“When we started this journey, the one thing we did know was that we wanted to document and preserve our unique heritage. The partnership support from Nottingham Playhouse and love felt from the audience today, has been overwhelming, and shows that exposure of our trailblazers’ history was long overdue.” Coleen Francis
After 4 years in the making, The Colour of Love finally came full circle with a Celebration Event at Nottingham Playhouse, on Saturday 24th August 2019.
£81,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund enabled The Colour of Love to research, celebrate and document Nottinghamshire mixed-race relationships dating from the 1940s to the 1970s - an era of non-existent statutory protection against racial discrimination. Incidentally, this was also an era that unfortunately fell into the abyss of formal documentation of these relationships... until The Colour of Love. The project was equipped with a team of 12 local community Volunteers, and 16 local project Contributors, rectified this oversight; alongside partnerships with Nottingham City Council, New Art Exchange, Nottingham Playhouse and Nottinghamshire Archives; and many other behind the scenes, heroical project champions.
With much eager anticipation, The Colour of Love’s supporters and trailblazers arrived at Nottingham Playhouse as early as 1pm for an event scheduled for a 2:30pm start, complimented by the vibrant 27-degree heat of the day. We whiled the time away with outdoor refreshments and meeting each other’s extended families…It was truly one big melting pot of colourful love, distinctly connected by the common thread of loving partners of a different race.
Formal proceeding began with an address by Berridge Ward Councillor, Shuguftah Quddoos. Shuguftah elaborated on the racial, political past of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s; first noting that outside of London, we [Nottinghamshire] are a very diverse and mixed city, and most importantly, we also have a very large, young, mixed-raced population.
According to Shuguftah, the 1940s climate saw 150 000 black people in the UK. And the 1950s post war Britain, where the story becomes local, saw the St Ann’s Race Riots, instigated by the catalytic sighting of an interracial couple walking along St Ann’s Well Road. The National Front quickly rose to prominence in 1966, emboldened by Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood Speech in 1968. Which, unsurprisingly, saw the 1971 legislation that blocked the entry of people who were previously welcomed to the UK. Fast forward to Thatcher’s 1979 government *cue audience booing* at which point she gave her, ‘this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture’ speech. Clearly, the challenge to love interracially across these decades was huge, but the love shone through past colour, as evidenced by The Colour of Love’s Contributors.
The Colour of Love’s 35-minute film presentation followed thereafter. A focused silence took over the auditorium for the duration of the film, interjected only by spirited audience laughter, as the Contributors on screen spoke of their hardships with gracious humour. Among other issues, we heard accounts of the Contributor’s introductions to their partners’ cultures - food, and socialising around food, were the standout moments for me. One contributor, Pamela Holmes, spoke of the differences in the relaxed arrangements of get-togethers, between the Jamaican family she married into, and her English family which adhered to formalities. Keen to express appreciation, audience applause began a few minutes before the end of the film, credit and testament of the compelling documentary we’d immersed in.
A question and answer session followed, which was paneled by Project Contributor, Terri Freeman - a lady of Dominican descent, married to an Englishman; a Volunteer, Cheryl Leigh, who shared her parents’, George and Dorothy Leigh’s mixed-marriage account; the Project Founder, Coleen Francis, whose Jamaican born father’s marriage to her English mother (Stanford and Christine Francis), spurred Coleen on to undertake the project; a Volunteer and Contributor, Brenda Graham, an English lady who shared her story of her marriage to her husband of Jamaican heritage , Auvil Graham; and Jonathan Platt, Investment Manager for England, Midlands and East National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The audience asked many thought provoking and insightful questions. On the question of how we can be more tolerant of each other as a society, Brenda answered with a brilliantly fervent responded, “I hate the word tolerance - we shouldn’t tolerate people, we should embrace and include people.” And when the subject of how far we’ve yet to go with overcoming racial divides arose, Terri replied with the reflective, optimistic perspective, “our children are now able to go to school together, play together, go out together...”
I hate the word tolerance - we shouldn’t tolerate people, we should embrace and include people
Event facilitator, Councillor Quddoos, wrapped up the Q&A by reiterating that “creating a space for people to speak, is the resonance of the Project. And that love is the antidote to racism – building allies, that is how we come together.”
With the affirming atmosphere of the auditorium events, everyone then filled out into the Stalls Foyer, where the Project’s photograph exhibition was displayed. The exhibition was initially housed at New Art Exchange February to March 2019. This exhibition proved a visual treat, providing the opportunity to muse over the personal, family photographs of the people we’d just seen on screen, while we mingled. This socialising event was complimented by the enthusiastic purchases of The Colour of Love’s Publication. The Publication showcases excerpts of the Contributors’ transcripts, some of which exceed 30 pages, and will be stored at Nottinghamshire Archives from September 2019 for posterity. I loved how this socialising event was accompanied by lots of very active camera phones, capturing people’s personal experience, and appreciation of the event.
I had the privilege of chatting to Jonathan Platt, whose organisation’s funding made the Project possible. He shared his thoughts with me on the event and its inspiration, “the stories of overcoming adversity - the real, living history, are inspirational. We heard from people who are first, second, and third generation; and their experience, all in the room. And the positivity from the event was absolutely awe inspiring. This is a fantastic project with lots of community engagements, lots of interesting untold stories revealed; ultimately archiving Nottinghamshire’s archives. And I think it was the Lottery Player’s money well spent.”