How an idea of sharing African Caribbean culture developed into Sheffield Carnival

To celebrate this year’s Sheffield Carnival taking place online last weekend, we have taken a look back at how the festival was introduced to the city.

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 10:12 am
African Caribbean Festival, September 1989.
African Caribbean Festival, September 1989.

The origins of the event came about from the African Caribbean fortnight, which took place in Sheffield every September for over a decade.

Although Sheffield Carnival is an event that many communities in the city still like to get involved with today, it had moved online this year as a result of the pandemic – Sheffield Carnival Soca was held on August 1 via the Zoom app.

Leroy Wenham said: “It all started in 1979 when I came from Leeds to work at The Sheffield Caribbean Workshop.”

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North Stars Steel Band parading on Spital Hill during Caribbean Cultural Fortnight, September 1986.

He explained: “It seemed to me that there was a cultural void in Sheffield at that time. There were no black plays or exhibitions in the city and few opportunities to show off black talent to local audiences.

“With this in mind, and the idea of sharing our culture with the wider community, I set up a committee and between us we drew up a programme of ten events, lasting over a fortnight. And so it became the ‘African Caribbean Fortnight’.

“We had a motto – captivating the city – that’s what we aimed to do! Lots of community groups drove the programme and organised events. We organised workshops in schools on Caribbean themes and we did lots of community events: a fashion show, a health day, a sports day, an Africa day, a talent show with a Caribbean carnival to start or finish off the fortnight.”

Leroy told how organisation of the festival ‘was not an easy task’ and that funding was an issue.

Caribbean Cultural Fortnight, September 1987.

Sheffield Carnival 2019, which took place at Norfolk Heritage Park, was also scaled down from previous years due to lack of funding, but it still featured African dancers and belly dancers, activity tents, fairground rides, craft workshops, face painting and live stages.

There were plans to end festival celebrations in 1994, but people were not ready to put a stop to it and so the responsibility was taken on by others.

Leroy explained that people’s expectations grew every year and they ‘loved the fun and spectacle of it all’.

Since then the Sheffield Carnival team has been running as a not-for-profit group, expanding and developing ideas year on year.

Chapeltown Dance and Theatre Group playing in Fargate during the Caribbean Culture Fortnight, September 1981.

Its aim is to promote lasting culture, heritage awareness and opportunities for diverse communities to come together and celebrate their differences through the means of carnival.

Caribbean evening at Ecclesall Library, Knowle Lane, during Caribbean Cultural Fortnight, September 1985.