Westminster council scrambles to celebrate Easter after only putting up Ramadan display

The Ramadan decorations were up by early afternoon, while the Easter adornments were hurriedly put up later
The Ramadan decorations were up by early afternoon, while the Easter adornments were put up later

Imagine the scramble at Westminster City Hall on Thursday morning as officials hunted for Easter eggs big enough to fill one of the building’s ground-floor windows.

The problem at the council started on Wednesday evening, when The Telegraph approached with a complaint from one of its most senior councillors. “Why,” Paul Swaddle, the leader of the minority Conservative group, wanted to know, “was there a Ramadan celebration in the window of Westminster City Hall” but not a corresponding display for Easter?

The query, it now appears, set minds racing in what is probably the most high-profile local authority in all of the UK: its main offices a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

“I am sure we will be doing something,” a source at the Labour-run council replied on Wednesday night, as it dawned on officials that Easter, the holiest of Christian holidays, had seemingly been forgotten.

The Ramadan commemorations were put up to the right of the council's revolving doors, with the Easter ones on the left
The Ramadan commemorations were put up to the right of the council's revolving doors - Eddie Mulholland

By Thursday morning, the council appeared to have begun an operation to prepare an Easter display hastily. Another council source declared: “We had some Easter stuff planned. There was consideration that we should ‘Easterise’ the building. There will be additional focus this afternoon.”

At lunchtime, however, there was still no sign of the display. Timings were getting tight. Council employees were starting to depart for the long Easter weekend. The council assured The Telegraph the display was being prepared. “The facilities guys,” it became clear, “tend to do their work at the end of the day,” a source said.

By 3.30pm, the council was issuing an official communiqué. “The council celebrates Easter every year. A window display is being installed today,” it said in a statement issued to The Telegraph.

And then, at 5pm, came the miracle of Easter. First, a table appeared in the empty window to the left of City Hall’s two revolving doors. Then came the bunting, which was followed by some multicoloured eggs and a couple of cut-out rabbits. The final piece in the display was two posters, wishing the public a happy Easter, depicting a giant golden egg wrapped with a red ribbon and superimposed on what looked like the fountain at Trafalgar Square.

The Easter display at Westminster City Hall
The Easter display to the left of the revolving doors appeared at 5pm - EDDIE MULHOLLAND for The Telegraph

Tate Modern, it’s fair to say, is unlikely to acquire the piece for its public collection. Mind you, the council’s Ramadan display, which is visible in the window to the right of the revolving doors, is – if anything – even less sophisticated.

The spat over the Easter – or lack of Easter – display followed the appearance of an array of Ramadan lights which have been installed at prime spots in Oxford Street and between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square after winning approval from Westminster city council.

The display was switched on by Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. The lights have been funded by the Aziz Foundation, a charity founded by Asif Aziz, a billionaire property developer, and at no cost to the taxpayer.

Dismayed by the council’s oversight

Mr Swaddle, the leader of the minority Tory group, had told The Telegraph that while he supported the Ramadan street lights, he had been dismayed that the council had seemingly forgotten to celebrate Easter.

He said on Wednesday: “Easter is one of the most important Christian festivals of the year but what are they [the Labour council] doing to celebrate it? I am not aware they are.”

The period of Ramadan occurs at a different time every year because the Islamic calendar is aligned with the Moon. Easter falls within the month of Ramadan this year, as it did in 2023 and 2022. However, up to 30 years can pass between the two coinciding.

The Ramadan lights were the brainchild of Aisha Desai, who was inspired by the festive Christmas lights in central London. She initially crowdfunded to bring lights to her local community before securing funding for the central London display.

‘Spreading awareness in a nice way’

“It’s spreading awareness in such a nice way through art and light installation,” she said. “It was the idea that came from me but I encourage Muslims and people from other faiths to continue on and do it.”

Christian Concern, a group which promotes Christian values, is now planning to submit a number of applications for Easter decorations, but only in time for next year. Meanwhile, the city council pointed out it supports festivals for all the major faiths, while Mr Khan’s spokesman said he was “proud that as mayor he’s stood up for Londoners of all faiths, taking part in a host of festivals and celebrations, including around Easter”.

Westminster City Hall’s display of Christian and Muslim unity will warm the cockles of all but the most secular of hearts. Just don’t expect them to win any art prizes.

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