Atmosphere: A story of the third West Norwood Feast

There’s a strange thing about atmo­sphere. One moment it’s not there, and the next it is.

Just before one o’clock on Sunday lunch­time, nearly three hours into our third Feast, there was still a sense of nervous­ness around our inform­a­tion stall. The weath­er had taken a sud­den turn for the grey that morn­ing, and the vis­it­ors were slow to arrive. Then there was a brief shower, which saw people take refuge inside St Luke's church. (They had to send out to get extra milk, they were serving so many cups of tea — so that was a sil­ver lin­ing.)

And then, around six minutes past one, some­thing happened. First, the boys from the Nueva Generacion capoeira group star­ted warm­ing up on their drums. Next, three friends who had just bought Ain't No Picnic bur­gers decided that the grass had dried off enough to sit on. Then a man with a bubble wand star­ted mak­ing giant bubbles: I saw one drift up to the height of the church por­tico. And sud­denly, there it was, like reen­ter­ing the earth’s orbit — we had atmo­sphere!

From the early days of Space Makers, when we were work­ing at Brix­ton Vil­lage, I’ve been fas­cin­ated by this threshold. The closest I’ve come to a defin­i­tion is that it’s the moment when people for­get to worry wheth­er they’re going to have a good time, wheth­er an event is going to be a suc­cess, wheth­er they should have gone some­where else. It’s a subtle shift, and a com­plete trans­form­a­tion. As soon as it hap­pens, a space changes: it feels like some­where you’re meant to be.

More people sat down, there was capoeira, com­edy, trom­bones, fla­menco — and des­pite the rain, West Nor­wood showed its stam­ina. It was anoth­er suc­cess­ful day. The spir­it of it is cap­tured in a lovely post by Laura Billings, who vis­ited us and then went on to another Big Lunch street party at the other end of the bor­ough:

What both of these events had done suc­cess­fully is string togeth­er islands of people and activ­ity. They stopped the streets feel­ing like a thor­ough­fare you would rush along with your head down, and gave them a new pur­pose. An end in them­selves, not just a means to anoth­er des­tin­a­tion. And des­pite get­ting utterly soaked in the down­pour, there was a very warm wel­come.

So what I’m won­der­ing is, how do we spread the word fur­ther, so that we can share that warmth with even more people in and around West Nor­wood next month — and bring that magic of atmo­sphere to the whole town centre?

If you can help, please come along to our reg­u­lar Tues­day meet­ing, 6.30–8.30pm at The Rail­way pub in Tulse Hill — or drop us an email at hello@westnorwoodfeast.com.

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