In May 2005, with Congolese community involvement in the planning process, Newham library service hosted a celebration of Congolese culture and arts in partnership with E7 Arts.  This event built on work already undertaken with the community including: library induction tours; ICT taster sessions; the launch of a new Francophone stock collection; and a Saturday school for Congolese children.

Background - about Newham

  • 61% of population non-white ethnic minorities (highest in London). 
  • Population is 246,000. 12.9% increase 1991-2001. London average 5.3%. 
  • Estimated 8% of the population are refugees. 
  • Youngest London borough: 40% of the population aged 25 or under.  
  • Estimated 17% of primary school pupils are refugees (13% in secondary schools) with 110 languages spoken in the borough's schools
  • Newham is home to the largest Congolese community in the UK with an estimated 9,000 people living in the borough

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Key issues

The library service wants to provide an inclusive and responsive service and increase usage and involvement by refugee communities.

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Project description

Main aim was to provide a platform for Congolese artists to promote their work and to network. Along with African food the event included:

  • a workshop for parents and their children run by Congolese journalist and writer Norbert Mbu-Mputu, based on his latest series of 'African Tales' books, which have been translated into English, French and Lingala
  • Congolese writer Frederick Yamusangie reading from his novel the 'Full Circle' and talking about his book of poetry 'Beneath the blue sky'
  • Popular Congolese music including performances from the well-known 'High Priest' Safro Manzangi and Gordon Masiala
  • French books by some of Africa's most celebrated authors for loan
  • Art work on display by Raymond Wand Jade
  • Face painting for young children.

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Impact and outcomes

  • Vast majority of audience were Congolese (39 adults and 29 children)
  • Africa Vision filmed the event and it was screened on Sky TV (channel 184), including interviews with the artists. A copy is available on DVD. The event was also covered in local newspaper. 
  • At the discussion session for Frederick's work one man argued that the word 'Congolese' is rarely associated with anything positive, which made this event particularly important. 
  • All mentioned need for good male role models within African communities to build aspirations and confidence of young men. 
  • Since the event Frederick has been put in touch with BBC London Roots project and has attended one of their seminars on African writers and literature. 
  • E7 Arts joined a new member as a result of the event: an African poet with hearing difficulties who writes about his experiences. 
  • A Congolese singer, Charles Boyenga, whose band was too large to play at this event has since been booked to play at Newham's World Music day concert, which attracted an audience of 10,000.

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Key lessons

  • At a Congolese event, try and provide Congolese food!  It can however be problematic finding a caterer who has all the necessary health & safety certificates needed by a public organisation (e.g public liability insurance etc).
  • Be clear from the outset what resources are available for any given event.  
  • Clearly explain to participants, well in advance of the event, the financial process of submitting invoices
  • An event involving music and dancing is best held in the evening
  • Work not achieved in isolation – success of the event depended on engagement with the community to spread the word. 

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Contact information

Zainab Umar on 020 8430 3996

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Useful resources

For background information on the Congolese community in the UK, see the Refugee Council's publication, A guide to Congolese cultural and social norms.

Francophone books available from:

Africa Book Centre
38 King Street
London WC2E 8JT
Tel: 0207 836 3020
Fax: 020 7497 0309

African Books Collective
The Jam Factory
27 Park End Road
Oxford OX1 1HU
Tel: 01865 726686

The European Bookshop – has an extensive range of Francophone fiction and can order requests direct from suppliers in France. 

5 Warwick Street
London W1B 5LU
Tel: 020-7734-5259
Fax: 20-7287-1720

The French Institute can also help as they have an extensive bibliography of Francophone literature and can order direct from suppliers in Paris, L'Harmattan.  

For people who want to keep up to date with African politics, Jeune Afrique l'intelligent is popular.  

Contact details of Congolese community organisations in London


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