The following piece appears in this mornings Argus: This coming weekend sees two events taking place here in Sussex that are both an attempt to change the way in which elements of our society operates and to dramatically improve the lives of a number of people. There is no connection between the events but they both deserve a level of promotion and support from as many people as possible. On Saturday, despite it being the day before the traditional Firework Night, the Lewes Bonfire Societies will be celebrating the fifth and beginning at around 5pm they will be marching and setting off fireworks, with the celebrations due to end at 1am. There is plenty of additional information available on the website lewesbonfirecelebrations.com although due to the challenge of getting in and out of Lewes most people who are going have already made their arrangements to do so. What is not evident on the website is a challenge to some of the racist actions and behaviour that has become part of the tradition for a small number of people, and who black up their faces as part of the annual event. The ‘Love Bonfire, Hate Racism’ campaign is an important campaign that deserves the support, not only of many residents of Lewes and the members of associated firework societies, but also all those who visit the town to experience the evening for themselves. Calling on people to change their long standing practices is a big ask and those behind the ‘Love Bonfire, Hate Racism’ fully understand this. Their willingness to stand up for the town of Lewes and the reputation of its annual festival is to be highly commended. They have created a petition using the 38 Degrees website which specifically calls on Borough Bonfire Society not to black up as part of their Zulu warrior costume. As they state on their website “the decision of a small fraction of participants to embody caricatured, negative stereotypes of black Africans is racist and runs counter to the overall spirit of the event. Their action serves only to increase tension and division within our diverse community”. Supporting ‘Love Bonfire, Hate Racism’ and seeing a change to the behaviour of a small number of people would send a huge signal to a much larger group of people who feel rejected and threatened by such behaviour.
The following day is the fifth of November and as the visitors to the bonfire celebrations are recovering from their night out, a much smaller group of people will be gathering at the i360 in an attempt to identify ways of dealing with a huge challenge that impacts on society as a whole and in particular on the city of Brighton & Hove. The group are gathering under the banner of Galvanise Brighton & Hove which is a campaign focused on the need to end rough sleeping on the streets of a number of European Cities including our own. Clearly such a campaign needs to be seen in conjunction with other efforts and campaigns to ensure that our Government and other UK based organisations including local Councils build substantially more homes than has been the case since the end of the 1980’s. When the Labour group on the Council gained the largest number of seats back in 2016, one of their manifesto commitments was to ‘work to reduce the number of rough sleeping in the city’ but outside of the written commitments Warren Morgan did speak about seeking to end rough sleeping as part of his campaign. As we approach the half way point of their administration, the launch of Galvanise clearly has the potential to assist in this objective. The Council is one of the major partners in the Campaign along with a number of charities including the two city based YMCA’s, Brighton YMCA and Downslink Group YMCA. Other key members include Community Base and the Clocktower Sanctuary who like Downslink Group YMCA focus their efforts on young people who are homeless. The Galvanise campaign is part of a much wider effort across 10 European cities to end street homelessness coordinated by a UK based charity called Building and Social Housing Foundation that works across the world as a catalyst for such activities. The campaign is calling on local people to assist, in the first instance with gaining a better understanding of what steps need to be taken.
It is hard to imagine a society that has fully resolved matters as intractable as homelessness and racism, yet standing out against such matters proclaims a vital message that this is the direction our society wants to travel in. Changing the behaviour of bonfire societies, and ending rough sleeping will demand support by many people, not just those who are in a place to do the right thing.