OPINION - Let’s treasure this weekend founded in spirit of hope, unity and respect

London mayor Sadiq Khan says the Notting Hill Carnival will make the streets come alive (PA)
London mayor Sadiq Khan says the Notting Hill Carnival will make the streets come alive (PA)

The streets are about to come alive for one of the world’s greatest cultural exchanges.

I’m looking forward to joining the masses expected to attend this incredible festival of black and Caribbean culture. It’s an experience like no other. It’s impossible to understand the cultural significance of this weekend without knowing its origins. The festival we know and love is Europe’s largest street event, but its beginnings were humble.

Following race riots in Notting Hill, a Caribbean festival was established in the late Fifties in the hope of uniting communities and overcoming prejudice through shared experience. As decades passed, it evolved beyond its Caribbean roots to embrace a multitude of cultures. It is a timeless lesson in the power of music, dance and food to bring people together.

This year’s Carnival takes on even greater significance as we mark 75 years since the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush and pay tribute to the men and women onboard who stepped off to forge a new Britain after the devastation of the Second World War.

The Windrush generation helped to build our homes, staff our NHS, run our transport system, enrich the cultural fabric of Britain and much more. Their story reminds us of the many ways London has been shaped by Caribbean and other black communities. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and it is right we take a moment to recognise their enduring contribution to our city and society.

We will also remember the 72 people whose lives were stolen in the avoidable Grenfell Tower fire and recommit to the fight for justice.

Despite its importance, we’ve regrettably seen attempts by some to use Carnival as a way of denigrating our black and Caribbean communities and dividing Londoners. Their memories are short. This weekend was founded in the spirit of unity, hope and respect — the same spirit that makes our city so special. Carnival is the embodiment of our city’s highest ideals, of how London’s diversity is not a weakness to be tolerated grudgingly, but a strength to be celebrated proudly.

As a Mayor for all Londoners, I will always do whatever I can to ensure this celebration of culture, identity and freedom continues to thrive.