Boishakhi Mela ‘comes home’ to its East End roots and family ‘localism’

Mela Procession through Spitalfields

Mela Procession through Spitalfields - Credit: Archant

This year’s Bengali Mela finally shook off its commercial shackles of the past few years after families in London’s East End had complained it was too expensive to take part in.

Under the arches... Mela procession along Vallance Road

Under the arches... Mela procession along Vallance Road - Credit: Archant

The procession through Spitalfields and Bethnal Green winding its way along Brick Lane, Old Montague Street and Vallance Road ended with yesterday’s free family festival in Weavers Fields rather than a ticketed enclosure in Victoria Park run by a private company for profit.

It was no national event drawing crowds from all over Britain, but was “back home” as the local festival it had started out as 18 years ago.

It looked like the elephant in the parade wouldn't make it... don't worry, the sahib riding it lower

It looked like the elephant in the parade wouldn't make it... don't worry, the sahib riding it lowered his head and just got through in Vallance Road - Credit: Archant

The controversial move back by Tower Hamlets council had ended the commercialisation era at Vicky Park trying to rival the Notting Hill Carnival.

Yesterday’s spectators lining Brick Lane for the parade and the crowds in Weavers Fields were a little thinner on the ground—but at least it was back in the community.

Crowds build up in Weavers Fields for the live shows on stage

Crowds build up in Weavers Fields for the live shows on stage - Credit: Archant


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“There was some anxiety of crowds in the area,” Mayor John Biggs told the East London Advertiser at the Mela.

“But I wanted this to be a local event for families in the East End.

Bethnal Green's MP Rushanara Ali welcomes the Mela crowds at Weavers Fields

Bethnal Green's MP Rushanara Ali welcomes the Mela crowds at Weavers Fields - Credit: Archant

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“I’m not driven by getting the highest possible numbers of spectators as we can.

“We wanted an event strongly rooted in the community and to bring it back to Bethnal Green and not to become a national event with people from all over the UK—this is an East End event where it started.”

Mayor John Biggs, in his cloth cap, meets 10-year-old Shakira Raji form Bethnal Breen

Mayor John Biggs, in his cloth cap, meets 10-year-old Shakira Raji form Bethnal Breen - Credit: Archant

Last year was run by a business, as a commercial enterprise, “but many families complained that it cost them a lot of money to go round,” he pointed out.

Performances on stage were briefly interrupted by Mr Biggs, local MP Rushanara Ali and the Bangladesh High Commissioner welcoming the crowds with rather short speeches before the live entertainment resumed.

Council's recycle robot is a hit with children at the Mela

Council's recycle robot is a hit with children at the Mela - Credit: Archant

The mayor added later: “People in the East End have to have some enjoyment as well as the grit and grind of daily life.”

He then went on a “regal walkabout” in his working class cloth cap to greet and meet families in the sunshine enjoying the food stalls, funfair attractions, picnics on the grass and even the council cleansing contractors’ remote-controlled C3 recycling robot chasing the children.

But it wasn’t long before the park began filling up in the late afternoon for a ‘catwalk’ show by the British Bangladesh Fashion Council and stage performances by top Bangla acts like Bolly Flex, Habib Wahid, Ayub Bachchu and LRB.

The Mela had finally come back to the community.

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