Cuss Stephen Anderson: "Castells are great both for individuals and the community"

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Miriam Bantulà Merino

The castellers of London demonstrate that a Catalan tradition can take place in other parts of the world. Cuss Stephen Anderson, the president of the organization, explains us how it feels to practice castells so far from Catalonia.

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What are Castellers of London?

Castells is a Catalan tradition it but can be enjoyed by anyone. It is one of its many positive aspects. We are a colla same as any small colla in Catalunya. The key difference is that we use English for instructions as it is the common language in London and we want to encourage as many people as possible to be involved.

We use traditional terms for the names of the roles, although we chose them from different regions in Catalonia. We like the connections with castells tradition so why would we use any other name? We have to explain what the role involves regardless of the title being traditional or not. Changing “agulla” to “needle” won't make any more sense because if you do ballet or, say judo, you expect to use their terms. You still have to show where you stand and hold.

How many people are you and where are this people from?

Although over half of our members are Catalan, we have a wide variety of ‘Londoners’ in the colla. We have had 15 nationalities/languages in the group. Perhaps more.
The current President is British and previous have been Basque as have three Caps.

Where and how often do you practice?

We rent a sports hall in The OBC, 3 Webb Street, London SE1 4RP, for our Sunday rehearsal and have recently started Wednesday rehearsals in Lincoln’s Inn Fields park.

Did the pandemic affected to this variety of nationalities in the colla?
Yes. Our numbers dropped as people left London to be with family. Before Covid we had built up to about 40 on a Wednesday rehearsal and then 50 people on the main Sunday Rehearsal. For a performance we would be about 80 castellers!

There was another Covid spike for the start of 2022 so we only really started back at the end of March and again numbers are slow to build up. We would normally be planning towers of 6 for San Jordi / St George’s Day but this year with low numbers and not enough rehearsal time we will do a workshop to demonstrate and invite people to get involved. Castells are great to see but even better to be a part of.

Which is the aim of Castellers of London?

Our aim is simple; give as many people as possible an opportunity to learn about castells, about Human Towers, and give them an opportunity to take part and enjoy!

Why did you have the need to create this Organization?

The need was because there was not already a colla, and castells are great both for individuals and the community.

How does it feel to practice this so far from home?

We have very few members who were already castellers before starting with us but for those it is a good reminder of the atmosphere and training of their colles in Catalonia.
It is certainly easier to mix with other colles in Catalonia than outside it but we have colles come to London to perform with us and for San Joan 2022 we have Moixiganguers d'Igualada coming over.

Practicing this outside of Catalonia various challenges including that in Catalonia you can expect the members to be more settled and living in the area for longer than in London. People are very often only here for relatively short time, so we train them and then they leave and we train more new people.

Was it easy to create this Organization in a place where people have never been heard of castells before?

It was not an easy thing to create but a lot of that was getting the paperwork in place, with insurances, a constitution…and of course we had no money to rent a rehearsal space get helmets etc. But we succeeded!

Did other people from London become interested in being a Casteller?

The more we show castells to Londoners the more interest we have from them to join. Not everyone ‘gets it’ but plenty do as not everyone in Catalonia ‘get it’.
We have lots of Catalans who joined to feel that connection to something Catalan, to chat to someone in Catalan but they had no interest in Castells in Catalonia. However they return looking for a colla.

Did you have a warm welcome?

We have been involved with a wide variety of communities across London and have always had a warm welcome.

Why it is so important to you to follow this Catalan tradition? Even being away from Catalonia.

Castells is intrinsic to Catalan culture and we are very proud to promote it. Even without being recognized by UNESCO, but as I mentioned, it is something that everyone around the world can enjoy and it is a great way to integrate a community, to develop friendships, and create a situation where a whole family can be involved. There are many reasons why it is important to promote Castells.

So, would you say that practicing castells can contribute to the community?

Yes. Castells are so open to all it is ideal to bring people together who would normally never mix. When you are building a tower, you don’t care if the person next to you is a man or woman or what job they do or the football team do they support. You trust them to do their best in their role and they trust you to do the same. Many families bring their children to take part. All the community has a chance to mix. It just takes time to let people know about Castells, Human Towers.

What do you do to make your organization known?

To let people know we use social media or our website. We have also been mentioned on the BBC radio and in newspaper articles. This year we introduced and ran Desenfaixa’t to the castells community with 27 colles taking part and 693 castellers it also helped raise our profile too.

Do you have also an exhibition day to show to other people your human towers?

We then do four or more performances a year starting with San Jordi/St George’s Day and finishing in December with our Christmas performance but we also have one trip outside of the UK each year. This year we are hoping to return to Tarragona to perform with the other international colles on the Saturday of the Concurs and then on the alternate year we would travel to one of the European colles where we will meet and perform.

So, you collaborate with other Castellers organization. Do you think it is important to be networking in the abroad?

Yes. We collaborate with the international colles. Part of the reason for Desenfaixa’t was to raise money for the international colles.

For this year’s St George’s Day we contacted other Catalan groups to see if they had any plans and if they wanted to join us, so we will be with the London Catalan Choir, Colla Bastonera and also the Tower Ravens who do a traditional English dance for the event.

What are your next goals?
Our first goal is standard for any colla: increase the number of people in the colla and do better and better towers with those people. In particular, our aim is to regain the towers of 6 we were doing on a regular basis, and in the variety, we had, before the Covid pandemic. Then to do better. And last but not least, increase awareness of Castellers of London so more people can see how good Human Towers are.

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