Interviewer: Kevin Philemon
Organisation: St. Paul’s Carnival
KEVIN: Start by telling me your name and where you were born and a bit about the environment you grew up?
REBECCA: Ok, so my name is Rebecca Gibbs and I was born in Malawi in South East Africa. My father was teaching at the university there and I spent the first 3 years of my life. I don’t remember very much about it, but I do remember I was very fond of going into the garden and digging up carrots and washing them in the outside tap and eating them. I spent a lot of time with the dogs on the compound and climbing tress’ that my mother only recently told me was a place where snakes like to live, she could of told me that sooner. Um, we then moved to Nigeria and I lived there for a further 3 years and that’s when I started school, I went to 3 different schools. Um, and in fact it in was in Nigeria that I did my ballet classes, I started dancing when I was 3 years old. Um, and then I had to return back to Bristol. We’ve always lived in Bristol; my, my father went to Bristol University so we always had a house here and um, I came back to Bristol and started School at Christ Church School.
KEVIN: In coming from Ni, from Africa to Bristol what was it like with the cultural differences, what did you experience um, from living in one culture and coming to England, which is a totally different culture, what was your initial experiences?
REBECCA: I, I don’t remember very much about it, I, what I do know is that I was able to speak pigeon English (pause).
KEVIN: I’m just going to turn this off.
REBECCA: Yeah, ill start again.
KEVIN: Take your time.
REBECCA: (Pause) Ok.
KEVIN: If you start with the words I don’t remember very much about the experiences of coming back so that’s…
KEVIN: No worries because my voice isn’t going to be in this interview.
REBECCA: Yeah, that’s fine.
REBECCA: Err, I don’t remember very much about my experiences of coming back um, to Bristol. We had come back every summer so there was continuity and I’ll spend times with my cousins um, here during the summer holidays. Um, but I am told that out of my family, my brother, my parents and myself, I was the only person who had actually picked up pigeon English so err, apparently it was rather strange to see a small mixed race young girl, um, speaking the pigeon English that the children in, in, in Nigeria would, would speak. I mean one of the interesting things that, that, the strange things that sort of life throws at you is when I’m, when I’m in Africa, I’m referred to as White and of course when I’m in England and Britain I’m referred to as Black and I think that’s, that’s the main thing that struck me.
KEVIN: Any differences in language, what, what were the barriers that you face as a child speaking pigeon English coming to England were. Um, the whole dilate is totally different again, um, were you treated differently, were you excepted into society quickly?
REBECCA: Yeah, I don’t believe I had any; there were no issues with that. Um…
KEVIN: No, there were no issues with um, say what?
REBECCA: Err, I see what you mean. So there, there were no issues um, facing sort of barriers when I came back to, to England having lived in Africa um, when it came down to language. Um, I’ve always spoken this way and so I, I there wasn’t an issue, there wasn’t an issue, I didn’t have a particular accent but of course when I was speaking pigeon English, you know, I’ve got a very good ear for, for sounds so I did sound like a local person when I was speaking pigeon English um, and when I was back in England I sounded like a, maybe not a Bristolian but I sounded like an English girl.
KEVIN: What were the areas which you needed to adjust to, um, coming from Africa, what were the particular areas you thought oh this is different; you needed to fit into society um, as youngsters coming, coming back from Africa then?
REBECCA: I didn’t find any um, areas I had to sort of adjust too when I, when I came back to England. I was still doing my dance um, I was involved in sporting activities in my, in my drama, um, and so I had a lot of extra curricular things that’s I was doing. I think my parents very sensibly occupied my time um, and of course there was a lot of Saturdays spent going to watch my brother play rugby or cricket or, you know other sporting activities. So our time was very much filled with um, extra curricular activities.
KEVIN: Ok, let’s change by telling me the year. And this was 19 whatever year it was, just finish by saying that.
REBECCA: So this was 1981 that we came back to England for good.
KEVIN: Ok. Right that’s fine. (Pause) Ok, when you, when you came, can you just talk a little bit about your, the education that you, you acquired within that period and up till now maybe?
REBECCA: So my education um, on returning to England. I started at Christ Church Primary School; I was there from the age 6 until 9, um I then progressed onto a girl’s school in Bristol and then to a co-ed um, err, School in Bristol. They were um, well, I, I believe I had a pretty good range of, from an educational point of view and certainly when I moved to my final School, it was really to take advantage of all my extra curricular skills because I was very much as I said involved in sport, in drama, um, singing and in fact in my final year at the age of 18, I, I achieved my singing diploma um, I’ve been playing the piano and I did music GCSE and I wasn’t brilliant err, more um, I suppose more um, rather than theory practical was my forte um, and certainly in my, in my final couple of years there was so few girls at, at the School that I was at that in our athletics team there was only 2 of us. So we had the tag team on that I did all the sort of run, jumping events and throwing events and err, my friend Zoe did the running events and then we just had to grab extra girls on the day to say look can you come and do a couple of, I don’t know, 400 meters or get, get up a relay team basically. Um, so certainly my educational, it was very much rounded I think it was very focused on the extra curricular and I was able to perform Diaphanous and I was the lead in that in the Redgrave Theatre in my final year, which was a really fantastic experience. Um, but also I went to Miss Redgrave’s ballet School up until the age of 14 and through that I was able to perform at the Bristol Hippodrome, ah, the Bath Theatre Royal and um, The Colston Hall as well as the Redgrave Theatre um, I was involved in things like Jesus Christ Super Star and err, um, Joseph and all those sorts of classics so that was really good fun. Um, and then summers was spent away so I was very much involved in err, School activities during the academic year and then during the summers I wasn’t really in Bristol.
KEVIN: Ok, ok. Tell me about your initial involvement in any type of community work?
REBECCA: Um, I’ve always been to some extent involved in community work, even if it is, you know, doing a performance as I said at, at one of the major theatres in Bristol. Um, but even when I was at University my grandfather who was um, who was a Methodist Lay Preacher had encouraged me to go to a summer School, which was um, youth makes music dance and drama. Um, and at the end of that week we were do a performance so based on whatever particular skills we wanted to do, whether it would be dance, drama and music etcetera. Um, and then when I got to University err, I progressed and was involved with a group and I can’t remember, they were called Create. It was a small dance group um, and I helped choreograph a piece, which then went to the um, youth Methodist conference, which at that time it was held in Edinburgh. I can’t remember the year but it was sometime between 93 and 96 um, and then of course my degree um, was art in a community context with drama and theatre studies. So it was very much built about designing a piece of work for a public space where there was a Church, a School, a Shopping Mall, a Hospital, something like that. Um, and I guess I’ve always been a bit of team player so being involved in community affairs is I think a very important thing for community cohesion to put something into the bigger picture for, for the greater good that sounds a bit cheesy but you know I think there’s always something important um, to do with that. And then in about 2005 I got involved with Pax’s Productions, which is a dance group which is in Bristol um, in fact I think it was a year before that and we performed at St Paul’s Carnival that year that year. Um, and following that in 2008 is when a number of people said to me, you know, you should, you should get involved with St Paul’s Carnival you know, we’ve got space on the board so in 2008 is when I, I got involved in St Paul’s Carnival um, from the organisational point of view. Um, a number of people keep saying to me, you know we’ve got space on the board and you should sign up and my parents mentioned it to me and I sort of thought you know, do I really want to do it. But the message kept on coming though and so I thought somebody, somebody out there wants me to get involved and I did and I was welcomed onto the board then. Um, and we saw the delivery of 2 carnivals and then in 2010, I was elected Chair and err, that’s where I am today.
KEVIN: Ok, tell me your experience as um, the Chair of St Paul’s Carnival so far?
REBECCA: Well, its, well, it was an honour, lets start with that, its an honour to be elected Chair of St Paul’s Carnival in 2010 um, and um, it’s a challenging position. It’s a, it’s, being part of the Board is challenging anyway, it’s um, often it’s a thankless task, were all volunteers um, and it’s a huge responsibility, err and, but it’s, it’s exciting because here’s an opportunity to um, give something back to the community to have that responsibility that if you’re involved, if you’re working for a corporate company you probably wouldn’t have that responsibility on your shoulders so quickly. Um, but I’m, I’m really excited about the whole thing and personally as soon as I was elected Chair, I sat down and I thought to myself what exactly do I want to achieve, you know, personally for me and err, I decided that my mission was to secure the financial future of St Paul’s Carnival indefinably and by doing that we would secure the future of St Paul’s Carnival.
KEVIN: Ok. To date, err, what would you say, since 2008 what would you say has been you’re proud of fulfilling and greatest achievement um, as, with, with the Carnival? You can talk about the events or the things you introduced and stuff like that as well if you want.
REBECCA: Right, my proudest, my greatest achievement of err, being involved in St Pauls Carnival to date that’s, that’s, err; it’s quite a difficult one. I think the achievement is year on year delivering the event and then as soon as you’ve delivered it and its been safer and err, more fun, more exciting and there have been more people um, yeah there is a that acceleration but then there is a slight anti climax afterwards where you think right, what can we learn for next year and already you’re then thinking about the next years event and, and how you can deliver towards those different um, I suppose tic boxes really, but its just a diverse group of people who come to Carnival that its important to make sure everybody gets a little bit of what they want and everybody is entertained but it’s also important to remember that the Carnival’s mission statement is to educate the public in African and Caribbean, art, culture and history. Um, and so one of things that I remind the Board and the staff equally each time we meet, that in everything we do we should remember that objective and um, we want to make sure that we deliver a quality, safe and fun event for the community of St Paul’s and for Bristol.
KEVIN: Ok. That’s it about the Carnival. Err; I want to go into um, some more general questions now um, what are your opinion or what is your opinion on BME organisation in general um, since the day it ever existed? Um, since its existence or since it started, what do you think BME organisations, how useful do you think they have been within society that they, they serve?
REBECCA: It’s a difficult question to answer how, what, what do I think is the impact…
KEVIN: How useful…
REBECCA: How useful
KEVIN: Do you feel…
REBECCA: How useful do I feel that BME organisations are um, it’s a, it’s a difficult question to answer. I think that they, they need to be there because at some point someone will look for that information.
KEVIN: You can start with I think that BME organisations…
REBECCA: Ok. I think that BME organisations are useful in so much as that they need to be there um, because at some point somebody from the BME community will look for answers or look for support and in, for that reason they need to be there but I, it, I’ve always found that sometimes you know, you have to do the foot work, you have to, you have to search for something, you have to need it to want to find it. Um, often these organisations aren’t brilliantly sign posted, you know, they don’t have a, a, a obvious office on Park Street or Bristol City Centre. You have really need to find an answer to find out where they are. And err, I’m very much aware that there are many BME organisations that I’m not aware of um, and it maybe that a hub for that information is needed so it’s much more assessable for people who require that information to find it.
KEVIN: In the serious economic climate um, cuts are being made um, with might see the extinction of BME organisations um, what do you see in your words um, is the future for BME organisation?
REBECCA: What is, that necessity is the mother of invention and there can always be away and it maybe that organisations share resources, they may share offices, they may find a way to reduce the costs of operations by rallying together um, but I do strongly feel that you know, if there’s a will, there’s a way and if there providing good service and they want, they really want to continue doing that, they will find away to survive through this err, financial situation.
KEVIN: Ok. How would you define heritage?
REBECCA: I would define heritage as it’s a question of nurture and nature isn’t it. It’s a question of our, our ancestors but also where we live um, it’s important for me individually to look back to my Ghanaian root, it’s always been very much a part of my family, my mother is Ghanaian. Um, and it’s important to know who you are and, and where your come from. But also is very important to understand where you are now err, the environment in which you live um, the, the social setting, the community because without looking back you can’t look forward. Um, so you know, I can’t answer the question for everybody but I suppose heritage is, is your roots um, what you value, err, what you aspire to perhaps um, and really what you feel will be important then to pass on to your children or what you feel would represent you best if you were sharing that with friends.
KEVIN: Final question. How would you, how do you feel your own personal heritage has influenced or contributed to the community that you live in or an organisation that you work with? You can use anyone for relative to this.
REBECCA: Well, I feel that my personal heritage is a very big part of my involvement in the community and how I’ve contributed to my involvement to community affairs but in everything that I do its intransient to who I am. Um, both um, my grandparents on both sides, um, were, were religious um, that doesn’t mean to say that I have any concerns about other regions um, but they were very focused driven people. Um, my grandparents on my father’s side was very much involved in drama and um, youth groups. Err, my grandmother on my mothers side um, was involved in setting up churches, um she was a very strong woman, she took people in and gave them a roof over their head. Um god, stop a minute.
KEVIN: (Laughter) get your breath back. Ok.
REBECCA: I’m not really used to someone showing an interest in me. Yeah, have a look, have a look. Sorry about that.
KEVIN: It’s aright; it’s alright (laughter), time for my coffee.
REBECCA: Yes, ill go and grab myself a glass of water.
KEVIN: Um, um.
UNKNOWN: Get some water, your need that.
REBECCA: And um, and my parents have always been very much involved in, in drama. There both dramatics and playwrights, their both um, published err, academics and they always been very much involved in sort of getting, getting involved. Err, my mother was involved with Ecco May dance um, not very many people know that but certainly there are people who were involved at the time. I know how much she; she contributed to that and my father in the world of um, African drama is, is very respected and has edited and published a number of books with regard to that. So I know that I have their support in everything that I do and um, I think there very happy with the voluntary contribution that I’m making um, and I think it’s a case of you know, you get out what you put in. Um, and I’m delighted if I can see a community come together through the celebration of an annual event like St Paul’s. And but also come away um, feeling err, elated, having learnt something, um, having a shared experience um, and, and certainly for the children involved. From my experience of being involved in, in drama and theatre when I was younger and singing with choirs um, there is certainly nothing like the experience that you get working towards and delivering a group team event.
KEVIN: That’s good, thank you Rebecca, excellent.
REBECCA: So do I get to listen to these archives, are they going to be some…