Ros Alexander: Keeping Carnival Alive

Merium Bhuiyan

Merium Bhuiyan

Merium is interested in research and enjoys conducting interviews because she has a passion for communication and arts as well as motivating young people to aim higher.
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UKON Careers CIC was given a grant from our Renew Fund to take their Carnival activities online. They used this to make and send craft packs into the community, who would use the packs to participate in online activities, such as mask-making.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Ros and I founded UKON Careers. UKON Careers is a small organisation that captures the spirit and heritage of Carnival, empowering and offering employment opportunities. We use carnival arts in a creative way to kickstart careers, plus support social inclusion and mental health. We aim to change the conversation about carnival. It is not just a street party. It is real performing arts that deserves recognition, on the same platform as other professional performances. UKON Careers will change the future!

What was your initial reaction when the lockdown was imposed?

In terms of the lockdown, UKON Careers was in shock, horror, and disbelief. We delivered solely face-to-face, so all grants and work were suspended. So, it was like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do? Do we go bust or not?’. Especially since we did not have a website or a YouTube channel, or even people that knew how to deliver online. 

Our office was shut down suddenly which was pretty scary.

What has changed for you since then?

UKON Careers does a lot of work on creative thinking linked to emotional resilience. We practice what we teach, so we had to problem solve collectively, thinking outside of the box. The best approach decided upon to try to deliver online. We didn’t have the skills, so we had to learn quickly and develop a website in a short space of time.

With the support of the Renew fund, we hosted the LBBD Carnival Arts Project including Barking Carnival online where we ran tutorials and workshops for seven weeks. We discussed how to survive and become more sustainable as well as develop our capacity. In going online, UKON Careers created employment opportunities in a climate where people have been losing jobs, and we have helped others gain valuable employability, creative and social skills.

We have also received a huge amount of support from Barking and Dagenham including our Mayor, Young Mayor and Councillor Saima Ashraf and the Barking Learning Centre who is a an extremely important partner, without whom our work would not have developed as it has

We want to bring back the feel-good factor and more of that happy feeling.

How has your community reacted to the crisis?

Senior citizens were devastated and missed out on our projects on mental health, social isolation and community cohesion. All of our work is very practical, it’s designed to build understanding about history and engagement. They were really saddened by it, especially since last year they performed at the carnival and were looking forward to this year which unfortunately did not happen. A lot of our community has lost contact with us. The schools we work in as well as young people and their parents were disappointed.

A video showcasing the online activities that took place this year

How were you adapting to the easing of measures?

Our offices are still shut, and we cannot predict when the office will re-open. We just finished our carnival arts project and then we celebrated Black History Month and have not had the time to reflect on how we will move forward.

The priority is in ensuring staff are safe.

What are your hopes for the future, for yourself, your family and your community?

What we really want to see is our communities gain more understanding between cultures. We want them to gain employability skills and develop creative thinking skills. Our Creative Thinking workshops are flexible and can be delivered to all ages, particularly adults interested in setting up their own business, to support the discover they have amazing transferable skills. When we do that, we see adults go ‘Wow, I can try something!’ It’s raising awareness and works amazingly.

We want to bring back the feel-good factor and more of that happy feeling. We do that through carnival with costumes, food, music, and dance. It is good for our brain cells when we host our event. You would be surprised how many cultures come to our Carnival! It gives people the opportunity to learn about each other and how similar they are. Our exhibitions tell the story of carnival, including the European influence. It helps all cultures to see how their culture feds into carnival. It is the same for Asian and African cultures. Our storytelling of traditional carnival characters celebrates the history of a people.

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