Tower Hamlets council takes over Bangla Mela festival attracting 100,000

East End's Baishakhi Mela in Brick Lane, 2011 [archive photo: Rehan Jamil]

East End's Baishakhi Mela in Brick Lane, 2011 [archive photo: Rehan Jamil] - Credit: TH Council

Town Hall officials have taken over running the troubled Bangladesh Mela festival which draws in 100,000 spectators to London’s East End after ending the contract with the organisers.

Mela Festival in 2006 in Brick Lane [archive photo: James Perrin]

Mela Festival in 2006 in Brick Lane [archive photo: James Perrin] - Credit: Archant

Tower Hamlets council has decided to run the event directly itself this year after a history of uncertainty.

Concerns were raised when the contract was terminated with Boishakhi Mela Community Trust, but the festival is now on track to go ahead on schedule at the end of July.

The Mela has had a turbulent history over the years—including allegations by an MP of being used for “people trafficking”, fears for “public safety” and rival groups fighting to take it over.

But the local authority has stepped in directly this year to stage Europe’s biggest Bangladeshi New Year festival at Bethnal Green’s Weavers Field, off Vallance Road, on Sunday, July 31, the Town Hall announced today.

Mela Festival in Hanbury Street in 1976

Mela Festival in Hanbury Street in 1976 - Credit: Archant

“Making sure this much-loved community event takes place is a priority for the council.” Mayor John Biggs said. “I’m committed to a Mela for the whole community despite austerity measures and cuts to the council’s budget.”

The authority is aiming to keep it on schedule to the Trust’s original date, despite the short time left to organise it.

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The annual Mela, first staged in the 1970s, has drawn much criticism in the past decade over its funding and allegations one year that it had been used to ferry in migrants under the cover of hiring authentic Bengali catering workers—who then vanished into the population when the festival ended.

UK immigration officials in 2007 had granted dozens more work permits than organisers had stated. The British High Commission in Dhaka received 62 applications to work at the Mela, but officials had to reject 29, the Foreign Office told the East London Advertiser that summer.

Bethnal Green’s Respect MP at the time, George Galloway, said publicly that the event could have been used to mask a “people trafficking” operation.

The Town Hall later severed its contract with the organisers after auditors found loose controls on finance and public safety regulations.

Two rival organisations, headed by competing Brick Lane restaurant owners where the processions were staged, applied to run the festival the following year.

The deadlock led to the Town Hall scrapping the 2008 Mela altogether, citing public “safety concerns”.

But that only sparked outrage in the East End’s tight-knit Bangladeshi community. The council was forced into a U-turn and the Mela was back on.

A new contract to operate the 2017 Mela next summer and beyond is to go out to tender shortly.