When Manni Ibrahim was seconded from Westminster council to Kensington and Chelsea he began to realise that he was working in a special area: “I’ve been working in local authorities for 15 years and I particularly like this area,” he says. “I found the people are vibrant and dynamic; they’re very active, particularly after Grenfell, the way they came together was absolutely amazing - I’ve not seen that in any other part of London.”
Spurred on by the energy of the community, he had an idea to create a festival that showcased and celebrated African culture and heritage – in an area synonymous with cultural celebrations it could have been a tall order to do this broad subject justice but he needn’t have worried, he built a good team around him and on the day the community turned out in force for the first Salamat Festival.
“’Salamat’ means peace,” Manni explains, “so that’s what we want, we want peace and we want harmony, especially these days with Brexit and all different kinds of things happening around the world at the same time where communities are becoming polarised.”
So, bringing together a number of organisations and charities, the Salamat Festival celebrates the diverse cultural traditions of Africa. Manni was particularly keen to show a positive side to Africa, feeling there were too many negative stereotypes to be found online and in the media: “I thought, ‘I’m gonna bring Africa to them in the form of an open air festival showing folklore, culture, dancing, food, because these are the kinds of thing that bring people together.”
The Festival is designed to make sure people learned about different aspects of African culture “you can’t learn by sitting in your armchair, you have to get up out of your chair and go and talk and interact that’s the best way to learn”. Manni approached Westway Trust and the engagement team helped him with along the way: “They were always there for advice,” he says. “I met them in a series of meetings, phone calls, emails going backwards and forwards. I learned a lot, they were really supportive.”
Manni collected around him a large team of different people and organisations and he feels this was a key element of the festival’s success. “Get a team around you that you know are trustworthy and dedicated to the cause,” he advises, “make sure they share the same feelings you do, what it is you want to achieve.” The Salamat Festival did achieve its goals – it is for the community, by the community and inspired by the community and its ambition is to go forward in the best possible way – as Manni puts it: “bigger and better.”