The Annual Leys Festival returned at the weekend as people of all ages were treated to a fun filled afternoon with the added luck of glorious sunshine.
This year’s community gathering had a variety of stalls and activities including crafts, an unusual display of mini-beasts, DIY face painting and even a Polish stall to reflect the diversity of the community. There were lots of opportunities to engage in sport with a penalty shootout, badminton and table tennis among other activities.
As well as the attractions there were also performances on the main stage by a number of different acts including traditional Polish Tatras, the only sign language choir in Oxfordshire, a toddler dance troupe and a mixed martial arts display.
Tim Casswell and his wife, Jenifer Latrobe from Yorkshire made the trip down south to provide the festival with a ‘Dream Tent’ where people across the Leys could write their thoughts , feelings, and aspirations down on a wall.
Tim said: “Our aim is to draw people in and encourage them to express their frustrations of living on the Leys but to also dream of what kind of legend the place could become. I think there are a lot of positives for this community with people welcoming others from different backgrounds. There are encouraging signs of people being creative here and taking the initiative to aspire to something better. People round here are doing some pioneering stuff.”
“A main concern we have found through the dream tent is the frustration of young people living on the Leys at the limited lack of opportunities even though they are keen to express themselves.”
Annelise Dodds who recently succeeded Andrew Smith as MP for Oxford East at last month’s General Election was also at the event and understands the frustration of young people.
She said: “I’m pleased to be promoted to the front bench as it will give me more of a platform to speak for the people of the Leys. I think that young people in Blackbird Leys are already very ambitious. There are a lot of amazing things happening in our community but one of the major issues is that the cost of living is very high, we need more social housing. We need to ensure education at a higher level is more accessible for young people.”
Speaking of the Festival Mrs Dodds said: “It’s been absolutely brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the dog display and it’s great to have all the local community groups here as well.”
One of the local community groups at the event was The Oxford Polish Association who had a number of stalls including face painting, crafts and giveaway multi-national flags. The Polish Association worked closely alongside Oxford City Council, The Blackbird Academy Trust Schools and Oxford City Council to bring the event together.
Ewa Gluza from Oxford who ran one of the stalls said: “I am so proud to be promoting Polish culture here today through our stalls and customs like Tartra dancing which is very similar to the British Morris dancing. The Polish Oxford Association really helps give us a sense of identity so we can co-operate with our neighbours and engage with the wider community.The Leys is a very diverse place and our stalls help reflect that through the different flags we have on display.”
Ewa has been involved with organising the event since November and praised passionate and professional people coming together to help make it happen.
Kevin Phillps from Greater Leys who was enjoying a game of Badminton with his son Aaron said: “With the fantastic weather, the community spirit and the amount of stalls it’s all very good. It’s a great opportunity for me and my boy to spend some quality time together and my other son’s been having a go at penalty shout out too. It’s a great community thing for adults who used to go to school together to catch up and for kids to meet new friends in a different environment.”
One of the highlights of the afternoon was Handy Voices, the only community choir for British Sign Language in Oxfordshire who performed a routine to Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’. Cristine Deblaze, originally from Canada started up Handy Voices two years ago and in that time they’ve already won two national competitions for their recognition for sign language.
She said: “We are a mixed group of people who are deaf or hard of hearing and we perform dance routines into British sign language. I take all the songs and translate them into sign language and we perform to show people the music in a more visual way.”
“We have members who have deaf relatives who previously didn’t use signing but have now started integrating it in their households and they’ve found its helped them through communication and eradicating feelings of isolation.We are delighted to be have been given the opportunity to perform here today and it’s fantastic to celebrate the equality and diversity of the Leys which will help drive us closer together going forward.”
Handy Voices is still a relativity small group but anyone is welcome to come along including those with no signing experience. They currently meet at the Oxford Deaf Centre on Monday nights but are starting up a new session in September.