In an age of Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo and Netflix how can local events compete?

Several weeks ago the Beacon posted an over-50-year-old photo, of then celebrity Paul Henry opening Monmouth Carnival, giving many the opportunity to reminisce about a once grand event which countless people would look forward to, with many travelling miles for the day’s events.Fast forward to more recent carnival days, many are quick to contrast the crowds, floats and general excitement of then, with the smaller, more modest events of recent times.The Beacon reported last month on how the next three years of funding was secured by Monmouth Town Council, so that carnival volunteers could focus on organising the events. This has given the carnival the space and security to think about what a truly modern carnival could be. One that exists in a world of streaming services, high fidelity videos games and addictive-by-design social media platforms. We measure the impact of an event, not by the volume of applause and cheers, but by the number of raised phones capturing the moment for Instagram.The height of the carnival existed at a time when the consumption of media and entertainment were entirely different. Where families used to gather around the living room TV to enjoy one of three channels, where it was commonplace for a household not to own a car; nowadays, cars are the norm and everyone has their own personal television in their pockets. This has drastically shaped the role media has in society.One might be forgiven for thinking that local events are no competition to the rise in affordable, quality, abundant, on-demand entertainment that can suit almost anyone’s preferences. However, not only have the traditional Monmouth events, such as Monmouth Festival and the Raft Race have survived the decades, but a number of newer more community orientated ones have popped up, and their purpose is deeper than just surface-level entertainment.Beictown and the Monmouth Bee Festival are both recent and successful additions to Monmouth’s events, as well as being modern and forward-looking in their approach. This could indicate that there is some appetite for moments which bring our town together, it may just be that what brings the community together today, isn’t what brought the community together decades ago.When many reminisce over Monmouth Carnival, they may imagine crowded streets, cheering on countless floats, displaying thoughtfully crafted set pieces. Competition among carnival entries enthusiastic, many remember fondly of the fierce rivalry between the town pubs. That is not today’s carnival and those moments are not likely to be in Monmouth’s future.It’s easy to look to our more litigious culture, health and safety, or increasing insurance costs as reasons why the carnival procession is not what it used to be, but all of these obstacles can be overcome if those scores of floats were ready to return the carnival to its former glory, but they aren’t. In the final years of the carnival having floats as part of its procession, only one or two entries ever showed up. This made the added expense and safety risk unjustifiable to carnival volunteers.It’s a substantial sacrifice for a local business or organisation to build a float, with storage and time being key obstacles, not to mention the use of a flatbed truck for a day.The grandiosity of the carnival has subsided naturally and gradually over time. What lives on now must be reflective of the Monmouth ahead. Whilst 2021’s carnival event had moments of spectacle, that wasn’t why thousands people decided to gather on the Chippenham Playing Fields. It was the coming together of a town after a year of heartache, sadness and sacrifice to remember what those sacrifices during Covid were for.The 2021 carnival allowed a moment for people to catch up with old friends, make new ones and enjoy Monmothian culture, it might not live on in the same way it has done, but it can evolve into a tradition more reflective of modern Monmouth.The carnival is currently in a state of flux. The next three years of secured funding allows it to reinvent itself as something that can truly reflect the town and its people, but new ideas are needed, ideally from the younger generations. The carnival allows a space for people to express a true, authentic version of themselves, amongst people who celebrate and welcome it, that deserves a place in the town calendar.