Neon lit drummers, epic fire displays, a raucous disco shed and, most importantly, 70,000 people – this weekend Waltham Forest demonstrated to the world just how to say Welcome to the Forest at an unforgettable opening ceremony.

Over three evenings, thousands of the borough’s residents came together with fellow Londoners and audiences beyond for a true celebration of one of London Borough of Culture 2019’s themes, Fellowship. There were world premieres from world renowned artists Greenaway & Greenaway, Talvin Singh, Addictive TV, Marshmallow Laser Feast and Erland Cooper.

On Forest Road, Continental Drifts curated surprises from robotic horses to brass bands. Poetry took over Perky Blenders at the Town Hall and thousands of  local residents took centre stage – whether that was lending their vocal talents to Cooper’s ethereal soundtrack, seeing their faces projected the height of the Town Hall, performing at One Hoe Street where BBC Radio London broadcasted live or getting residents boogying at the alfresco ballroom.

In Lloyd Park, Marshmallow Laser Feast’s 30 metre wide ethereal light installation Nest did more than just shock audiences into wide eyed silence, sparking a UFO Twitter storm as people as far away as Woolwich, the Tate Modern and even Stansted speculated the mysterious lights were in fact the result of an alien invasion. A truly out of this world cultural experience.

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Kicking off the event on Friday, Mayor Sadiq Khan was on site to watch the show and meet some of the resident’s whose talents featured in the event. Speaking about his experience, Khan said: “It was fantastic to be in Waltham Forest on Friday to see the start of the very first London Borough of Culture. The impressive weekend show kicked off an ambitious and exciting year which will see light installations on the marshes, internationally renowned artists collaborating with local schools, and music projects bringing communities together. Culture has the power to transform lives, and through the London Borough of Culture programme we will be helping more Londoners, regardless of their background, to enjoy the full benefits of the arts.”

Visitors to the event will have also spotted more than 100 neon pink clad Legends of the Forest, just some of the incredible local heroes who have joined the London Borough of Culture 2019’s volunteer programme. Following in the footsteps of London’s Games Makers, the warm welcome given by volunteers as visitors descended on Walthamstow each evening was a tribute to the pride and community spirit seen across the whole of the opening event.

Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of Waltham Forest Council said: “I could not be more proud of the residents of Waltham Forest. Over 70,000 people have visited to experience the mesmerizing outdoor installations on display at Welcome to the Forest. I have seen first-hand the transformative power of the arts; and in particular the opportunity they provide to inspire our young people to showcase and express their creativity. Culture is not an optional add-on, an afterthought, or something that is just nice to have. On the contrary, investment in culture is essential to ensure that everyone enjoys a great quality of life.”

Welcome to the Forest is just the start of London Borough of Culture 2019. Check out our What’s On page for events that have been announced so far, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @wfculture19 to stay up to date with more show announcements to come in the following weeks and to find out how you can be involved.