At Stratford East, we are very proud of our rich heritage of staging stories from Black creatives, platforming Black performers, and finding new and creative ways to engage with issues affecting Black African, Caribbean, and diaspora communities. Sun 01 Oct marks the start of Black History Month, and we will once again take this opportunity to celebrate our connections with these communities, their history, and the contributions they have made to Newham and across East London.
To mark Black History Month this year, we will be displaying an installation created by local artist Ufuoma Urie, entitled Windrush: Memories, Dreams, Hopes. This artwork depicts the oceans that the HMT Empire Windrush crossed between the Caribbean and the UK before it arrived at Tilbury Docks in 1948. The interactive artwork was created by Urie in June 2023 for Stratford East’s Windrush Community Lunch with local Caribbean residents and their families, which marked the 75th anniversary of the ship’s arrival. Participants were invited to write memories, hopes and dreams onto paper boats that slot into the waves. If you have a memory of the Windrush, a hope or a dream for the future, we invite members of the public to add to the piece.
We will also be providing a workshop for our Royalty Scheme, our network of freelancers and artists, which you can find out more about here. The workshop will be on the relationship between theatre directors and designers with Matthew Xia, acclaimed director of TAMBO & BONES. This will take place on Thu 19 Oct – find out more.
As well as this, to celebrate the return of the joyful and uplifting ska musical, THE BIG LIFE, to Stratford East, we will be holding a raffle to win a prize bundle including tickets to the show, a bottle of Kromanti Rum, and a meal at our Island Vibez Kitchen.
Finally, from 7pm on Wed 01 Nov, we will be hosting BLACK HISTORY MONTH AFTER-PARTY in the Stratford East Bar, where we will showcase some of the brilliant artists that we that work in various teams across the organization. Promising poetry, professional musicians and all-round entertainment, this will be a night to savour. All are welcome to join us as we cap off the month. Entry is free with no booking required. We will be announcing more details, including the line-up, soon.
The origins of Black History Month
Black History Month was instigated in the US during the 1960s and 70s by Black academic thinkers, who were dissatisfied with the prevailing anti-blackness taught in American schools and in higher education. With the arrival of the Windrush generations, the same movement arrived at British shores during the 1970s.
In short, Black History Month was founded through the social and political struggle of Black educators, who witnessed the distortions of the Black experience at all levels of education. They sought to reform education as a means of tackling structural racism.
Why is Stratford East celebrating Black History Month?
Stratford East is based in Newham, which is one of the most culturally diverse and youngest boroughs in the country.
71% of Newham’s population is made up of communities from the Global Majority (click here to read our statement on language). Newham has seen waves of migration from South Asia and the Caribbean in the last century. By the 1930s, Newham was home to the largest Black community in London. The 1960s saw the arrival of South Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations.
Stratford East is proud to represent our culturally and socially diverse community in the work we make and the stories we tell on our stage. We recognise our long-term commitment to Black history and amplifying the Global Majority voices that shape our community.
As a producing theatre, built in 1884, we have a proud history and exciting future, but importantly have a responsibility to represent our culturally and socially diverse community in the work we make, the people we employ, and our audiences and participants.
In the history of the theatre, a vast array of plays from Black writers and directors have been hits on the stage. Standouts from recent decades include Five Guys Named Moe in 1995, The Harder They Come in 2006, and The Big Life, a hit that transferred to the West End in 2005, which is returning to the Stratford East stage in 2024. Earlier this year, Tambo and Bones was widely acclaimed success.
Closing the Gap
Stratford East has a long and proud history of programming Black theatre, with a legacy of providing a platform for creatives and local East London communities from the Global Majority. Nonetheless, these groups continue to be underrepresented in managerial positions in the creative industries.
As such, Closing the Gap, a Stratford East committee, was created in 2020. The committee is dedicated to levelling the playing field for Stratford East’s Black, Asian and Global Majority staff. The committee strives to increase staff sense of belonging and increase ethnic representation at senior management level.
The group look to drive and implement cultural change at Stratford East. The committee have developed a microaggression policy for Stratford East and implemented training in support of this forward-thinking piece of work.
Closing The Gap is currently co-chaired by Nailah Cumberbatch (SET Manager), Maya Pindar (Learning Projects Manager) and Martin Willis (Hires and One-Nighter Programmer)