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Voice35Years: Happy birthday to us!

HISTORY WAS MADE: The very-first edition of 'The Voice' newspaper, which was sold at Notting Hill Carnival

WHEN THE annual Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest two-day street party, begins later today, it will signal The Voice newspaper’s 35th anniversary after it was launched at the carnival back in 1982.

Ironically, this month also saw the 15th anniversary of the passing of the newspaper’s founder Val McCalla who died August 22, 2002.

It was McCalla’s visionary idea that Britain’s fast-growing black community should have a voice amidst all the social unrest erupting during the 1970s and early 1980s which led him to acquire some initial start-up money from the Grater London Council - thus, the newspaper was born.

It went on to become the mouthpiece of the community and is still going strong today, 35 years later.

Described as ‘London’s first black newspaper’, the first edition of The Voice was edited by the late Flip Fraser and was aptly branded as the ‘1982 Souvenir Carnival Edition’.

Despite the celebratory nature of the launch, the newspaper itself led with a front page news story about an east London family who were being targeted by a racist gang. This marked the beginning of the publication’s long-standing reputation for campaigning on the many issues which affect the welfare of black Britain.

REMINISCING: Our maiden issue

It has also covered many memorable and significant moments in the black community which has made many of its front covers stand out.

These include the release of South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela after 25 years in prison, the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the campaign to bring his killers to justice, the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president, the passing of music icons Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and more recently, the passing of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

Because of MaCalla’s pioneering vision to publish the newspaper, The Voice helped to launch the career of many leading journalists including TV reporters Martin Bashir, Rageh Omaar, Brenda Emmanus, television producer Sharon Ali and novelist Diran Adebayo to name a few.

Others have also reflected on their time working on The Voice and paid tribute to McCalla’s inspiration in launching the newspaper.

Isabel Appio, a former Chief Editorial Director and Editor of The Weekly Journal which McCalla launched as a spin-off to The Voice, said:

"As one of the UK's most successful, pioneering entrepreneurs, Val McCalla was instrumental in providing a vital platform for black British journalistic talent to learn and flourish at a time when opportunities in the 'mainstream', traditional newspaper industry were few and far between for BAME journalists.

AT THE HELM: Voice founder Val McCalla

“I was honoured to be part of Val's inspired vision to launch Britain's first black broadsheet, the award-winning Weekly Journal. It reflected successful black Britain and was the first newspaper to carry significant corporate and executive recruitment advertising in recognition of a high-achieving community.

“Val ensured that the Voice Group was an open door for anyone with the determination and drive to succeed. Many professionals currently working across the media will attribute their current success to the vision and encouragement of Val McCalla."

Former News Editor Lester Holloway also remembers his time at The Voice with fondness.

"I have many happy memories and some hilarious ones,” says Holloway, who joined the paper as a reporter in 2002, before becoming a senior reporter and then News Editor.

“The paper has always been full of characters who teach you what to do, and occasionally what not to do. There has always been an amazing commitment to serving the black community and the spirit of 1982 when the late Val McCalla and others set it up, still lives on.”
Author Lee Pinkerton joined The Voice as an arts writer in 1997 and went on to become arts editor. Reflecting on his time with the company, he said:

ICONIC: From left - The Voice's first Editor Flip Fraser, founder Val McCalla and Deputy Editor Sharon Ali

“Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, The Voice provided the best days of my working life so far.

“Back in the 1990s, it felt like we were doing important work and being based on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, it was like we were right in the centre of Britain’s black community.”

Over the years The Voice has evolved to reflect the ever-changing face of black Britain, both through the weekly newspaper and its website. The publication covers news, sports, opinions health matters, education features as well as music, theatre, film, literature and celebrity interviews through its arts and entertainment section.

It also now successfully publishes two annual magazines, The Voice African and Caribbean Food and Restaurant Guide and the glossy Africa Celebrates which coincides with The Mayor of London’s Africa in the Square event in October.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be publishing a front cover from The Voice archive in its first year of publication. Join us next week for another look back through our archives at some of the issues that affected the black community in the year that we launched.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the following hash tag: #Voice35Years

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