Does the word “diversity” make your teeth itch? As far as you’re concerned, is the whole idea of it some fake liberal shame tool from back before racism was fashionable in the media again? You are an irascible old thing, aren’t you?
Well, let’s forget all that for a moment because I’d like to simply ask: Where are your roots?
I grew up on the east side of Bournemouth. Southbourne, or South Town as my brother Tim has often called it to sound way more skate, is essentially known for how close it is to the beach. On our daily constitutionals, Caroline and I invariably head up to the Grove and through Fisherman’s Walk to the cliffs, as the district’s Victorian and Edwardian developers healthily imagined we would. They may well have imagined me with my moustache grown out much more, obviously, but with only a few sartorial tweaks, I think Mrs Peach and I would be quite the Edwardian Sobo-ers. (My wife looks great in hats, for one thing.)
But right out the back of my house is another big outside space with a very different character that I had forgotten the town’s founders had also put there – and this weekend I had a boon of a job take me back to it. And, to be fair, in quite a fancy shirt.
Kings Park is a big ol’ bit of green open space behind Boscombe. When I was growing up it was just a driving cut through my dad always took to get across town, and we skirted a bit of it on the way to school on our bikes. It’s also where the Cherries are based – AFCB’s stadium is there, next to the eternal athletics track I spent a couple of sports days hanging around uncompetitively during some of those school days, waiting to be let out to go to art college. It’s a public space I’ve always taken for granted as a bit boring and just there.
Long since closed to through traffic, however, the park has grown into a lovely planted series of big green spaces and trees and a gentle wonder for dog walking and kids weekend sports clubs, winding down to the Littledown. We rediscovered it during lockdown, along with many other outdoor spaces I can’t believe I hadn’t really explored in a life living in the really very outdoorsy town of Bournemouth.
There’s a lesson here about perception – while your attention is so taken with one thing, everything else around you can turn out to be not the place you assumed it was.
This was perhaps the purpose of World Of Love Festival – to reflect back to Bournemouth a bit more of the town it really is today. Because it’s a lot more colourful than whalebone and tweed and a few nice Japanese prints in a museum.
Bea Sieradzka launched the festival in 2019 as a “celebration of diversity”. Which might make your eye start twitching again as you head to the bowls club, but Bea is two interesting things: Incredibly tenacious and not from round here.
As a language teacher from Poland who’s made her home in Bournemouth, other people representing roots from all around the world really seemed to take to her idea of having a safe space to testify – to share, parade, sing who they are, adding to the mix of all of us living here right now.
“Diversity” sounds rather confected to me now, I’ll confess. It sounds a little unnaturally sweet, even in my liberal white ears, plugging in a years-old World Circuit compilation to the festival PA that weekend.
In conservative coastal towns like Bournemouth, is “diversity” just summer wallpaper, flatly covering up systemically uncomfortable year-round relationships? Does the melting pot just create grey goo? If you’re feeling weary from the culture wars, such events just might seem like parading appropriated histories. You intellectual cynic.
Maybe it depends on how you’ve personally considered the idea of representation.
All I know is, the effect of Bea’s incredible ambassadorial work all over town that weekend felt gently wonderful.
Far from ordinary everyday.
Introduced by sustainability mate Michael Hancock, Bea commissioned me to host the main stage during the two days.
I said: “I’d love to, but I’m at the stage in my life where I want to encourage different voices and faces to those of Edwardian gents like mine.”
To which she replied, effectively: “Then you’re missing the point. No one is disqualified from representing here.”
Across two mercifully balmy days, groups from maybe thirty different national communities brought together food, fragrances, music, dance and stories into a shared experience there in King’s Park that just seemed to make everyone feel… happy. That was the word I observed hanging over the little festival ground there. No fuss, no stress; everyone just seemed hang out and feel happy.
How wonderful, in the world as it is right now.
It was a calm oasis, away from the news and the social channels.
While I did get to introduce a wonderful range of live acts on the little main stage – from Kletzmer fiddles to Filipino soul, patterned Igbo parades to Mexican skirt swirls, shinkling Indian dance shapes to syncopated Brazillian Samba – Michael’s years in TV production enabled us to grab some of our guests and chat to them a bit on camera also. It may have been a bit South Today, but it was about doing that thing that seemed central to the whole idea of this festival – encourage accessibility to the stories.
I can say it’s something that has clearly become central to my own work too, especially this year.
As the crew from Samba FM introduced me to a radio station in Southampton dedicated to broadcasting global latin voices, or as Cheikh from Afric Arts Drumming said to me: “It’s the children, they will remember this experience”, or as young Onyinye felt moved to simply share from the main stage why celebrating the yam is a central bit of harvest symbolism for her Igbo family, I simply found myself moved that it could feel this natural.
In fact, it all felt a bit like the spirit of the Global Goals Music Roadshow to me, and I said so from the main stage.
But the point is that this is still far from ordinary. The joy and pride that everyone I met obviously felt representing in Kings Park was not disconnected from our current times of resurgent cultural conflicts, far away as all that so wonderfully felt for forty-eight hours. Dropping in to the Dorset Race Equality tent for a chat, one line rang out to me with realism: “The very same people we are celebrating with all around us today are the same people coming to us for help.”
It’s way too soon to not restate the obvious: When you can put a name and a face to it, racism seems all the more insane. So we have to represent. And in the finer grains of us, the deeper truths of us.
We need World Of Love. We need champions like Bea to push for them to happen. To fight for spaces to show love – to demonstrate that it’s something proactive and determined, making experiences that feel like inclusion, not appropriation.
In an era of conflict and crisis, this is how you fashion the resilience of richness. Crucially, right in your back yard.