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Arnold Circus Celebrates Naseem Khan

October 24, 2017
by the gentle author

Bubbles and fireworks are perhaps two of the most potent images of mortality. So it was entirely fitting that Sunday’s celebration at Arnold Circus for the life and work of Naseem Khan OBE (1939-2017) should begin with one and end with the other. Yet the occasion was far from grim. A joyous community spirit prevailed as around two hundred gathered for slices of cake and lively tunes from Boom La Tête band, while the last rays of autumn afternoon sunlight glimmered in the yard at Rochelle School – where Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I joined the throng.

Everyone piled into the schoolroom for affectionate spoken tributes, both personal and professional. As the child of an Indian father and a German mother, born on the eve of the Second World War, Naseem’s upbringing was an education in the politics of race and identity at first hand. She applied this experience in her career, writing the landmark report The Arts that Britain Ignores and developing the policy for minorities at the Arts Council, where she became Head of Diversity. In Shoreditch, Naseem became celebrated for founding the Friends of Arnold Circus which brought a new sense of community to the Boundary Estate, culminating in the renovation of the historic park and bandstand.

The assembly processed out into the darkness, led by the Nostalgia Steel Band as they made a circuit of Arnold Circus and climbed the steps to where the Freylekh Klezmer Dance Band welcomed them. The vast London planes that tower over the circus were floodlit in bright colours against the night sky, creating the ideal space for the party to join hands and dance in a circle. Then, fortified by pancakes baked on the street corner and hot chestnuts roasted over coals, the crowd gathered for the explosion of fireworks which served as the finale to the celebrations.

We all knew Naseem would have approved because she had planned the event down to the last detail during her final weeks, while completing her memoirs and delivering it to the publisher in time to sign the contract on the day before she died. Such was the nature of Naseem – her generosity of spirit was only matched by the efficiency of her achievements – and we were all inspired to have known her.

Contributions to St Joseph’s Hospice who cared for Naseem can be made in her memory by clicking here

Naseem Khan OBE (1939-2017)

Colour photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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Naseem Khan, Friend of Arnold Circus

7 Responses leave one →
  1. October 24, 2017

    What a wonderful way to plan the end of your life xxx

  2. October 24, 2017

    What a wonderful and inspirational lady. In many ways a spiritual heir to the Arnold brothers. Who will pick up Naseen’s torch, I wonder?

    Great photos, which capture the delight of the participants at a lovely memorial.

  3. October 24, 2017

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos and beautiful story. I believe I have just seen a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven!

  4. October 24, 2017

    Wonderful wonderful pics! Lovely story!

  5. Ros permalink
    October 24, 2017

    What terrific pics! What a fine person!

  6. October 25, 2017

    These beautiful photographs are such a fitting tribute to Naseem Khan.

  7. Ria permalink
    November 7, 2017

    I stumbled across the existence of Arnold Circus a few years ago whilst coming from Columbia Road Flower Market (which proved to be unbearably crowded so we didn’t tally) on my way to Brick Lane sightseeing with a friend from Finland as she had never been to the area and wanted to visit.

    We were both intrigued with the place which reminded me slightly of Seven Dials due to the roads but not the buildings. I thought it was amazing all the blocks were intact and not in parts demolished with/or modern additions added like so many other parts of London. I remembered thinking it’s a place I’d like to live if I worked in the area. I subsequently read up on the history and managed to watch the The Secret History Of Our Streets featuring Arnold Circus.

    I didn’t know there was a park and pleased to see the bandstand since then has been renovated (we took photos there). Good to hear there is such a strong community spirit and may it continue.

    I agree an inspirational and admirable lady.

    Thank you for the uplifting photos and sensitively, written article.

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