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Arthur France was born in Nevis in 1935. He arrived in Leeds in 1957 to join his sister, Elaine, who had emigrated some years earlier. His ambition, as a joiner, was to learn more about the building trade and work towards becoming an architect. At first he found manual work as a porter with British Railways but by 1960 he was taken on by a Huddersfield construction company, the Simpson and Cook Building Company. At the same time he attended Leeds College of Technology to improve his qualifications as a building technician. He gained considerable experience on a number of building projects around the country over the following 15 years and included further study at Erith College in Kent in the late 1960s.
Throughout this period he was also active in Leeds community and political life. He was instrumental along with Cedric Clarke (first black Labour Councillor in Leeds in the 1970s) and George Archibald in forming the United Caribbean Association in November 1964. He recalled the foundation meeting when 27 people crowded into his bed sit at 15 Grange Avenue in Chapeltown. As a supporter of the black power movement in the United States in the late sixties Arthur sported an 'afro' hairstyle and wore the badges of the movement proudly. He relishes in retrospect the incongruity of his appearance with his role as the first black Society Steward at Roscoe Place Methodist church which he had joined in 1959! Among many initiatives in which he participated the confrontation with the publican at the Fforde Green over the attempt to exclude black people in 1967, the first Pan Africanist Conference at Leeds University in 1969 and the Black Power meeting in Chapeltown and subsequent demonstration in May 1971 should be mentioned. He was a founder member of the steering committee which set up the successful West Indian Centre in 1982 and has been Chair since 1985.
But perhaps among the most lasting achievements has been his promotion of the first ever Leeds West Indian Carnival in 1967, reflecting his feeling that amongst the political activism there was still room to have some fun. Carnival, of course, still maintained the Caribbean tradition of celebrating the emancipation of black people from slavery and colonial oppression. This event has been supported by the community in every subsequent year and in its 35th year has become a Leeds institution. In 2002 the Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee was given the Civic Trust 'Ambassador for the Community Award'.
In 1975 Arthur was offered a job in Guyana as a contract manager but decided on employment with the German construction company Hochtief. He worked for over seven years on a number of projects including a Nuclear Reactor in North East Germany. His terms of employment were sufficiently generous to allow him regular return trips to England. He was married on 21 August 1976 at Roscoe Place Methodist Chapel in Chapeltown and started a family. He and his wife, Tattra, have two daughters and a son and two grandchildren. Tattra is from Mauritius and was working as a nurse in Grassington Hospital when they first met.
In 1982 he joined the Harehills and Chapeltown Information Technology College, now Technorth Family Learning Centre, and taught Personal Development and General Studies until his retirement in 2000.
Arthur has received numerous awards in recognition of his valuable contribution to the local community. In 1985 he received the Hansib Award for his work within the black communities in Leeds. In 1995 he received the Voice Newspaper Community Honour and the CRE Race in the Media Award. On 14 June 1997 he was awarded the MBE.
Throughout his life he has had a love of steel pan music. From the 1960s in Leeds when he established 'The Gay Carnival Steel Band' he has had ambitions to raise the profile of steel pan. At the same time he has pushed to encourage young people to learn to play. Out of this ambition the New World Steel Orchestra was born in 1984. Now, in retirement, Arthur continues to press for the establishment of a fully funded centre for a Leeds Steel Youth Orchestra in Chapeltown, Leeds. Watch this space!
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