Updated 16th November 2021
On Sunday 7th November the Abundance Parade, an event with more than a large hat-tip to Diwali took place in Foleshill.
Abundance was another magnificent event, though it seemed to have possibly the most ironic title, as there was certainly no abundance of spectators. The event was an attempt to follow on and build from the success of the Carnival of Lights in 2019, which was undercut right from the start with the unfathomable decision not to keep calling it the Carnival of Lights, but use the rather cryptic title of ‘Abundance’ instead.
The title “Carnival of Lights”, very much like the most successful event so far outside the city centre the “Midsummer Fire Gardens“, is pretty on the nose and does all your marketing for you, it’s an immediate hook that effectively tells people everything about the event which they need to know: it’s a carnival of lights; that’ll be great for the kids; and most importantly if you’re trying to build on the success of the previous event people might even think “Carnival of Lights? Oh yeah, that was really good the other year”. If you’re running a slow-burning conceptual event like “Observations on Being”, that built up numbers towards the end of its run, or indeed anything that has multiple times or low capacity you can afford to have a cryptic title. A couple of weeks ago Gaia may have booked out over the weekend, but not until the first photos of it with the link on how to book were being shared on the pretty empty first morning.
This is not about having a whinge, that’s lazy. The same way that there are people who say City of Culture is a wonderful thing (which it of course is) and don’t want to listen the criticism, that’s lazy too. This is about accepting that there is an issue, and if the issue is accepted it can be tackled, as long as there is a will to do so and belief that it can be. This is about continual improvement and learning from mistakes and Abundnace is a good case study in that respect. Because at Abundance, there were fantastic costumes, great dance routines and a truly wonderful steampunk cycle-powered elephant bringing up the rear, all of which given the effort and money that must have gone into their creation deserved far more people to see them.
Believe it or not, many of the people living on Princess Street and Broad Street which the parade went down, didn’t know it was happening until it turned up, with most thinking the road closures were because of planned roadworks. As I walked on the pavement following the parade with Sky Blue Christmas lights sellotaped to my flagpole so as to make some sort of effort, I was rather hoping that the crowds would be waiting around the corner when it got to Foleshill Road, and whilst there were inevitably more people there, it was still nothing like what all that effort, and of course money spent by locals and on external performers deserved.
Now I’ve been told there was an attempt to get shop keepers to have leaflets and posters, but while the event had paused before going on to Foleshill Road, I went into a shop. None of the three lads working there knew what was happening, there was no publicity and because of that I looked at a few shop windows and there wasn’t anything there that I could see, and I kept looking out at various stages was the parade went on. So I don’t know what has been going on here because I find it hard to believe that if this effort had been put in that people running businesses on Foleshill Road were going to say “What, something that is going to encourage more to be people to be outside my shop, or mean more potential customer know that my restaurant actually exists and what the menu is? Nah, why would I want help support and publicise that?”. Simply put, the claims now being made about pre-event publicity don’t match with the outcomes. And as for the publicity itself, any poster that would have been going to the shop windows on Foleshill Road only really had to have looked like the one below. The rules of publicising events are simple: what, when, where. This is not a whinge, this is an attempt at a lesson in practicality.
And this is the thing, this is not what I want to be talking about. I want to be talking about the sheer number of dance numbers that the group of women pictured with the umbrellas must have learned and how organised they were, or how sore the cheek muscles of the women dressed as the peacock and peahen must have been after smiling constantly for a couple of hours, or what the hell was going on with those three people wearing the lampshades (seriously, anyone, what was that about?), or that elephant. I mean it was worth turning up just for the elephant, and there was so much effort that had gone in to all the other costumes and lights and everything, and it just deserved more. But on top of that, I want to be talking about a crowd of happy people who have taken memories away, so much bigger than the one I saw.
I mean, when we had the opening ceremony, I can understand that there was a genuine need due to lockdown not to tell people in advance where things were happening to avoid crowds. But now? Not posting something through the doors of the people along the route to make sure at least they knew? After all the complaints there have been so far about City of Culture publicity?
Well that’s what I thought happened, but since I’ve been told since that leafletting did happen and 3000 flyers were produced, but were they delivered and did they contain the route? I have to ask that question as there were simply too many people on the day coming out of their houses only because they heard the noise and genuinely didn’t know. Most sadly there was a distinct lack of children whom I would have been expected not just to have been spread out along the route, but to have been in clusters of friends around the house of the kid who was lucky enough to live on it.
Because you can say that the leaflteting and publicity happened, but it’s that lack of kids that makes this hard to believe. The lack of kids absolutely shows that the publicity failed to realise what the event actually was, because a free “Carnival of Lights” is the sort of thing I could well have driven my son 10-15 miles to see when he was ten years younger and maybe taken some of his mates too, and plenty of other parents I knew at the time would have thought the same.
Earlier that day, I’d been talking about going to the event and specifically discussing logistics, deciding that the place to park would be the Gallagher Retail Park after a discussion about whether or not it had ANPR. I was thinking that of course shouldn’t matter because it was after 4pm on a Sunday when all the shops would be shut, but of course it shouldn’t have mattered, because that should have been publicised as a designated car park as that’s one of the simple things that is essential when you want people to come in to event who might not be familiar with an area. The CCoC webpage for Abundance actually said “We recommend parking in the public car parks off the A444 and Stoney Stanton Road”, but there aren’t so many ‘public car parks’ there, there are shopping centre car parks and loads of those in Coventry have ANPR specifically aimed at stopping people parking past the two hour mark….
Earlier in the year, City of Culture sent out mother-hen emails about parking for both the Midnight Fire Gardens and the Allesley Silas, but they were emails sent to ticket holders at the last minute back when there wasn’t a lot happening. This time, with an event that had no ticket holders, it didn’t seem to have been considered beyond “You all know where the car parks are don’t you? Good. I’m sure you won’t get a ticket”. But simple additions like naming a designated car park this is how you make events accessible, especially events out of the city centre in areas people might not know. These basic lessons need tatooing onto the inside of someone’s eyelids, as it’s these sort of nuts and bolts basics which need tackling in the future. I don’t see any of this as insurmountable. For now, the number one thing everyone needs to do is sign up to email updates from CCoC, they’re by far the best and most digestible way of seeing what is on.
Now this might seem like a bit of a ranty whinge, but it’s not. This is about improving the one big problem with City of Culture, publicity and communication. It’s just gone too far and sorting it out needs to be given the focus and resources that it needs. Quite frankly the lack of kids at what was the absolute perfect event for kids was just criminal.
Maybe Coventry City of Culture Trust need to ask us what they need us to do for them? Maybe asking what their army of City Hosts think would be useful? I mean, collecting feedback at events, i.e. from people who made a conscious decision to attend events they knew about, and that feedback finding that those people mostly have a positive impression is not exactly useful feedback.
But as we’re halfway through the year of City of Culture, this weekend I asked people on Facebook what the best and worst things have been about the year so far. The results are now here, and while there are loads of positives, the worst thing, to the degree that it’s about the only answer, is publicity and advertising: the lack and lateness of. (Stop Press – Since [not as a result of!] the publication of this blog, there has predictably been a load of people complaining that they would have gone to Abundance if they had known about it).
With this event, CCoC will point to the fact they made A5 leaflets that were produced but went to all the same city-centre places, but what’s the use if they (and the website) don’t contain all those essential practical details or go to the most obvious common-sense places. You know, things that people who live in the real world and know Coventry would know were needed. And whilst they’ve been using Cardiff-based leaflet distributors so far, there are people in Coventry who do that for a lot less money and probably more effectively. Hell, Cross Road, Princess Street, Broad Street, Foleshill Road? I’d have taken the dog out and done that myself for nothing to make sure it was done. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
For those of you who really keep up with these things, you’ll have noticed that you haven’t seen any pictures on this blog of the ‘Lullaby’ event. For those of you who don’t know, that was an event by visual artist Luke Jerram, which consisted of a bike ride with bikes that were lit up in some way with a lullaby playing, with two routes and the other route ending up at London Road Cemetery. Leaflets were produced for that saying the ‘North Ride’ would be part of Abundance and go through Longford and Foleshill between 4.30 and 7.00 that night. With no published route, those leafets were saying “Just look out for some bikes with extra lights and some sound in North Coventry over a two and a half hour period on a Sunday night in November”. You see the problem here? Even I missed it and I knew about it.
While there’s always this talk about ‘legacy’ with city of culture, the legacy we are looking at for many is one of missed opportunity caused by a failure to do enough to inform, include and involve people. If we don’t involve people, how can we inspire them?
As this point in time, talking about the need to communicate better is very much the elephant in the road. While the money for externals might not be there to make sure all of it can happen again in the future, I just hope that some of the routines, machines, costumes and smiles I saw at Abundance can be brought out, not only for another event later in the year, but why not every year at this time? You know, a sort of Carnival of Light? Isn’t that what a legacy is?