On a wet autumn evening on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, even the rain couldn't dampen the warm, friendly atmosphere around the lock. Together, our team and the local community set lanterns alight on the water, shared spiced tea, Indian sweets and samosas, and helped children create their own candlelit paper boats and artworks.
A festival of light by water
A victory of light over darkness. Good over evil. Food, family and friendship. These are just some of the universal themes celebrated during the Hindu festival of Diwali each year. And as the celebrations in Leicester are among the biggest outside India, our charity invited the community to our very own Diwali party at Lime Kiln Lock. Waterfront went along to learn why these festivities by water are such a wonderful way to bring people together.
But what is the story behind Diwali? Local resident, Shilpa Arya, is only too happy to explain: “Different people do it in different ways, but for me it's a celebration of Rama's return home from 14 years of exile, after rescuing his beloved wife, Sita, from the clutches of the evil Ravana. Diwali in Sanskrit means ‘row of lights' so we welcome the triumph of good over evil, and light over the darkness. I think that's something that resonates with every faith and every individual. Just like Christmas, it's a time for bringing family and friends together, eating together, giving presents and wearing your best clothes.”
As we drink tea and munch on samosas, Abigail Kirk, community roots engagement coordinator, and Kamla Pattni, a member of our regional advisory board, explain why events like this are so important to the future of canals in Leicester.
“We know that 35% of people living within one mile of the canal in Leicester are from BAME backgrounds,” says Kamla. “But few know and use the canal. We need to reach out to them to show them how beautiful the canal is, and how they can help us care for it.
That's why I've extended an invitation to over 25 community groups to spend a day boating on the canal. And the response has been amazing. Now we're looking to find the funding to make 23 of those trips happen. We've run one trip already and a lady said, ‘You made my dream come true. I always wanted to go boating, but never knew how.'”
Our Community Roots programme is made possible thanks to the support of players of People's Postcode Lottery and it's this kind of community engagement work, that Abigail and her team have been doing for some time. She tells us: “As well as the boat trips, we've been taking people out for walks along the canal and running kayaking and paddling sessions on the water.
For instance, we're working with a group of young people who are currently unable to attend mainstream education. They joined us for a couple of volunteering days, painting up lock gates, maintaining the towpath and clearing vegetation. To show how grateful we were, we then invited them back for a couple of days of canoeing on the water.
They really loved that because it was one of the rare times when someone had put faith and trust in them. Now this group has decided to adopt their own section of canal.”
Another of the groups we're working with is the Belgrave Mela, run by community leader, Pravin Mistry, based in the local Neighbourhood Centre. “We have all sorts of groups coming to the centre and many of them want to get involved with the local canal,” says Pravin.
“In the last five to ten years there's been a big shift in the South Asian community where many more people are taking an interest in health and wellbeing. We already run all sorts of activities, dance classes for people with diabetes, for instance. Of course, when it comes to exercise, walking the canal is the perfect place to do it. Lots of people know about the parks, the museums, the sports stadiums, the outdoor spaces in Leicester, but few people realise that the canal towpath makes them easy to reach."
Parvin continues: “We suggested that Diwali was a great way to engage the local community with the canal a few years back. And last week, we ran half-term art workshops making the lanterns you see here today.
When celebrating Diwali, people typically decorate their homes with what's known as rangoli; traditional patterns made with coloured powder paint. But as the Canal & River Trust are big on sustainability, this year we decided to make a special rangoli lantern made from plastic bottles, to make people aware of plastic pollution.”
The night may have celebrated the spirit of Diwali, but walking away from the party, it was clear that tonight was about a city coming together by water. Light, hope, goodwill and peace among people. And working together to make life better for everyone.
Last Edited: 07 December 2022
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