Reflections on Remembering the New Cross Fire – 30 Years On
On Friday night I attended “Remembering the New Cross Fire – 30 Years On” at The Albany. The organisers of this event have generously decided to donate the proceeds from this event to IRIE! dance theatre so naturally we wanted IRIE! to be represented at this event.
This sold out event was attended by both children and adults. People attended from far and wide and from all walks of life. For example, I met one woman who had travelled from Margate to attend this very poignant affair. And, it was one of those occasions where I felt especially proud to be Black.
Now, I wasn’t in England in 1981 when the New Cross fire took place and so, unlike many of the individuals who attended this commemorative and celebratory evening I did not personally experience the aftermath of this tragedy. Much of what I heard and saw on the evening I did so for the first time although I know that other members of IRIE! knew some of the victims. What I heard made me very emotional and so I can only imagine what it must have been like for those who were in this country at the time and who had first-hand knowledge of the fire and of the events that followed.
For instance, just before things got underway, I met a woman whose sister was one of the victims of the fire. Tears flooded her eyes when she gazed upon the screen showing the images of the victims. However, although I did not see her again, I’m sure that as the evening wore on her tears dissipated to be replaced by a smile and that when she left The Albany her heart was just that little bit lighter.
Additional seating was arranged in the cafeteria area for this capacity event – an arrangement which was rather effective because the first part of the event involved a documentary from the George Padmore Institute archive and Menelik Shabazz’s documentary “Blood Ah Go Run”. Following the documentaries, Kwame Kwei-Armah, the host for the evening, led Menelik Shabazz, Alex Pascall OBE and Professor Gus John in a riveting discussion about the events that took place 30 years ago and their impact on Britain today.
These individuals went to extraordinary events to galvanize individuals into action to protest about the poor handling of the investigation into the fire; raise funds for the victims of the fire and their families; and also to ensure that accurate news about what took place was disseminated and disseminated in a timely manner to help counteract the negative press coverage that portrayed the events in a very different light.
Had it not been for the tenacity, persistence and courage of these men, the legacy of this tragic event would undoubtedly be very different indeed.
After the intermission there was prose, poetry and song by Courttia Newland, El Crisis and Albany Theatre Associate Artist, Zena Edwards. And the evening was capped with performances by the Queens of Lovers’ Rock – Carroll Thompson and Janet Kay who had the audience singing along in unison.
As I mentioned, I was not in London at the time of the New Cross Fire and so it wasn’t until this event that I realised the funeral for some of the young people who died took place at St Paul’s Church in Deptford. It was actually strange watching scenes of the funeral for a few months ago I visited St Paul’s Church for the first time – thankfully for a far more joyous occasion.
The students of the Dance Foundation Degree program that IRIE! dance theatre runs in partnership with City & Islington College and the London Metropolitan University did a site-specific performance at St Paul’s as part of T-Mobile’s Big Dance Festival. The piece was called “Passing Through”.
So as I watched scenes of the funeral, I could not help but recall Passing Through. And I thought to myself that we’re all just “passing through”. For some, like those who perished in the New Cross Fire, the journey will be brief but for others it will be longer. For some, the journey will be, for the most part, ‘sweet’ whereas for others it may seem like an endless struggle.
However, what is undeniable is that your journey is significant despite the length of time you spend “passing through”‘. That the New Cross fire was a tragic event no one can dispute but there were many good things that stemmed from this event as well. The New Cross fire was a catalyst that united thousands of individuals, particularly Black people, in a manner that hitherto had not been seen in this country. And there have been many other positive things that have occurred over the years as a result of what took place on 18 January 1981. Remembering The New Cross Fire – 30 Years On is an example of one of the positive things.
It’s important that we don’t lose sight of this and that the ultimate sacrifice the victims of the fire made is not wasted and that, as we’re “passing through”, we do our utmost to nurture our young people and leave a positive legacy.
We at IRIE! dance theatre would like to publicly thank the organisers of Remembering The New Cross Fire – 30 Years On – Rex and Nisha Obano and Yvette Griffith for their support. The donation will go towards further developing our education program for young people – teaching them African and Caribbean dance and music and instilling in them a sense of pride in their rich cultural heritage.
Nickolove Lovemore, Board Member IRIE! dance theatre