The multicultural Edinburgh Mela festival is set to return to the city with a ‘rebooted’ week-long programme of events.
Following some well-publicised internal difficulties and an investigation by Scottish charities regulator OSCR, the festival will be brought back to life in a new guise later this month.
The festival, which was abandoned last year following concerns over its internal governance, returns to the annual event calendar on Saturday August 26, with a renewed focus on communities.
The weekend Mela traditionally focused on music, performance and dance and typically attracted crowds of up to 30,000 to Leith Links. That remains the case but the festival will add additional elements to the mix including dance and creative writing workshops, as well as a ‘secret cinema’ event.
Devika Ponnambalam, Festival Administrator, said: “It will be very different this year. The idea is that we are going to try and pull in as many communities as we can including Chinese, Arab and West African.
“There will be events every day of the programme and we are going to be using the events space at Custom House in Leith.
“So far it seems to be going well – the tickets are free and are available through EventBrite. Hopefully there will be something there for everyone.”
Ponnambalam has been taken on along with Grant Williams, who has been installed as director; a new board of trustees led by former Lord Provost Lesley Hinds has also been been appointed to give the festival, which was first staged in 1995 at Meadowbank Stadium, fresh impetus.
It follows concerns raised in 2015 by funders over the Mela’s governance and resulted last year in the resignation of its last director, Chris Purnell, who accused the board of sabotaging the event.
A ‘Cultural Grant Funding 2016/17’ prepared for the Culture and Sport Committee of Edinburgh City Council said at the time: “Officers sought assurances that effective governance, leadership or capacity was in place within Edinburgh Mela. These assurances were not forthcoming, and therefore, it has not been possible for the Council to commit resources. To date no evidence of clear and realistic plans for the stabilisation and reform of the organisation have been supplied.”
The report led to the event being cancelled last summer and an investigation by Scottish charities regulator, OSCR, which said: “After we received some concerns, we conducted a thorough investigation. We engaged with the charity trustees throughout our inquiries and fully considered the information they provided us with. Our inquiries identified that there were some issues with regard to the charity’s governance. Based on this, we have made several recommendations to the trustees to support the charity going forward – which we will continue to monitor.”
Transitional arrangements were put in place, and thanks to the rescue plan put in place, the event is now fully funded for the current year. Edinburgh City Council has set aside around £30,000 to fund the event this year with £12,000 coming from Creative Scotland that was left over from the organisation’s original funding package of £51,000, agreed in 2015/16.
A Council spokesperson said: “The Council is providing support towards a multicultural event in Leith during the 70thanniversary of the Festivals. This collaborative event involves the Mela and members of the local community. It is vital for an international Festival City like Edinburgh to support diversity in the arts. This unique programme features a mix of performance, talks, workshops and stalls.”
The programme will include a World Mythology Mixed Media art workshop with Damian Callan and Writing workshop with Saltire Society award-winning novelist Chitra Ramaswamy, both at Custom House.
The Secret Film Night (location & film a secret until one hour before screening) will feature a ‘powerful, award-winning drama dealing with issues of migration and civil war’ on Wednesday, August 30.
And on Thursday August 30 an African dance workshop with world famous Ghanaian drummers Kakatsitsi will be held.
For the full programme visit the website.