Edinburgh's Mela set to return

The Edinburgh Mela is being brought back from the dead and turned into a week-long festival '“ 12 months after it was abandoned when its funding was axed due to behind-the-scenes turmoil.

Edinburgh Mela 2015, Leith Links, 
Bollywood Love Story
Edinburgh Mela 2015, Leith Links, Bollywood Love Story

The city council and Creative Scotland have agreed to fund a rebooted festival after an overhaul of the Mela’s board, who were accused of sabotaging the event last year by its last director, Chris Purnell, in a damning letter of resignation.

He warned the event was on the “brink of catastrophe” due to a total breakdown of trust between the staff and the board. At the time, Mr Purnell said the event was being “destroyed from within”. It was not staged last August.

Police and the charity

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    Launch of the Mela Festival 2015 at The Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny Strett, Leith. Charlotte Harris, Manisha Patel & Bhavna Mehta

    regulator were later called in to investigate following complaints made about the running of the event, which had the plug pulled last July, after the withdrawal of all of its funding.

    Now Edinburgh’s former Lord Provost Lesley Hinds is heading up a rescue bid for the new-look Mela, which will see events staged in several venues across Leith. The programme, running from August 26 till September 3, will culminate in a two-day outdoor event on Leith Links, which will be scaled back in size from previous years.

    Literature, dancing, film, visual arts and community choir workshops are being held in the run-up to the Leith Links event, which will be free to enter for the first time in years under the £80,000 funding deal with the council and Creative Scotland.

    Other plans to revive the Edinburgh Mela, which grew to become Scotland’s biggest celebration of world music and dance, include staging events throughout the year and collaborating with other festivals.

    Launch of the Mela Festival 2015 at The Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny Strett, Leith. Charlotte Harris, Manisha Patel & Bhavna Mehta

    Ms Hinds said: “There was a lot of disappointment when the event did not happen last year. We have got just over £30,000 from the city council, which is roughly half of what we had before, and also transition funding from Creative Scotland.

    “The funding was not confirmed until quite late in the day, so it has been quite difficult to finalise a programme. We’ve decided that rather than just have a smaller weekend event with the funding we had it would be better to have events on for a full week. There should be at least two or three events on every day during the festival.

    “We’re hoping to establish a lot of relationships this year so that we can the build the event up and ensure it is sustainable in future. A lot of people have said they are interested in supporting the event again.

    “The Mela was a really important event for the city and it’s very important that it happens this year when you bear in mind what happened in London and Manchester earlier this year.

    “The Mela was always an event that brought all the different communities of Edinburgh together. We’re really trying to get a spread of acts and performers that reflect all the different cultures we have in Edinburgh. It is about celebrating the fact Edinburgh is a really international city, but it’s also about breaking down any barriers that might exist.”

    Ms Hinds, who has taken over as chair of the Mela board, said new directors had been appointed, including the scientist Geoff Palmer, in recent months.

    A spokeswoman for the city council said: “We are providing support towards a multicultural event in Leith during the 70th anniversary of the festivals.

    “It is vital for an international festival city like Edinburgh to support diversity in the arts and this unique programme features a mix of performance, talks, workshops and stalls.”

    The Edinburgh Mela was first staged in 1995 at Meadowbank Stadium after being instigated by leaders from the Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities in Edinburgh. It moved to Pilrig Park then Leith Links, and became firmly established as a finale for the city’s summer festivals season. Problems over the running of the Mela emerged in March last year when Mr Purnell quit suddenly, claiming a number of long-standing board members had displayed a “reckless disregard” for the organisation’s own rules. He alleged that his staff were “subjected to open hostility, accused of disrespect and insulting board members simply for conducting due diligence in the course of their duties”. The then Mela board, led by former city councillor Shami Khan, claimed it had been the victim of “deliberate sabotage.”