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Cultural Olympics comes to East End

PUBLISHED: 17:36 29 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:39 05 October 2010

Nearly 200 performers helped launch the Cultural Olympiad by staging a mini-carnival in Spitalfields Market last Friday. The Olympiad is a four-year programme of cultural and artistic events counting down to the 2012 Olympics. Children from St Matthias

Nearly 200 performers helped launch the Cultural Olympiad by staging a mini-carnival in Spitalfields Market last Friday. The Olympiad is a four-year programme of cultural and artistic events counting down to the 2012 Olympics.

Children from St Matthias and Kobi Nazrul primary schools, and Bethnal Green Technical College, danced before a giant pearly queen. A colourful carnival band with 50 drummers and 70 brass instruments entertained hundreds of spectators, including BBC News presenter George Alagiah.

Event organizer Nick Green, from Tower Hamlets Council, said the spectacle had cost the council between £30,000 and £40,000. But he justified the expense by pointing to the long-term benefits of the Olympiad. He said: "Not only will it create employment opportunities, it will give those who participate, especially young people, experience and confidence."

Wendy Hick, head teacher of Kobi Nazrul, said: "It has been fantastic getting involved. The children love it. Our school is 98 percent Bangladeshi, and events like this really help with their speaking and listening." She said the Olympiad went hand in hand with the Find Your Talent programme, a pilot scheme launched last week that aims to provide children with five hours of art and culture a week.

The carnival was designed to reflect the history of the East End. Costumes displayed Huguenot, Jewish, Islamic and Cockney symbols. Mr Green said: "We could never do massed ranks of people like the Chinese. The emphasis will be on place and locality. It will be more diverse and spontaneous than Beijing."

Pearly queen for Old Kent Road Doreen Golding said: "We represent the true spirit of London, and it's lovely that they've picked up on this in the Olympic celebrations."

Not all onlookers welcomed the Olympics. Dance teacher Eyesha Mingo, 21, from Manor Park, said: "There is always a downside to events like this. I think it will regenerate the area. But we will also lose some of the things that make it special. The East End will become less affordable, markets are closing, and some people will have to move away. I'm not really big on the Olympics."

Steve Murray, Head of Arts and Events at Tower Hamlets Council, admitted that not everyone wanted the Games, but said they remain broadly welcome. He said: "There are lots of different opinions depending on how individuals are affected. But the area was always crying out for redevelopment." He said that the Olympiad was a way of involving people that might not otherwise take part.

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