Michelle Savage is the communications lead for Norwich Pride, a celebration from the LGBT+ community for Norwich and Norfolk. Ahead of the event tomorrow, Michelle describes how it has evolved since 2009 and what people can expect this year
How would you describe your life?
I would say that my life that has got richer and more colourful the older I’ve got.
When did you co-found Norwich Pride and what was your vision for it?
We started meeting in November 2008 and had our first Norwich Pride in July 2009. Our vision from the start was to ‘turn Norwich into a rainbow’. The rainbow flag is the international symbol of the LGBT+ community and when you see it flying in places, you know that you’re in a safe space. So the more Norwich becomes a rainbow, the more LGBT+ people feel safe and proud to be themselves.
How has the event evolved since 2009?
It’s got bigger! and in many ways the work has got easier. In the early days we had to keep explaining what the rainbow flag meant; we had long-running conversations with several key institutions to get them to fly the flag and for some of them it took years for them to agree to do it. These days people approach us to see what they can do to help and how they can show the world their rainbow colours. The coverage in the local press has exploded and we now have pages and pages of beautiful photos and lots of lovely, positive articles. The Pride team has grown in skills and confidence – and we’ve built strong relationships with partner organisations. The work we’ve done in schools with Pride Schools Week has meant more and more young people come to the event which is a joy to see. We’ve had lots of babies! groups like Sing with Pride and Proud Canaries meet all year round and do wonderful things. The map of the day has changed. In the early days we marched from Chapelfield Gardens to Millennium Plain, but the march got so big we had to turn it round and march the other way. This meant thousands more people could relax in Chapelfield Gardens, enjoy the show – and visit the stalls. Our flags have got bigger – we now have our own 50-metre rainbow flag and this year we ordered a giant trans flag. We also have our own Town Crier! Mike Wabe’s legendary cry of ‘O gay O gay O gay’ from the City Hall balcony in 2019 was so wonderful we gave him the title and he comes back every year now. And we now have the Pride Pledge which over 100 organisations have signed and pledged to be welcoming and friendly places for LGBT+ customers and staff. Oh, and have you seen our Pride Guide? It has evolved into a beautiful magazine filled with articles and gorgeous graphic and photos – a must-have read and lovely souvenir.
How was everything looking for the event at the start of the pandemic?
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and Norwich Pride that year was MASSIVE. I was Chair that year and we had a month of celebrations leading up to the big day. Watching the march go past from City Hall balcony was incredible. It went on and on and on. We had so many organisations apply to be on the march that we split it in two – we got the Norwich Samba band to lead the organisations section and Vibe City Street Brass to lead the People’s March. There’s a video of Vibe City Street Brass playing YMCA on Bank Plain and all you can see is thousands of people doing the actions. It was awesome – like we’d taken over the entire city. So, we went into the 2020 planning expecting it to be even more amazing – and then came Covid!
How have you all adapted to the challenges of Covid?
In 2020 we had a Virtual Norwich Pride with everything online and this year we’ve got a bit of a Hybrid Pride. We’ve arranged things in three strands. Pride Presents is the online activities like the Virtual March, Question Time and the Pride Show being streamed on our website and Facebook Page. Pride Inspired is all the events that our friends and allies are organising across the city; and Pride at Home is about people rainbowing up their houses, workplaces, children, pets and celebrating Pride with friends, family and colleagues. We hope we’ve got a good balance. Obviously, we’re all upset we can’t march in our thousands, but we hope thousands of people will still take part in loads of different ways.
Pride Norwich became a charitable incorporated organisation last year? How does that change things?
It’s good as it makes us feel more secure – we have to have robust procedures in place – and we now have a Board of Trustees who are there to ensure Norwich Pride’s long-term health. When you are volunteers organising such a huge event, it’s easy to just get caught up in what’s happening that year, so it’s great to have people who can step back a bit and see the bigger picture. It’s also useful as it marks us clearly as a community organisation with charitable aims – we’re not a commercial Pride there to make money.
How are you delivering Pride Day this year?
There are loads of events happening for our Pride Inspired Strand – exhibitions, trails, films, parties. The Norwich Arts Centre is having a Pride Ball! We’re livestreaming the Pride show (last year it was pre-recorded) so that’s exciting. We produced a colouring book with local artists so people could download posters and colour them in and stick them up in their windows. We’ve got a Pride Pop-Up Shop in Chantry Place where people can buy their rainbow flags and goodies. We’ve got best-selling author Juno Dawson doing our Natasha Curson Memorial Trans Talk and international Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell as part of the Question Time Panel. So, it’s really busy and there are so many ways people can engage with Norwich Pride this year. We want to use these Covid years as an opportunity to reach further into the city than ever before.
Does it feel more important than ever for the Norwich and Norfolk LGBT+ community to celebrate Norwich Pride this year?
Yes! Yes! Yes! so many LGBT+ people felt isolated and cut off from the community because of lockdown. We saw in schools a rise in homophobic and transphobic banter, so we put a lot of energy into having an amazing Pride Schools Week. Both Sprowston and Sewell Park Academies had their own Pride marches which was amazing. Pride is about visibility and it’s important we don’t become invisible just because we’re not having a traditional Pride Day. We have worked really hard to be as creative and inclusive as possible; to develop relationships with lots of new organisations and talented people; to inspire as many people as possible to celebrate Pride in as many ways as they can. We don’t want people to look back at 2021 and say Norwich Pride was cancelled because of Covid – we want people to have lots of fabulous memories of the wonderful, diverse ways we celebrated Pride under exceptional circumstances.
What are your hopes for next year?
I just want it to be beautiful and for everyone to feel beautiful. I’m a school counsellor and it is heart breaking sometimes listening to young queer people who are struggling with their identities, their families, their peers. I know Norwich Pride saves lives – it’s a beacon of hope; it’s says: ‘you’re not alone’; it says ‘you are wonderful as you are’. And it’s so much fun. The atmosphere in the city on the day is so happy; it’s a real tonic.
Norwich Pride takes place tomorrow, Saturday July 31.
Featured image picture credit: Sonalle