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The fair where cultures meet

It sounds worthy as hell, but the annual Barnet Multicultural Fair is two days of terrific dancing, good sounds, books, toys and arts and crafts from all over the world to look at and buy, and an atmosphere that pumps out positive images and feelings about living, teaching and learning in a multicultural society.

When it first started nine years ago, the fair featured just 20 exhibitors and 200 visitors over two days. Last week, a crowd estimated at over 1,200 circulated around 85 stalls containing a huge range of resources from distributors, publishers and manufacturers.

Among them was Roy Yates Books, which sells just about every known dual-language book in print. There was a Bosnian English, English Bosnian dictionary, The Hungry Caterpillar and Spot Goes to School in Somali and English and an impressive number of well-known and more obscure dual-language texts in the major South Asian community languages, Japanese, Vietnamese and more.

Other stalls featured a small number of specialised items. Seed Publications, a west London-based company, produces number friezes and puzzles featuring black children and a Carnival colouring book complete with vibrant colour photographs from the annual Notting Hill event.

Nearby, religious artefacts from around the world were displayed: a model of the Buddha sat happily next to a pair of Jewish Sabbath candlesticks. Knock On Wood distributes musical instruments from Asia and Africa. Trentham Books showed its impressive range of books on anti-racism and multiculturalism in the classroom. Kimm Barrall Design exhibited its West African drums, fabrics and artefacts.

There were "multicultural role-play costumes" from J and M Toys, maths books from 65 different cultures from Kingscourt Publishing, computer software in a range of minority community languages from Lingua Language Services and Minority Rights Group's excellent research reports on minorities around the world.

The sheer size and scope of the fair makes it one of the few showcases of its kind in the country. Chris Henshaw, Barnet's advisory teacher for equal opportunities multicultural education and also the fair's organiser, was impressed with the crowds this year. "This exhibition is not just about buying books with black faces in them. It's about equality and justice for all people."

For information about the permanent Multicultural Study Centre run by Barnet or for details about exhibitors at the fair, ring Chris Henshaw on 0181 359 38803881.

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