John Evans speaks to Hay Pride founders Helen Jane Campbell and Graham Nolan about the importance and challenges that come with creating LGBT+ events in less urban areas such as this renowned ‘town of books’.
The beautiful Welsh border town of Hay-On-Wye will host its first ever Pride event, conveniently named Hay Pride, on Sun 12 June. It’ll be held at the newly refurbished Hay Castle, one of the first at this historic location since its recent opening to the public, and will conclude at nearby arts venue the Globe At Hay for an evening of music and performances.
Hay Pride co-founder Graham Nolan previously ran an LGBT+ space in Hay, the Pink Pop-Up, which quickly became the default place to meet fellow queer people within the community over a few cocktails (of course). After its closure, he and friend Helen Jane Campbell both noticed the lack of queer community spaces within the town.
“Hay is a very diverse place and because we hadn’t had these spaces, we never had the opportunity to meet these people within our community,” Helen tells me. “So after the Pink Pop-Up closed, we felt that there was a bit of a gap and absence of queer community and space.”
Sharing mutual feelings of isolation within rural areas, especially for queer people, Helen and Graham decided that more needed to be done within their beloved town. “It grew from there – our desire to create opportunities for queer people, with a focus on younger people.
“We started with just the idea of Hay Pride and it snowballed into a monthly LGBT+ night at The Globe In Hay,” Graham explains. Queer people of Hay, or anyone in the community, can partake in drumming sessions, live music and various other activities.
“As a monthly event, it means that people in our rural community who don’t have the luxury of popping into their city centre and having the choice of all these different queer spaces can now have the choice. There was really nothing to represent them. That was kind of the why and how.”
Creating these queer spaces and events, specifically in more rural areas, is of great importance for the younger generation – something becoming more prevalent, with the likes of Llanelli and Powys Pride taking place this July. Still, says Graham, people often ask him why events like this need to happen when an area is already so loving and accepting.
“We are different,” he says, “and that is something to be celebrated with events like Pride and monthly venues, so that we can be with one another and experience that similarity and familiarity and feel how special it is.”
“I have conversations at these events and venues that I just wouldn’t have at regular venues,” Helen adds.
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Like other Pride events, which aim to bring communities together in celebration, protest, unity and solidarity, Hay Pride is set up as a Community Interest Company that will run on a not-for-profit basis, with donations from local businesses and the National Lottery Community Fund. A suggested donation of £7 is additionally requested at the venue. Local businesses and sponsors, including Addyman Books and Hay Castle Trust, will also sponsor the event.
“The community has really rallied around us,” says Graham, outlining the support he and Helen have had from local businesses both queer and not. “It’s great, just really positive.”
Like any event, there are sure to be some challenges along the way. Discussing the reaction and support Graham says, “It’s been 99% super encouraging and positive. Early on, a few kids on our Facebook page started to say some negative things. We took it seriously and shut it down straight away. We stood up for ourselves in a really positive way and provided some community education. It felt like a negative experience that we flipped into a positive one.”
Hay Pride attendees, then, can expect a host of activities and special guests. From 10am, there will be coffee and cake at the Globe; at midday, a bright and colourful parade – featuring dogs, drummers, a Ghostbusters car, and did I mention dogs? – travels from there through the town’s streets towards Hay Castle. A samba drumming band will be meeting with a troupe of Japanese taiko drummers, a procession will run through Hay, and Miss Drag UK Boo La Croux (from nearby Hereford) will be at the top of the castle steps. “We have a castle and a queen!” laughs Helen.
You can also expect the Hay Climate choir, various stalls, food, a barbecue, a dog show (yes, more dogs), a Q&A panel (featuring Terrence Higgins Trust CEO Ian Green and Queer Up author Alexis Caught), live music, poetry readings, pottery, cake stalls and a cake competition. “It’s going to be a really joyful day, very family-friendly – and it’s free!” says Helen.
Graham adds, “We’ve asked all stallholders and food venues to have items for sale at a lower price point. We want it to be affordable, especially for younger people.” Following on from the celebratory jam-packed day, there’ll be live music, comedy and karaoke from 6-10 pm at the Globe.
Talking about plans for the future, Helen says the pair have already been approached by members of the community asking to be a part of future monthly events. “Helen and I have decided that after the event we are going to take a really long summer nap. But I reckon there is definitely going to be a Hay Pride 2023…” concludes Graham.
Helen and Graham are seeking more volunteers for the day – if you’re interested, contact [email protected]
words JOHN EVANS
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