Portsea has never had its own carnival before but on the 12th August this changed, thanks to a community group who decided to organise it themselves.
Run by Portsea Events Group South, and supported by organisations, services and groups from the local area and beyond, the first Portsea Carnival started at John Pounds Centre on Aylward Street at midday. As I approached the Centre I could already hear the noise from the parade – whistles, chatter and drums. I turned the corner to be met with a crowd of a hundred or so people, dressed in bright, impressive outfits: jellyfish made with sparkly fabric and umbrellas, large foam elephants, and women dancing in rainbow leg warmers and luminous shirts.
But that wasn’t all.
The parade was like a magical version of Where’s Wally with plenty of fun characters to spot, including Spongebob Squarepants, a man dressed as a carrot, Queen Victoria, and best of all, Henry VIII driving a Mary Rose float. They all danced around with huge smiles on their faces as the crowd and I marvelled from the side lines at the handmade costumes. I was particularly impressed with the boat floats – powered by bicycles – which had detailed cannons, flags and masts. All the children in the parade stood proudly with their face paint, glitter makeup and costumes, and I found it impossible not to be swept along with their enthusiasm.
As they prepared to start the parade, passerbys gathered to snap photos. Nelson and Mary Rose, Portsmouth Football Club’s mascots, moved to the front of the parade with a hand-painted sign reading ‘Portsea Youth Club and Venture’ and a young boy dressed as John Westwood.
The Carnival team weaved through the crowd with buckets of sweets and donation pots, so I gave them all my change and pinched myself a lollipop. Occasionally, I had to block my ears from the shrill sound of what happens when you give whistles to 50 or more children.
Suddenly, it was was time for the parade to begin.
As it began to move down Queen Street, buses terror queued up behind, the drivers’ faces a picture of confusion at the sudden change to their Saturday routine.
There were several themes on display in the parade costumes: the historic boats, ‘Under the Sea’, African Safari and Mardi Gras. Groups like FitNFunkey boogied their way along behind the themed costume parade, dressed in fairy wings and brightly coloured flower garlands. Everyone had a smile on their face and as I followed, so did I. It was impossible not to be swept along with the exuberant atmosphere and strong sense of local pride.
We followed the Parade down to the Historic Dockyard, past The Hard Interchange and up to the Groundlings Theatre. Stephen Morgan MP – the first Labour MP for Portsmouth South – joined the crowd. As we passed pubs, shops and houses, people leaned out of their windows to take pictures and watch the fun. The whole parade gave an element of excitement and magic to Portsea and for the first time since I moved to Portsmouth, I felt like part of the community.
We finished back at the John Pound’s Centre where more fun was waiting, including a brass band, bouncy castle and food stalls selling burgers, candy floss and ice cream. There were crepes, slushies and a tuck shop selling sweets and juices. With all the people, it was quite cramped in Aylward Street, but everyone was in high spirits and friendly.
The Portsea Carnival brought much-needed colour to Portsmouth on an summer weekend, and challenged the assumed local wisdom that all the excitement happens in Southsea.
Most of all, the Carnival showed that there is more to Portsea than a lot of local people – myself included – might think. Not only did it bring people together – welcoming not only residents of Portsea but anyone from the city or further afield – but the Carnival captured the community spirit, energy and pride of Pompey people.
I have a lot to thank the organisers for, not least a great Saturday afternoon, and I hope there’s another Carnival next year as the first one was undoubtedly a success for everyone who took part.
If like me, you’d like to see this community carnival become an annual fixture on the city’s event calendar, show your support and support the group by joining them on Facebook.
Maybe next time, for the sake of my ears, there might be fewer whistles? Just a thought.
Photography by Emily Priest.