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Five Questions With... Clare O'Hara

Since the Oxford events calendar has been put on hold in response to coronavirus, Cowley Road Carnival has moved online for 2020. With one month to go before Virtual Carnival, we chatted with Cowley Road Carnival’s Director, Clare O’Hara, about what to expect on 5th July.

Daily Info: Tell us about what you normally do

Clare O'Hara: Well, it’s a very different time to what we were expecting right now! As Carnival Director, June is when things should be ramping up as Carnival day approaches. Then we would take to the streets on 5 July! Instead, things are ramping up, but at-home and online, as we look to bring a bit of the Carnival spirit to Oxford with our Carnival at Home…

All the team felt like the community needs a bit of Carnival joy now more than ever, so we’ve been working flat out to put together some ideas and ways to get involved. Check out our Facebook page or to join in.

Photo credit: Koroush Khorshidfar

DI: How have you adapted to the social distancing measures?

COH: Carnival is all about the buzz of the crowd, the sights of the procession, sounds from our stages, sizzling smells from our food stalls and restaurants as the spirit of Carnival takes over the streets… so social distancing is brand new to us! Everyone has been brilliant in how they’ve got on board with it and adapted though – it’s been a great way for us to learn.

Four of our Carnival artists are working alongside scientists from Oxford University’s Earth Sciences, Natural History and Zoology departments, putting together workshops for local schools – and all this work has gone online. They’ve had to get to grips with technology and filming, and instead of making huge Carnival structures the artists have focused in on what you can make from waste materials and things you’d find about the house or in recycling bins. It’s been a great way to become very eco!

What are you planning for when things get back to normal?

COH: We will be back and bigger and better than ever once it’s safe for everyone to come together again. One of the things we’re most excited about is that our Mother Earth theme will be back for 2021.

It takes a year to put on Carnival, so it will be next summer before we hit the streets, so we are really looking forward to working with great arts and community groups and getting to work to make it the best Carnival yet. We have a few ideas up our sleeves to make Carnival 2021 extra special for our 20th anniversary year…

Photo credit: Chris Stonehouse

How can people support you now?

COH: We are very lucky because our key partners, Oxford City Council, have continued to support the arts in Oxford, so we’ve been able to stay afloat - in a reduced way - through these very strange times. And our brilliant sponsors Oxford Business Park are sponsoring the Carnival at Home activities you might have seen us sharing this recently, which is fantastic.

We always need support from our community, but what we would like more than ever right now is for people to join us, get involved in Carnival at Home and participate in our Virtual Carnival and all the opportunities which it offers. We are planning lots of activities that people can take part in, from drumming workshops to dance, performance and sing-alongs. We want to be here for our communities and the brilliant artists, musicians, dancers, chefs, makers, processors and audiences who make Carnival so special.

And then on 5 July, join us live on Facebook for Cowley Road Carnival’s Virtual Carnival, and dig deep and give generously every time you are asked to support our great line-up!

What are you doing to relax/have fun while stuck at home?

COH: The whole Carnival team have wanted to rally behind the community, so we started our own project that’s been keeping my weekends very busy! Our #MakeItMondays have seen us sharing an at-home craft activity every Monday as part of our Carnival at Home, so I’ve been spending my evenings and weekends making all sorts of Carnival art from things we have about the house. My latest venture is a water bottle lantern made from tissue paper and a lemonade bottle – which gave me the excuse to chug a lot of lemonade too…

The activities are great for families, and all have accessible instruction downloads, so check out and get making!

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