The Black People’s Day of Action – A legacy
Inspired by the Black People’s Day of Action, this project led by IRIE! dance theatre remembers the events of 1981 and their powerful legacy through oral histories, film and events engaging local communities.
The project worked with Goldsmiths students to collect oral histories, personal and photographic archive material and delivered a series of creative activities in local schools exploring the theme of protest.
The personal histories gathered across the project led to the creation of a specially commissioned film; ‘Pioneers and Protests: Seeking Change’, which built on the themes explored in ‘No Justice Just Us’, an original dance piece by IRIE! BA students, and the making of a handmade patchwork quilt co-created with the community.
On Tuesday 2 March 1981, the Black People’s Day of Action saw thousands of people gather in Fordham Park in the aftermath of the New Cross Fire, a tragedy that killed 13 young people at a house party 6 weeks earlier. The total who died as a result of the fire would rise to 14 two years later.
Image: With kind permission and copyright of Peter Arkell (Report Digital)
The day of action was in response to the national reaction to the fire, characterised by hostile media coverage, government indifference, and the culmination of historic racist and inadequate policing. It was a pivotal event in Black British history.
The demonstrators passed the house on New Cross Road where the fire had taken place, marching through London to Hyde Park and gathering support as they went.
IRIE! dance theatre is a pioneering organisation first established in 1985 and now leading the first BA Diverse Dance Styles in the U.K.
The company is based at the Moonshot Centre, a location of historic Black-led community and now a centre of dance, culture and African and Caribbean heritage and practice for the whole community.
IRIE!’s Community Day at the Moonshot Centre in Fordham Park brought the community together to share memories of the day of action, engage in protest-themed activities and enjoy a series of creative outputs, including a performance of No Justice Just Us, a site-specific piece in Fordham Park by IRIE!’s BA students.
Visitors to the community day were also asked to share a memory of the day of action on a fabric square. These squares were later sewed into a commemorative quilt by local craft artist, Gloria Pottinger-Jones, creating an inspiring artefact to remember the events of 1981.
Members of the community were invited to gather in the Moonshot Centre for a screening of ‘Pioneers and Protest: Seeking Change’, a film combining the oral histories, personal memories and photographic material from the Black People’s Day of Action.
The film was later screened to a packed-out cinema space at Goldsmiths, followed by a panel discussion that explored the causes and effects of the day of action and how it should be remembered today.
Project leads, Beverley Glean & Julia Honess
In the context of Steve McQueen’s ‘Uprising’ and the work of the New Cross Fire Foundation in 2021, IRIE!’s In Living Memory: Pioneers and Protest project enabled us to put down another permanent marker that recognised the significance of the New Cross Fire and the Black People’s Day of Action on people’s lives locally and beyond.
We were delighted to develop our work with Goldsmiths, students and other funded projects to tell the stories of Lewisham’s post-war history.
The project also enabled us to complement and build on our Pioneers and Places project celebrating the founding of IRIE! dance theatre in 1985 and our pioneering work by developing the the IRIE! archive, engaging heritage volunteers and BA Diverse Dance graduates.
- Beverley Glean, Artistic Director & Chief Executive Officer, IRIE! Dance Theatre
- Julia Honess, IRIE! Project Fundraiser and freelance Creative Producer