of religion and family that were most important to the people in the region.

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Matthew Platt, The Qatar Foundation

Predatory Publishing presented by Simon Linacre of Cabells is also a new topic for me on scholarly communications. It is like a form of cyber-crime for academics where online publishers are abusing and presenting journal articles that are of poor quality and research. This is interesting as it showed that some rogues will cut corners in whatever field you may be in. I haven’t thought of this before and being aware of the issue will help if I need to help customers find information in future.

Presentations on Fair Data Principles (Finable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable), Competitive Intelligence and Business Insight presentations also highlighted that information, data, analytics and intelligence are some of the core activities and skillsets naturally attuned to information professionals. It was interesting to see the use of metadata that is searchable but findable for the present, and also in the future. The competitive intelligence and business insights talks mentioned the use of good ethical practices although we live in the present in a mainly open source digital world. Information and Intelligence are value assets that can give you a competitive advantage and should be integral to your strategy. I also like that Lara Lopez Boronat (from Spain) mentioned that Bain & Company are using social media for corporate analysis as a lot of information is available in ‘hidden messages’. If like me, you have been working in business information for a long time – you are sure to be excited by the current practices, but also the talks and the future potential of data and intelligence mentioned.

 

 

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The final topic presentations were to highlight the diversity and inclusion agenda of the conference with a presentation on ‘The Future of Female? Exploring Patterns of Gender (im)balance in UK business, pharmaceutical and electric vehicle research practices’ and my own talk mentioned above. It was interesting to hear the call for balance in research by female – where the perspectives are not one-sided, and there is more inclusion for groups that a particular subject research may directly impact. We were both advocating for greater representation by gender, race, ability, sex orientation, well-being, minority groups…and for everyone. I wanted to cover everything that we have achieved in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace and profession, but also to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work in progress. Hopefully I was able to put across my main points in 15-20 minutes and going by the feedback received, I think my talk was punchy as I intended it to be.

 

 

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The conference closing keynote was by Simon Chalpin, Director of Culture & Society at The Wellcome Trust highlighting our role in preservation, storytelling and also the importance of people in everything that we do. Simon brought all of the elements of the physical with the digital, the scientific with the cultural and the past with future.

 

 

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We ended the session with a Questions and Answer session on the Future of SLA Europe by SLA President Hal Kirkwood, SLA Europe President Simon Burton and myself as the forthcoming President in 2020. There are lots to be proud in what we have achieved with this first SLA Europe conference, our annual early and new professional awards, excellent events programme, engagement and other great volunteers who help and make things happen in our groups and board here in Europe. There is still continuous work in retaining more members and attendees, advocating and attracting hard to find persons in the profession, and also collaborations with other professional bodies such as CILIP, IFLA and other geographical chapters of SLA in the Arab and Asian regions. I already have a whole list of things to do for 2020!

 

 

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At the end of the conference, I had many take-away and learning points which will help guide and inform my work in this field. It also makes me more confident in my understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities in this sector. Attending the conference has also made me aware of key contacts in their subject fields and I know I can draw on this network should I need their expertise in future. I am also looking forward to assisting SLA Europe at the Internet Librarian International conference in October 2019, and also picking up other new, innovative and thought-provoking topics. I do truly feel equipped and ‘Future Ready’. However in the information field, there is always a mixture of experience and knowledge but we also have an adaptability for what is new and around the corner. And so with every turn, I hope and will prepare to embrace and tackle future changes head on as they come my way.

 

 

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Volunteer your time – it is all worthwhile

Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves – Horace Mann

In the last few weeks I have been busy supporting volunteers in my local community, neighbourhood and profession. I am what is termed ‘a frequent volunteer’ and actively volunteer in various roles and diverse causes. I also do this unpaid and in my own time. According to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2019: …“there are 20.1 million people who volunteered through a group, club or organisation during 2017/2018” with £17.1 Billion the total contribution to the voluntary sector to the UK economy. I have been fortunate to also be able to have an impact locally, as on my doorstep, but also internationally across the world as a Board Member to SLA Europe. The research by NCVO in their report ‘Time Well Spent’ quotes …“81% do their volunteering in and for their local communities” and volunteers get involved in different ways, reflecting their lifestyles, values and priorities. Volunteering is quite common now with a large number of us giving our time freely, and the benefits are not just for the causes we support but also for our own happiness, wellbeing, achievement, fulfilment and self-satisfaction.

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Two years ago, when NHS hospitals – among other organisations around the world – were attacked by ransomware hackers, one of the first to have their computers back up and running was the Lister Hospital in Stevenage. It did not pay the hackers a penny. Instead, Hertfordshire police provided a team of young techies from their squad of volunteers, whose employers encouraged their staff to support local charities and public services. Welcome to 21st century volunteering.

CEO Peter Keller in ‘Time well Spent’ NCVO

Volunteering is really important for the success of various causes, organisations and society as a whole. We sometimes volunteer in informal ways and do not necessarily recognise this. Most of us also volunteer to causes that we care about that are nearby but a very small percentage (3%) volunteer outside the UK. Overall we are providing unpaid help to groups, organisations and individuals that matter to us. Volunteering is one of the best ways we can help others in society.

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It has been an extra special time this month to be able to spend time briefly with past and fellow volunteers in my various roles. They were moments of celebration, an opportunity to meet old and make new contacts in the nice summer months. I will mention some of the events I have attended below. And in true connecting the dots style I will be thinking of the greater impact volunteering has in the short-term…and as well as the long term for me and hopefully for these communities.

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Plant from seeds for my guerilla gardening volunteering

I volunteer throughout the year regardless of the weather, indoors and outdoors, virtually, in groups, individually and tirelessly. I have been a frequent and addictive formal volunteer for the last 15 years, and prior to this in my childhood.

The first set of volunteering this summer was for my local neighbourhood which usually entails gardening, picking up rubbish (constantly!), sending out local notices and information, sharing news and relevant stories on social media feeds and giving a helping hand or moral support for local arts and community events. The best photos here are from local guerrilla gardens, our street party and poetry competitions. I am certainly not the only person to volunteer but there are a few hard-core dedicated people who have been doing fab things year on year since 2012. I am not sure how long all of this will last but I live here, and our neighbourhood is fully engaged in the whole process of looking out for each other and our patch. We have also missed having a local police station after cuts to public budgets, and sometimes have to literally clean up mess, anti-social behaviour and watch out for drug pushing in our neighbourhood. There are lots of families in this area yet there is a lot of worrying anti-social activity. Recently it is the worst it has been, but hopefully our community action will help us all to keep our neighbourhood happy…but also safe.

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It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference – Tom Brokaw

In early July, I was invited to attend the celebration and retirement party for the CEO of the local charity, The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity, where I volunteered for 12 years. Pauline Thomas MBE has dedicated the last 35+ years for developing, championing and actively campaigning local authorities and local government for the provision of services for children, their families and the wider community. She is an amazing person and has a real, authentic and kind portfolio of all the work that she has fought for, won and established. She is the first one to make it clear that she has not achieved it all by herself and constantly depends on her brilliant staff, dedicated volunteers and supporters. Her leadership and committment will always be an inspiration. In this organisation, I was happy to learn so much, develop new skills, challenge myself and offer whatever time I had to assist over those years. There was also a great community affairs programme at the time at the company I worked for whereby they supported staff that were volunteering in their local community with a financial award. I was able to get some recognition and the financial reward, which went to the charity. There are several companies who do support charitable causes and communities – this is reported that there are 8000 funders giving to £8 Million in The Guide to UK Company Giving by the Directory of Social Change.

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A tip to share with you is to give incentive, encourage and display value to volunteers and paid staff. One such way is to hold fun award ceremonies for staff and volunteers. You can reward with a certificate, and those events that were held at this charity were great fun and motivating. I still have my certificates for volunteering and fundraising as they are great merits for community and charitable work. Volunteering is worthwhile not because of awards – but for the intangible skills, experience, talent, understanding and networking you gain working outside your day job. This is beneficial for my own personal development, and I gain experience in tasks and roles that I may not do in my day job. I still refer and draw on volunteering time spent with the charity. There are some good award examples for recognising volunteers on The Third Sector website.

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With Pauline at ex-employers Volunteering Award 2007

I currently volunteer mainly for SLA Europe, an international and professional organisation which the motto – ‘Connecting Information Professionals’. It is an organisation this is based on volunteer support. Events and my activities with them helps me to keep my skills and experience fresh, broad, at the cutting edge of technology…and thought leadership. I host meetings monthly, help in various tasks and activity that may arise – gaining valuable ‘hands on’ experience in the process. It is also great for my strategic thinking and professional leadership experience exposing me to experience that I may not have in my day job. Over the years, I have also grown in confidence in the roles that I have conducted in the Digital Communications Group and as Membership Chair. It has also been excellent for me to also gain regular training and Continued Professional Development (CPD) from physical and virtually events (e.g. webinars). SLA Europe and my self-development are so inter-link in my mind that I sometimes don’t see my volunteering as separate to my day job. It has a direct impact on my abilities, experience, exposure, competency and personal development. To be honest in this profession, we have to be constantly moving with the times, and in this professional volunteering capacity…I am the one who is benefiting from the time that I give freely. It was especially nice to celebrate with other members at the recent Summer Drinks and to feel rejuvenated.

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Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls – David Thomas

I am really lucky to see the holistic way that volunteering can regenerate and also create new business and artistic benefits for the local community and the wider society. The borough I live in is celebrating this year with the Borough of Culture, and there are a great bunch of volunteers over the years that initially helped the borough to achieve this accolade, funding and attention. There are many activities for this year and the volunteers were in full mode ‘Getting Involved’ at the Walthamstow Garden Party as shown in my photos.

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I still too have a lot of respect and admiration for voluntary organisations that are tackling poverty, homelessness, abuse, or the general well being of other citizens and community members. I sometimes wish I could do more but there just isn’t enough time for me to fit in more. I do like that I work full-time in a profession which helps and empower people to get on with their own objectives. You are never too young or too old to volunteer, and so I will always look to volunteer in the causes and communities throughout my life hopefully.

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.  – H Jackson Browne Jr.

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Summer sunshine – the best time to go out and about

The sun has been gloriously out the last few days and it is my favourite time of the year. I do like the when the seasons change throughout the year in this hemisphere, but for me it is better when the temperatures are a more amenable for going out more. We spend months and months experiencing rain and damp weather.  Some seasons make me cold and cooped up, although I still try to do interesting things in the colder months. I am thoroughly happier to spend time doing as much (or as little) as I can when the sun and warmer months finally arrive. The British are know for being obsessed with the weather, with even British Vogue charts the reasons for this obsession. It may still be a nice way for the usually reserved British to open a conversation about the weather. What is guaranteed in Britian is that we will be talking about it whether come rain, snow, wind or sunshine. It is also not uncommon to experience all of these atmospheric elements in one day. Regardless of the weather, we must make time to go out for our own wellness and happiness, and that is exactly what I try to do. Here are some of my recent summer ventures and delights to recall with you.

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I am not obsessed about the weather but I do tend to keep an eye on the weather forecast if I am going somewhere, or if I have an event coming up. Being originally from Trinidad, we usually do talk about the weather occasionally as it may be extremely hot, or it may be slightly cold. We rarely talk about the weather when the temperature is ideal. In recent years, there have also been frequent floods, hurricanes and earthquakes – which makes you appreciate good weather regardless if you are on a Caribbean island. For those of you who do not know, the rainy season in the Caribbean can be a big damper on your ‘summer’ vacation in the tropical islands. I had some visitors coming to see me in London this year and I was secretly praying for good weather when they visited a few weeks ago. There are several reasons for this:

  • Tourist destinations look much better in the sunshine
  • You are not cold and wet, otherwise you would have to seek comfort and warmth frequently
  • You can enjoy a lot of outdoor sports and venues
  • You get more done in daylight hours
  • Homes may have an extra room outdoors
  • Gardens look amazing
  • It is a great time to get together
  • Or have a party!

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This year as I had visitors, it was nice to see and plan some events I have been meaning to do for ages. For more of these activities, we were reliant on us enjoying the sights and venues on a clear bright day. My friends are from the Caribbean and ‘feel the cold’ a lot more than myself. Acclimatisation is necessary to feel comfortable with your surroundings but even I have to be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather. The British Council has prepared some tips for visitors. If you are not sure, layering is definitely one of my own recommendations. It was slightly different between June–to-September 2018, as we experienced one of the warmest summers in the last few decades. The Met Office recorded that: “the summer of 2018 was the equal-warmest summer for the UK along with 2006, 2003 and 1976”. It was a relief to have good weather…although there are bigger questions and concerns about climate change.

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One of the first activities in my list of things to do was to show the sights around the West End and historic London. It is handy that I live in Central London and can get the London Underground trains and buses to see most of the sights. We spent about four days in total going around seeing the sights that all first-time visitors like to see around the UK. These include Buckingham Place, Whitehall, The Southbank, The Thames, Covent Garden, The City, Olympic Park and a lot of shopping. I also had a fabulous first cricket game at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and we certainly appreciated that it was a dry day to watch the match.

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I do have a car, which I do not use everyday. However, it is especially useful for going outside of London to see the countryside and other nice outdoor venues. I took my visitors to Cambridge, as it is only about one hour away from me. It was a stress-free drive but we had to make sure parking was organised, as it can be a headache trying to find parking anywhere! It certainly was cheaper to drive than the train tickets for the group of us going there for the day. Travelling in the United Kingdom is very expensive by train compared to other countries.

Cambridge is nice to visit all the universities and colleges – and has an international reputation for it’s academic facilities. In Trinidad, we had (or have) secondary qualifications and examinations that were accredited by Cambridge University, so it is one of the most well known academic institutions for any Caribbean visitor. It is also nice to wander around the town city and to go punting on the River Cam. I am also looking forward to attending and speaking at the SLA Europe Conference in Newnham College in September.

 

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Arundel was an idyllic place to visit that was not too far away from London. I also wanted my friend to experience a traditional castle for its’ history, architecture, rooms, garden and the view. I have visited before to see friends who live there and knew the town well enough to see Arundel Castle and the amazing garden. I could have spent hours in the garden but I also wanted to go to Brighton whilst I was down on the South of England for the day. As the saying goes – make hay whilst the sun shines!

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One of the highlights of the last few weeks was a visit to Paris. I haven’t been to central Paris for 18 years and it was nice to see the city again with all it’s charm and Parisian beauty. I again kept checking on my app to see if we were going to have nice weather and luckily we had some fab weather for three days of walking around and sightseeing. I have since heard that the temperatures have just soared due to the recent heat waves passing across Europe. I also liked that along the Seine, it seemed less busy and the architecture remained tradition as compared to London. I also managed to get my friends on boats three times in one week – Cambridge, The River Thames and The Seine. One disadvantage of travelling in the summer months is the length of the queues to go into Tourist attractions. I went to Eurodisney about 9 years ago and the queues were so long in July, but we still enjoyed the venue over a couple of days. On this trip, I was able to experience all the outdoor must-do’s and Paris will always be a city of love for those who want to be enchanted by it’s glory and culture.

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We didn’t spend the entire time outdoors but it was nice to visit some of the main shopping areas and high streets in London. Whilst out, you see so many shops, and shops in turn, are also reliant on the business of tourists buying their goods. Every city has the usual souvenir shops and we do tend to buy the most iconic souvenirs and treats to take back to friends and family. We mainly shopped in malls, the high street and markets as I mentioned. For my guests, we only bought one item online, as we could not find it in the shops. The outdoor markets are just as fun and become a hive in the nice weather from Borough market for food to my local Walthamstow Market for everything.

 

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If you are helping or planning community events outdoors in the summer, you may have felt panic or anxiety when have to plan for good and bad weather! There are always contingency plans for extreme weather but it is extra nice when the weather is good enough to continue as planned in the ‘great British outdoors’. This was the case with our 8th Street Party – the weather was forecasted to be raining up until the 11th hour before the party started. However like magic, we were able to have a warm and fun day outdoors without having to move equipment and all our gear indoors.

I also went to a recent Indo-Caribbean event in a Sport Centre in Ilford on one of the hottest weekends for the year so far. The heat wave from African and Europe had apparently pushed its’ way to the United Kingdom and temperature was notably humid. However, again it was uncomfortably warm in an enclosed venue but the evening was full of fun and good cheer even though we were sweaty and hot. I also spent a lovely summer’s evening in St Mary’s Church, enjoying the coolness of the ancient church to the rhythmic Flamenco all-female band from Barcelona, Las Migas, making their London Debut.

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Ascot is another event where you hope there is going to be sunshine. I went this year with friends and as soon as my friend booked the tickets, she said, “Pray that it will not rain!” It was a bit rainy this year but luckily for Ladies’ Day, there was more sunshine than rain. I have been to Ascot before in the 1990s when we were in a Marquee with corporate hospitality where your food, drinks and betting are all within the tent. It is nice too to see everyone in the open racecourse and get the general exciting vibes of the races and the entertainment provided. For ladies…and gentlemen, it is even better when the weather doesn’t ruin your well-thought out outfits and hats.

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The summer sunshine definitely improves our mood and wellbeing as we go out more, exploring our surrounding in better conditions and experiencing what’s about. It is my favourite season for going out for a number of reasons. I also love gardening (as you may know) and enjoy flowers and plants in this peak season. Ironically the summer months are also a time to look forward to a proper time to rest and relax here or abroad. Good and bad climate does and will affect us all and we should pay attention to it for our own good. For now, I think I am safe in saying that there is something special about summer, and everybody loves getting a little bit of sunshine.

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Ten Years on Twitter – Highlights and Reflection of my Decade on Twitter

“…We came up with the word Twitter, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’, and ‘chirps from birds’.

And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Jack Dorsey –Co-Founder of Twitter

I am celebrating ten years of actively using Twitter this month and there is much to reflect, think about and hope for with this brilliant platform. There are many fabulous benefits as in individual, as well as in a professional capacity, for using Twitter over the years. You may have been on another planet if you haven’t heard of or used Twitter. Twitter is best described as a micro-blogging platform where you can share a lot in ‘Tweets’ that are messages in limited characters, photos and other multi-media. I have seen multiple definitions of tweets in the last few weeks but as a reminder – a Tweet is “an expression of a moment or idea. It can contain text, photos, and videos.” A tweet, in essence, is a ‘nugget of information and by extension, Twitter a tool for the sharing and dissemination of information’. In the wider world context in politics, social interaction and humanity – there have been great impact, both negative and positive. We should not let negative human behaviour stop us from using this tool to communicate and connect with people who we may or may not agree with. Since the early days, there has been much development of the platform, some regulations and several business, as well as social networking benefits.

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Humans have been using texts and symbols to communicate for over century. I have just been to see the ‘Writing: Making You Mark’ exhibition at the British Library where I witnessed human’s great achievement of writing, carving and printing notes, letters and symbols to create our own mark in this beautiful world. The exhibition gave me a chance to “reflect on works of genius that wouldn’t exist without the writing traditions of civilisations past”. In the bigger picture perspectives, Twitter is powerful but also a humble experience to all that was written, craved, printed and typed in the past. We should remember this. The time has past for you to think about using social media – it is a necessity in the Web 2.0 world of social media and interactions.

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The best way to remember my Twitter anniversary here is to jot down some of the ten top tips I have experienced in the last 10 years:

1. Good Business Communications – I currently run workshops and webinars on social media to highlight some of the business benefits of using Twitter, which usually include strategy and ideas for good customer services, brand awareness, communication, brand credibility, building relationships, etc. In ‘Get rich with Twitter: Welcome to the World of Microblogging’, there is a fabulous quote on Twitter which states that it is a standout name in micro-blogging. The site has cut a ‘new path right through the overgrowth of information excess, showing all a new way to speak and heard’. As a communication tool, “Twitter makes it possible to get to the point and get down to the real business of communicating in a real and meaningful way. To the business person, Twitter enables a message that values the customer’s time, offers immediacy of product or service availability and helps establish a brand identity via brief but easy to remember messaging’. There are several opportunities to go viral and reach millions of customer or alternatively grow your following organically and develop meaningful business relationships. It is also where people will be talking about your business, and a lot of other fun things. There have been several examples of negative public relations on Twitter and the quick fire responses that are needed to mitigate and control further damage. You can also be liable to libel if you are not careful on Twitter.

2. Library and Information Community – I started using Twitter in a professional capacity whilst working in an information centre. There are several reasons to do so for we must harness and appreciate new technology to tap into the wisdom of the crowd. There are honestly too many excellent uses for Twitter, as I have elaborated here. There are also several concerns in the negative and dangerous misuse of this platform, such as with Fake News, Bullying, Racism, Trolling, etc.

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I am hoping to use this blog post to clear some of the headspace I have after many years of using Twitter (almost) daily, heavily and full-heartedly. As information professionals, we must be at the forefront of using collaborative technologies and social media to reach out to our customers, community, other professionals and keep abreast of topics of interests.

3. Live Tweeting – To this day, I find Live Tweeting and Real Live Tweets the most refreshing feature of Twitter. This works hand in hand with hashtags (#). Searching for trending hashtags topics daily, and creating your own is one of the most exciting functionality of the platform. In the heat of the moment and mood, you can also ‘develop your own rhythm and reason for how and when you’ll launch a hashtag’. Live tweeting is also great for letting you know what people are talking about and is a powerful source for news breaking and hard to find information from traditional media. There is the major issue of fake news but hopefully as a professional, you may be able to spot the differences and champion good information ethics and best practice. I also have a lot of fun in my social life and share some of that by live tweeting ( #youdoneknow).

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4. Trends – Twitter is great for finding out the hot topics over the last few hours, days and even as a database for old stories. I honestly use it as a database and use it frequently for searching for odd or obscure topics of interest or discussion (conversations in my head anyway!). It is great to use it as a knowledge management tool for finding expertise in person, places of interest and specialisms and good old-fashioned knowledge. This can be global as well as local. If the information is not there – you can even start the conversation with a question. Easy as that.

It is also great to see trends on topics of discussion on the system called Trendmap. Trend jacking is also good fun and I love finding hashtags on popular culture to see what other people are saying on a point or subject. It is also a great source for research or to scope for knowledge on a hot topic.

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5. News and Citizen Journalism – Social Media has changed the way we can share, create and find out news. Journalism has also been turned upside down and inside out. Twitter is an important source and facilitator for generating news stories and citizen journalism. Twitter is sometimes my first port of call for news and even traditional media uses it for groundbreaking and live tweeting stories. It is also an excellence source of information on international affairs, culture and local information. It is even better when you find information from someone with local knowledge and kudos. Obviously there are issues on fake news, misinformation, manipulation and post-truth if you get your information from unreliable and distrusting sources.

It was reported that ‘in the case of the 2015 Paris terror attacks, those reporting on the destruction were generally ordinary Parisians’. In the 2011 London Riots, I do remember being one of the first tweeters as I had just come from picking up relatives from the Tottenham versus Atletico Madrid football game in Tottenham where the initial riots started and saw some of the tensions arising. This riot was known for the spread of misinformation, which was unhelpful at the time.

We still need professional journalists for newsgathering, creation, analysis and presenting. The evolution and balance are that there are now tweets that are mentioned in the broadcast news, some news organisations live-tweeting, and embracing collaborative practices with these newer forms of media and content sharing. The main aim should remain at sharing the truth of the matter. However, there is a lot more noise from the crowd that there ever was before!

“It’s Just Like Passing Notes in class…”

It’s just like passing notes in class” (Content Analysis of the Use of Twitter at #asl2015)

6. Events Conferences and Engagement – Twitter is great for live tweeting and generating active engagement for event organisers, presenters, and attendees alike. Over the years, I have taken part in small and large-scale events with great levels of engagement, interactions and impact. Events hashtags are one of the best uses – do create and use hashtags to see what is being shared on a particular event.

“By using an agreed hashtag (#), a dynamic real time virtual conversation space is creating. Dialogue from beyond the conference centre can also be included simply by following the relevant hashtag. Twitter has also been the fore winner of the hashtag (#) and it has changed the way we communicate with each other”. (Source: It’s just like passing notes in class” Content Analysis of the Use of Twitter at #asl2015).

Yes, you may seem a bit distracted and absorbed in your tweet, but the levels of participation at events are a greatly enriched in physical presence as well as virtual meet-ups with the use of conference hashtags.

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7. Collaborative Business – In the early days of Twitter, I tried to encourage my colleagues to use it, and also attended a SLA Europe talk on ‘Tweeting whilst you work’. I NEVER STOPPED Tweeting! I have said that I am in it for the long haul and there is an interpersonal tone on Twitter. I sometimes see tweets with no interactions and wonder why? (Ha! There is a funny Twitter parody of God where he/she follows no one).

As you may have noticed – I live tweet to this day and although it may seem obsessive, I am actually checking in to see what people are discussing etc. I do like to interact too and there is a brilliant quote in ‘Get Rich with Twitter’: …”you can provide deeper access to who you are (or who your brand or company is) while learning more about who your follower are.” It really is an opportunity to build a better collaborative relationship, trust and engagement. I have also had people un-follow me, it had upset me but generally – I get on with it.

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8. Community Building – Twitter is great for tapping in to the wisdom of the crowd, caring for people, keeping informed on a topic, and for creating a community – be it for profitable business or your local neighbourhood for community spirit. I have used these to much effective at work with sharing at our live events, and in my local community for various activities over the years. You can use Twitter to share news and items of mutual interests, to explore and develop ideas, ask opinions and raise issues of concerns, such as local crime, events and Brexit. I look after a community neighbourly Twitter feed – it is lovely and reassuring to see and share on the issues that are shared by people in my neighbourhood. Social media helps and strong communities make stronger societies.

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9. Political and Social Justice – Twitter has also been an enabler and game changer with some of the political movements of our time such as with social activism such as the examples as: #BlackLivesMatter, #JeSuisCharlie, #MeToo etc. It is also an opportunity to seek and tell tweets on a diverse and inclusive world.

For the #BlackLivesMatter – new Pew Research Centre analysis of public tweets finds the hashtag has been used nearly 30 million times on Twitter – an average of 17,002 times per day – as of May 1, 2018.

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10. Authenticity – Being this long on Twitter, it is very hard to be a fake. I personally feel that I have come to the point in life that Twitter seems a part of me.   I have shared the joys, lows, highs, support, anger, dislikes (I try to repress this emotion) and love.

Twitter started in July 2006, and Twitter was a full-fledged company by May 2007. When I worked at the Greater London Authority – I discussed, used and saw this as an opportunity to share our knowledge and insights with my colleagues, as well as offered training to other staff. I also took part in Social Media Week 2012 on ‘Collaborating on Cancer’ at City Hall, London. The whole team was made redundant the same month, I was unemployed and then carried on knowing all along that this platform is too good to give up. I ended up at the British Library, where there are phenomenal and knowledgeable staff with unique subject knowledge. There is a constant flow of ideas, thoughts, content and topics of conversation. Brexit and the current political climate have not been ideal and sooooooo different to the early days of ‘happy’, collaborative and responsible social media. Let’s hope it gets better but it seems unlikely, as there is real power in words!

I am not sure how long Twitter will last but I think I have seen so much in life from my local community to big picture content on Twitter – I have also tried to maintain a neutral tone and be conscious of others around me. It is very hard to pretend for this long and therefore, I am still here with hopefully an authentic voice and with greater resilience.

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Theatreland – cue the lights, start the music and let the show begin!

As you go out and about in town, you frequently encounter posters and adverts for performances and musicals in the theatres. Social media algorithmic adverts also tend to push theatre adverts to me. It may be overwhelming to take it all in but generally they are great reminders of the spectacular array of performing arts and talent that are available to see with family and friends. You can actually make an evening and night out with the number of shows available. However it is not usually cheap to see all these shows regularly unless you look out for discounts and special reductions for last minute bookings. I always try to see shows with friends or family whenever I can.

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The performance arts industry is very important to the revenue it generates in the global economy from Broadway in New York, The West End in London and the other regions of the world. According to theatre associations and brilliant industry resources, UK Theatres and Society of London Theatres (SOLT), there are 14 million theatre attendances per annum. Their latest figures state: …“the figures reveal a combined audience of over 34m and ticket revenue of nearly £1.28bn, from a total of 62,945 performances over the course of the year in the West End and across the UK”. So it is a thriving industry with natural show closures, but with a lot of long running shows too.

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I would like to think that theatre and drama have been around for as long as humans have tried to keep themselves entertained. This is reflected in the piece I read online by London Theatre Direct: …“Arguably, theatre can be dated back all the way to 8500 B.C. considering tribal dance and religious rituals. Theatre, depending on how you define it, goes hand in hand with society as it has always been a part of life to express and perform in some way or other”.

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Undoubtedly Europe has a long tradition and rich culture of theatre. The Ancient Greeks are credited for developing the Western art form, and also theatre as a place for world historic buildings and architecture. The word theatre and thespian are both derived from the Greek language, culture and mythology. The Romans are also renown for the love of theatre and built 125 theatres at their height of power. The oldest theatre ruins I have been to visit, as yet, are in Pompeii, Italy. I hope to visit other ancient relics in other continents one day. I also was told by Italian relatives that Pulcinella is actual the source of inspiration for Punch – one of the earlier forms of puppet or street theatre in the United Kingdom.

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The United Kingdom records of it’s own heritage seems to start during the Elizabethan age with various influences from other close traditions. The most pivotal for this period would have been the plays, playwrights, theatre companies and the buildings like The Globe at the time. Elizabethan theatre also is world-famous, and has the lasting legacy of the works of William Shakespeare. As an English-speaking country in Trinidad, we were taught Shakespeare for secondary level English (I also studied Shakespeare for A’Levels).

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Shakespeare statue at the British Library

The V&A Museum has a great page for resources in the period and stated at Shakespeare: “Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and numerous sonnets. It is not just the breadth of his work that makes Shakespeare the greatest British dramatist, but the beauty and inventiveness of his language and the universal nature of his writing. Shakespeare is performed today because his writing still speaks to audiences all over the world”. Ironically, the first show I saw in London was the musical ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ on roller-skates (yeah, I know!), which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. I also saw recently ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Barbican Theatre – it quite nice when you can recognise the lines from a school lesson, or phrases that are well known in their own right. I still have to attend a performance at the modern Globe Theatre along The Thames and hope to do so in the near future. Working at the British Library, I frequently come across Shakespearean references, objects and had seen the brilliant exhibition on William Shakespeare a few years ago.

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The history of theatre has developed since to various degrees such as Renaissance Theatre, Victorian Pantomime, during the World Wars, musicals, other 20th Century innovations and even digital drama. The Germans and the British theatre-lands are documented in the book ‘Popular Musical Theatre in London and Berlin 1890 to 1939’ as well as the growth of Broadway in the USA. The book states: “In the USA, traditionally more accepting of popular culture than Europe, the musical has a high cultural status, often closely connected to the formation of national identities. More than just a simple celebration, it has embodied America’s mastery over modernity in particularly amiable ways, as entertainment”.

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Musicals are good fun and there are a myriad of shows to see at any given time in London. It is great to see, hear and tap along to a good musical show. I recently went to see Motown the Musical before it closed in London. I loved the story of the entrepreneurial record company, the real life characters, the political and social historical undertones, the costumes, make-up and the music obviously. The crowd was up on their feet at the end for a sing-a-long and this show in particular was inter-generational for its’ classic soul music and relevance to musical history.

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There are large production teams required for each show and I imagine it can literally be high-pressured and intense at times. Over the years, there have been various technical developments in lights and sound – with the theatre being a precursor to film-making (which I blog about earlier this year). We tend to forget all the make-belief or pretence, and literally are transported to another world by the stories being told and the drama on stage.

 

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The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan of Miami Sound Machine

Miami Sound Machine’s musical show poster was another surprise encounter on a Tube poster a few weeks ago. I obviously loved the band and leader singer Gloria Estefan in the 1980s, and whilst sharing the photo I took of the poster on social media I accidentally found out that the band recently had been awarded and recognised at the Library of Congress for its’ contribution to Latin American heritage, culture and music. The song ‘Rhythm is Going to Get You’ in particular will be treasured and showcased for it’s cultural value and worth. Apart from listening to their music again, I also want to see the Miami Sound Machine show too!

I do like dramas too, but it requires more time to find good shows. There is also a point to stress that most plays and novels are literature, which eventually becomes plays or shows at the theatre. The two art forms feed each other with creativity. I am looking forward to seeing the play ‘Small Island’ in May and will read the book by the Andrea Levy to make sure that I have a deep understanding of the story at the live performance. I am also looking forward to the set, costumes and seeing the diverse actors.

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The industry has looked at itself for the Diversity and Inclusion litmus test, and I recently saw that exclusive research by The Stage looked at how gender and ethnicity affects the types of roles cast. The research states: “the 2019 results reveal that black, Asian, and minority ethnic performers make up 38% of cast members in the 19 commercial West End musicals counted. This figure means West End musicals are more ethnically diverse than their counterparts on Broadway, were 34% of musical casts are from BAME backgrounds, and considerably more diverse than programming on UK television, where BAME actors make up 18% of performers’. Also, I was sad when I read an article recently about La Tanya Richardson Samuel (actress wife to Samuel L Jackson) saying that she was happy to play the maid in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but it was a melancholy reflection of the little progress in racial tensions made in the fictional times as well as in real life. Samuel L Jackson reportedly said: ‘in entertainment, there is a responsibility somewhere in us to reflect the times we’re in. You can do that in the theatre…

The male character seems to get the ‘named role’ (leads) and therefore gender equality also needs to be improved. The industry has been getting better with more women writers and a better representation of the society we live in today. There is some progress but always more work needs to be done, and continuous developments in a diverse workforce in any industry. Apparently the musical ‘Aladdin’ is one of the “most widely diverse musicals”, and I am looking forward to attending the musical next month with a visiting Trinidadian friend.

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I also went to the Young Vic last year in a programme where they invited local school children to meet some of their production staff – this too is a great initiative for young persons.

Whilst I was doing my brief research for this blog post, it was apparent that theatre research has many layers to it – from the point of view in acting,  play writing, creative, production, technical to multiple art forms. It is pure and real entertainment that we still love seeing live in venues across the world. It is also has value in the cultural identity, assets and people who work in this field. And as I close the curtains… I have never seriously acted in a play but I will continue to look out for a show that I can see and enjoy with good company.

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Holi – a Springtime festival of Colour

The clocks may have gone forward to signify the beginning of Summertime, but there are other colourful signs of Spring and Summertime that are bursting from nature in this part of the northern hemisphere. It is also festival time for Holi – the ancient Hindu festival celebrated to mark the coming of spring as a time of renewal, regeneration and reconciliation.  It is celebrated with colour to represent vibrancy, fertility and togetherness associated with family and friends who have gathered to have fun. There are other significant stories of the festival such as the story of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, as well as the story of Holika and Prahlad. It is a time of vibrant celebration when people run around covering each other with the rainbow of Gulal powders or coloured liquid, the latter known as abeer. Drums known as dhol and other musical instruments are played whilst people laugh, sing and dance in the streets or fields. The festival is celebrated in India and various parts of Asia – including the Indian diaspora in the West Indies, North America and even the UK. All in all, the festival represents love and the victory of good over evil.

 

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I was happy to see and learn more about the spring celebrations from past centuries in the Mughal Empire Exhibition at the British Library. The manuscripts and paintings were brilliant and capture the period in time by recording images of people, music, fashion, Holi-playing equipment, the entertainment and fun they obviously had during the celebrations. It was heart-warming to see the extravagance, elegance and details of the Mughal celebrations in the past in their regal settings. I am sure they got dirty too! I was compelled to buy a Holi celebration post card as a souvenir as the festival will always be special to me.

 

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These are some well-documented past celebrations in books with beautiful illustrations and online that show how it was celebrated by all classes in a society – from the Mughals to the people in the streets.

 

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Playing Holi / Phagwa in my village in Trinidad late 1980s.

 

Celebrating the festival of Holi is one of my best childhood memories, and it still makes me happy to see it celebrated from afar. It is a time for peaceful fun with the family, neighbours, friends and other villagers. It certainly is still very much a festival of togetherness which showcases the physical activity like a special rainbow – full of vibrant colour, music, dance and love.

 

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Phagwa, as we call it in the West Indies, is an integral part of the cultural calendar and is still very much alive considering it was brought from India to the West Indies by the indentured labourers in the 1840’s. Holi goes according to the lunar calendar which means it is usually celebrated in March. It is a national holiday in India but in Trinidad it is celebrated on the closest Sunday to the Indian date. Our local temple (mandir) is still the hub for organising and congregating for the celebration in the village, with persons wearing mainly white clothes prior to the start of the coloured festivities. With dholak drums carried around the neck and other musical instruments – the procession starts at the temple and goes along street after street, where people are invited in homes for some drinks, sweets or refreshments. This can last a few hours.

 

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It is exciting, thrilling and fun to play Holi. According to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s website – ‘A Carnival-like atmosphere pervades as willing participants are sprayed with a variety of coloured dyes.  You can hear the strains of special folk songs called Chowtal being sung, accompanied by two instruments – the Dholak, a small hand drum and Majeera, percussive instruments.  The music is fast-paced and extremely infectious, making you want to take part in the joy-filled revelry’.

It has gained popularity over the years by other non-Hindus and ethnicities. In the chapter ‘A rich blend of cultural influences’ in the book ‘Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil’, the island is described: “…but then in Trinidad and Tobago, always expect the unexpected, for this is a nation of two separate territories, many different ethnic groups and religions, and discrete and common cultures. You’d be hard pressed to find a population as ethically or culturally mixed as Trinidad’s, in such a small place, anywhere in the world”. The chapter also goes on to say: “Holi is an integral part of the cultural calendar”. Phagwa, March’s Hindu spring festival is celebrated on savannahs throughout the island to the singing of chowtal or pichakaaree songs and the drenching of all with colourful abeer”.

 

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Abeer is the purple liquid that my father would make in a bucket early on the Sunday morning of Holi. It used to be still warm from the water used to infuse the dye when we used to fill our saved and recycle bottles for the purple liquid. The buzz of getting that first spray with colour is truly joyous, fun and bonding! You certainly would not wear your ‘Sunday best clothes’ because by the end of the day your clothes will be soaked, and even ruined. In the 1980’s the coloured Gulal powder was introduced but prior to that we would use mainly the abeer liquid for spraying or drenching each other. My father would try to find some of the elders, such as Mama and Argee, in the neighbourhood to spray with abeer as a sign of respect, and to join in the fun. Throughout the day, we would look to spray our neighbours, family and the temple group as we go street to street through our special village. Phagwa is still celebrated with much fervour through Trinidad – now in schools and has been adopted by some as a national celebration and part of our identity.

 

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My Roman Catholic School – Holi Greetings on Facebook

 

My mother, family and villagers still welcome the local temple groups to our home for Holi, as do many homes along the parade in the village. I am grateful for the persons who are committed and still carry on these traditions after many years. It will always be our heritage and a true celebration of our past journeys across the seas. The message of good over evil, and the joy of life are always relevant. I am thankful to feel part of the great festivities, and the contagious happiness when I witnessed them on social media.

 

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Holi has influenced our multi-cultural society, such as when carnival band designer Peter Minshall used the spraying off colour on his masqueraders for his band Callaloo in 1984. Chutney music, which is the fusion of Caribbean and Asian beats and melodies, has been successful in creating mixed and modern music for the festivities. There is still a religious festival so there is no alcohol consumed on the day. So it is pure fun and happiness with the colours, music, dance and interaction with people.

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Callaloo – Carnival Band by designer Peter Minshall.   Source: Tumblr – http://carnival2014-blog.tumblr.com/post/46371316750/peter-minshall-callaloo-1984-photo-roy-boyke

I also can’t help thinking of Holi when I see the music video for the calypso by Machel Montano, better known as the Soca king, called ‘Fog up de Place’ with the lyrics: ‘you can’t play mas if you fraid powder’. J’ouvert and the Carnival sailor masqueraders share powder for different reasons (US sailors stationed in Trinidad used talc powder to cool themselves from the tropical heat), but the visual effects of the powder in the air is still amazing and similar. We have these festive traits in common.

 

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A few years ago, I saw that there was a globetrotting event based on Holi called Holi One Festival at Battersea Power Station in London. I also recall seeing some people on the London Underground with the powder on their once white clothes. There is a brilliant article ‘Holi One Colour Festival – Battersea Unites in an Explosion of Colour’ which explained the festival’s aimed to bring together people from all walks of life to share music, arts, fun and vitality. It was reported that: “14000 expectant revellers dressed from head to toe in white – three quarters of them women – streamed along the pavements like angelic ants, moving collectively towards one of London’s most recognised landmarks. They would leave an entirely different colour!” At the end of the event – the organisers found it promoted the ideas of togetherness and vitality that did not disappoint – “they were multi-coloured and it’s fair to say – unrecognisable mess”. A jet-wash was used for the clean up the next day. I can relate to this, as it is absolutely true too that you can still see some of the colour stains and evidence of Holi for a few days after the event. Your hair and fingernails will also bear the colours of Holi as a gentle…and sweet reminder afterwards. I don’t mind that.

 

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The Indian Bollywood film industry has helped us to appreciate the festival for its connection with the East Indies and West Indies. In the 1980s, we had neither Internet nor social media, so film such as Silsila was brilliant for us to see the visual expression and art of Holi as it is celebrated in India. We also know some of the songs, and they remain classics to this day.

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Film – Silsila 1981. Source: Wikipedia.

Holi is celebrated and popular throughout other West Indian countries such as Guyana and Suriname, where there are large Indo-Caribbean communities. I have also seen celebrations on social media in New York, Houston, Paris, Canada etc. The event in Queens, New York seems to be a merger of West Indians and East Indians, and there are Tassa drums used in the parade. The New York Police Department also participated in one of the Holi celebrations and used the opportunity to showcase their LGBT+ community. The rainbow symbol is very apt. It is a festival of time for everyone regardless of religion, colour, class, gender and age from my personal experience.

 

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A few years ago I went to the Caribbean Hindu Temple in North London to celebrate the festival and it was nice to be welcomed by the community and to play Holi again after so many years. I was going to play it this year but was busy on the day. I saw on social media that Indian students were also celebrating Holi at Middlesex University recently, and a couple of primary schools in the UK.   It was nice to see the celebrations in secular environments for the happiness and fun that playing Holi brings.

 

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Holi has been given a lot of exposure (rightly so!) by Google. Google’s logo is colourful and has evolved over the years.  In the last few years they have commissioned colourful and animated ‘Goggle Doodles’ for Holi with clearly explanatory details of the festival. In 2018, it depicted the traditional dhol drummers amongst a cloud of colour, who move from house to house, adding a musical touch to the day’s festivities. In 2019, it states that the visual excitement marks the start of spring but also offers: “a time for renewal, and a reversal of the social hierarchies among ages, classes, and castes. Holi’s also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love because it marks a time for coming together and releasing old grudges”. 

At Holi, the story of Holika is depicted with bonfires.  The bonfire signifies the demoness Holika, who tried to destroy her nephew Prahlad in a fire, but burnt herself to death in the end. Its’ meaning at springtime reminds us about the true victory of good over evil.

 

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The colourful festival of Holi is a diverse and inclusive celebration of dance, music and other rituals, which is a common thread amongst most cultures. The vibrancy, warmth and togetherness by people taking to the streets or in their community spaces, is something we all should try to experience at least once. The rainbow colours of the festival are played to the beating of songs of joy and happiness. It heralds a warm welcome to the new spring season with its’ stories, merriment, song and dance. In some form or another in human life, we can learn and admire this rich ancient celebration as we dance along to the beat of drums.

 

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