Brentford Canal Festival

Review: Brentford hosts its first ever canal festival 

Brentford hosted its first ever canal festival on Saturday 5th June, celebrating its waterways to bring the local community together. 

The inaugural event, which lasted from noon to 6pm, had a variety of different activities for people to enjoy, including live music, dancing, boat trips, arts and crafts, and food stalls. 

The festival was initially supposed to take place last year but was later deferred due to the coronavirus Delta variant. 

In partnership with the London Borough of Hounslow, Creative Enterprise West and the Canal & River Trust, this event was organised as part of Hounslow’s Summer of Culture project ‘to put Brentford at the forefront of UK festivals’. 

The event took place at three main sites in the area, Market Place (situated near the High Street), the Brentford Lock Piazza and the Gauging Lock, near the Brentford Dock Marina- all convenient locations attracting many passers-by. 

The choice of triple locations not only allowed for numerous versatile activities to take place but also gave the public a chance to opt in and out whenever they liked for the full experience.

Like many cultural festivals, the day started off with two simultaneous musical performances at each site; The Rigmarollers, a vintage blues and jazz band, at Market Place, and the Steel Pan Agency, a steel drum band, at the Brentford Lock Piazza. 

Promoting Water Safety 

The festival was dominated by young children and families. Knowing this, the organisers of the event had set up charity stalls promoting water safety, particularly, with messaging that would appeal to children. 

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) was one of these charities, fundraising by selling postcards, stationery and souvenirs.

Around 3pm, I approached retail branch manager for Chiswick Lifeboat Station Jane Foster Smith, working at the charity’s stall.

She joked that I should have come earlier to film, as stock was declining because children were successfully convincing their parents to buy them merchandise, indicating fundraising was going well.

She said: “There have been lifeboats on the River Thames for 20 years now.

“We have come along to support lifeboats and to keep lifeboats running on the river.”

Right next to the RNLI, beside the Brentford toll house, was the Canal & River Trust charity stall doing similar work.

While the RNLI is a charity that directly focuses on water safety in cases where lives are endangered, the Canal & River Trust is a water wellbeing charity, encouraging people to take care of their local waterways and enjoy them for pleasure. 

Engagement Manager for the Canal & River Trust Diana Fitzwilliam explained that, in light of the pandemic, the charity saw an increase of people walking along rivers and canals to better their mental health. 

I am also one of these people. Having attended secondary school in Brentford and a Hounslow resident for most of my life, it was only after the pandemic that I started to take strolls along the Brentford Dock Marina.

Located just a stone’s throw away from each other at the Piazza, Feather and Heart cafe and Time Bistrot were buzzing with customers on the day.   

Cultural Diversity 

A member of a local residents’ group, Martin Case of Brentford Voice, said:

“For too long now we’ve lived in the shadow of our neighbours Chiswick, Richmond, Kew and Ealing, however at this crucial turning point in Brentford’s future, the time has come to introduce Brentford’s unique character, vibrancy and diversity to the wider west London community.”

To reflect Brentford’s cultural diversity, the festival featured traditional dances from India, Albania and Kosovo; countries to which a sizeable number of the Brentford population have ethnic links. 

Showcasing some of the community’s youngest talent, all-girl Albanian-Kosovan dance group, Iliria, performed in the evening, at Market Place.

The group was named after what Albania was once called during the Classical Era, Illyria. 

According to 16-year-old group leader Greta some of the music selected to were protest songs from the Kosovo War, stressing the importance of Kosovan identity, while others were common party songs played at Albanian and Kosovan events. 

The performance proved to be a distinct favourite among the public, as towards the end of the performance, children, festival volunteers, parents and adolescents joined the group and learnt some traditional dance moves.

According to the ONS, Richmond had the lowest death rate of any London borough in the first year of COVID-19, leaving its neighbouring borough, Hounslow, in its shadows.

Despite this, locals I spoke to at the Brentford Canal Festival felt joyous and looked towards a brighter future for their community. 

Watch snippets of the festival below:

Related Articles