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Sheppey Zulus could return as Maggie Bowry tries to re-establish group

By John Nurden

Loved by many, feared by some and disbanded amid claims of racism and increasing red tape – the Sheppey Zulus could be about to return.

They are one of the Island's longest-running traditions, collecting donations for good causes at many Sheppey events.

But their last public appearance was in 2015.

The Zulus last public appearance was in 2015

The Zulus last public appearance was in 2015

The Zulus' demise made national headlines after people took to social media to question whether what they did was appropriate in the 21st Century.

But now they could be set to make a comeback as a new organiser looks to re-establish the group.

Gran Maggie Bowry has put together a new team to reform the controversial tribe of cannibal warriors.

The men, traditionally stevedores from Sheerness dockyard, would scare youngsters on carnival day by running riot, shaking their spears, waving their shields and surprising people.

For more than 68 years they raised thousands of pounds for charity but two years ago they were forced to hang up their spears after organisers admitted defeat.

The group, which blacked-up and wore fuzzy wigs and grass skirts, blamed its demise on stifling health and safety regulations and problems getting new members after it was accused of being racist on Facebook and Twitter.

The Zulus

The Zulus

But now Mrs Bowry, 57, of Noreen Avenue, Minster, has used the power of social media to breathe life into one of Sheppey’s oldest traditions.

She organised a meeting at Masters House, Sheerness, on Friday, testing the water via Facebook, and has already enlisted seven members.

She said: “My granddaughter took part in this year's Sheppey summer carnival in Sheerness but the one thing missing was the Zulus.

"They are part of the Island’s heritage. I thought it was a crying shame when they disbanded.

“I can remember as a young girl the excitement they created.

"The build-up to the carnival was phenomenal as they banged their drum while taking part in a beach landing.

Maggie Bowry

Maggie Bowry

“There is very little left on the Island for youngsters to enjoy.

"We have the Sheppey Pirates who are great but they are so successful they are invited off the Island for most of August.”

She added: “I hope with new blood and my enthusiasm the Zulus can return.

"I know some people think they are racist but they aren’t.

"They are just men having fun keeping the Island’s history alive.”

Maggie Bowry has the support of the McCall family, which runs the carnival, and the Sheerness Town Team.

Sheppey during the early 1970s

Sheppey during the early 1970s

Chris Foulds, who runs Masters House in Trinity Road and is chairman of Sheerness Enhancement Association for Leisure (SEAL) has agreed to help set up the group and tried to help them when they disbanded.

He grew up remembering the atmosphere created by the group on carnival days.

He said: “We want to see what support there is out there. We don’t want a few keyboard warriors to spoil the fun for the majority.”

The new organisation will be set up as an independent charity or not-for-profit community organisation so it can raise money for different causes.

But previous Zulus say it must have at least 20 members to make it successful.

To apply to be a Zulu, call Maggie on 07783 130447 or visit the Facebook page Sheppey Zulus and take part in the poll to gauge support.

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