Carol Watts-Arnold has bonfire in her blood.
Carol, 46, steps down this month from her role as secretary of the Uckfield Bonfire and Carnival Society after 25 years - but her involvement with the Sussex tradition goes back much further.
She told the Express: “I was six months old when I was taken to my first bonfire. My grandad started with East Hoathly and my dad started with Uckfield when he was eight. My mum’s elder brother is President of the East Hoathly Bonfire Society.”
And Carol, who’s also closely involved with Commercial Square Bonfire Society in Lewes, has held firmly to the family tradition with her own celebrations. “Bert and I got engaged on November 5, 2004 and then we got married in The Grange on November 5, 2005. We had our reception at the Elephant and Castle with music from The German Band. It brought Lewes to a standstill! We’re both ‘Smugglers’ and we walked with the Society procession afterwards. When he was nine months old, our little boy Jack was christened at Malling Church on November 5.”
But Carol’s loyalties stay firmly with the Uckfield Society. “I think it’s the biggest and best event in Uckfield.”
She explained how she first got involved: “About 25 years ago the Carnival seemed to be going a bit downhill. We all lived in Uckfield at the time and they came to Dad and asked if he could help. I came in as secretary. But so much has changed since then. You used to just put on a parade and a bonfire but now there’s lots of health and safety requirements. People think you start work on the Carnival a few weeks ahead but we have to make plans a year in advance. I think it’s time to have a rest and I would also like to give someone a bit younger the chance to take over. ”
But she assures people that although she’s standing down as secretary, she’s still going to be very much involved and will be there if people need help.
She said:“I’m so proud of what we’ve done. The Carnival has grown year on year and it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether people are hard-pressed for cash - they still donate generously. We made about £100 more this year than we did last and the final figure was £3,708.97 with £700 made at the bonfire alone. Thousands of people turn out to watch and we are so grateful to everyone who helps. The whole thing came together wonderfully this year and I’m pleased to be going out on a high. I’d like to see a bit more of my family but I’m not retiring into the shadows.”
Carol’s dad Mel is a bearer at today’s funeral of Lewes Bonfire stalwart, Keith Austin, known as ‘Mr Bonfire.’