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Trashcatchers’ Carnival

Working ‘from the ground up’ the Trashcatcher’s Carnival united 60 artists and over 500 Tooting residents in a year long process looking at transition from a high energy to a low energy community. They worked in partnership with Emergency Exit Arts and using art, carnival, celebration and the collective ingenuity of Transition Town Tooting. On 4 July 2010, Trashcatchers’ Carnival promenaded through the heart of Tooting. The Carnival provided  a model of engagement and celebration for the Transition Town Network.

In the Xhosa language Phakama means Rise Up!, elevate and empower yourself. Since its inception, and led by Director Fabio Santos, Project Phakama has led a programme of intense cultural training resulting in a series of adventurous public performances by young people. This in turn has left a legacy of networks and opportunities, including projects in South Africa and India. 

The main idea was relatively simple if very ambitious. We wanted to create a work of the imagination on a grand scale, a historic occasion, transforming the way people who live in Tooting see themselves as humans alive now on the planet. We wanted the event to live on in everyone’s memories as a story that could be passed onto children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about what it was like to be alive in 2010. What would lie at the core of the project was the idea of recycling as a metaphor: a community would engage practically around the designing, making and creating of a Carnival made entirely out of trash. In the process they would work side by side, meeting their neighbours perhaps for the first time, to imagine collectively a new story for Tooting. The Carnival would use story, art, science and celebration to tap into the collective ingenuity of local residents. Characters, sculptures, musical, instruments, dance, performance, costumes, floats would be created from discarded materials and Trash collected in the form of plastics, bags, bottles and boxes. Carnival workshops would include awareness raising around issues of climate change and peak oil alongside creative carnival making.

The following video is from the Turtlecam.

The Trashcatchers experience was demanding, challenging and ultimately immensely rewarding, perceived by all as a great success, not least the three organisations involved – Transition Town Tooting, Project Phakama UK and Emergency Exit Arts. For the artists and the community involved, the project has sown many seeds and left a strong legacy to be built on. The Chair of the Partnership Board for example announced that the event had caused the local family run businesses to ‘recalibrate’ what was possible in the area. Seeing was believing for them.

The key discovery made by all was around the nature of participation and how profoundly transformative it is for people to take part in something larger than themselves. By taking part in the Carnival everyone felt they were taking part in much bigger, longer-term project that would continue for years to come; an inventive and possible approach to how we live now – a problem transformed into an exciting opportunity. The word opportunity contains the word ‘portas’, a door. We feel the Trashcatchers’ Carnival has shown us all a very inspiring, large wide door we hope as many people as possible can jump through together.

Writing a year later, Transition Town founder Rob Hopkins remarked in Resurgence that the project was an exemplar of projects within the Transition Movement that demonstrate its ability to promote well-being.