This June, Pride month is set to return to our towns and cities across the UK. 2022 will be a particularly special year – due to the complete lifting of pandemic restrictions, we’ll see the fully-fledged return of Pride month events.
While creators successfully met the challenge of hosting online Pride events and creating virtual safe spaces during the pandemic, 2022 is a great opportunity for local LGBTQ+ groups and the wider community to come together again to celebrate love and acceptance. The anticipation around this year’s celebrations is a testament to the enduring importance of the celebration. We spoke to the creators of one of the UK’s largest Pride festival events, Durham Pride, to get their top tips on creating safe, successful events. If you’re organising your own Pride celebration this year, the following advice will help to ensure it runs smoothly.
Creator spotlight: Durham Pride
The Pride festival first landed in Durham in 2014. Thanks to the dedication of its organisers and student community, the Northern city has quickly become known for hosting one of the UK’s most popular Pride celebrations. It was in such demand, in fact, that Durham was the first Pride festival to bring back the in-person event format with secure conditions in 2021.
We chatted to organisers Mel Metcalf and Debbie Corbett to learn more about how they’re planning and coordinating the event.
Getting the word out and boosting ticket sales
Pride events are lucky in the sense that they typically have a loyal set of attendees – LGBTQ+ activists – who turn up every year, rain or shine. However, the recent introduction of ticketing to Durham’s event, which became necessary after lockdown, has helped organisers to boost revenue and increase attendee numbers. “In 2021, we put a fence up and we sold tickets. We loved it because it gave us a revenue stream, and the council loved it because it was easier to manage numbers and hire security”, Mel and Debbie explain.
Although tickets can be purchased on the day, discounted Early Bird tickets are a great way to recoup some revenue ahead of time and can help creators to get a rough idea of numbers. To date, Durham Pride organisers have sold more early tickets than ever in anticipation of the usual late surge. Debbie reports that using Eventbrite as a ticketing platform instils confidence in ticket purchasers, as “it’s an established name that people trust”.
Durham Pride also naturally uses Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get the word out about the event. The festival has a combined reach of approximately 10,000 followers across platforms, and the creators report good engagement from all of them. If you’re trying to increase numbers for your event, utilising social media can be a great way to get the word out and drive ticket sales – think engaging posts, paid social ads, and interactive polls.
Structuring the event
This year sees the return of the parade element to Durham’s celebrations for the first time since the pandemic kicked off. This is in sharp contrast to 2021 when the festival was confined to a controlled area. It’s good news for creators since the parade typically brings in 3,000 to 4,000 extra people.
In the ticketed area, attendees can expect a fairground with several big rides and side stalls, an animal farm, fully licensed food and drink vendors, and a stage with live entertainment. The live entertainment is possibly the jewel in the crown of this event – in 2019, Durham Pride booked Basshunter and successfully drew a crowd of 25,000. This year’s headliner is Alexandra Burke, with other diverse supporting acts such as Tess Tickle and the Dragettes, a top-secret RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, a well-known nineties dance act, and the X-Factor’s Sam Atkinson making up the packed bill. As Durham Pride’s organisers know, lining up a great selection of artists can make all the difference to the success of an event. But this Pride festival isn’t all about entertainment. It maintains its focus on activism by inviting local activist groups and political figures on stage to give short speeches. In the past, these have included LGBTQ+ student groups, the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Chief Constable, and the leader of the local council.
Take inspiration from the organisers of Durham Pride and create a tiered ticketing system for your event. While admission to Durham’s parade is free, standard entry to the Sands Flats fairground and stage area is £6. Durham Pride also provides a VIP package, which includes entry to the Golden Circle area right in front of the stage, backstage entertainment MC’d by a local drag artist, exclusive seating, and nibbles. Tiered ticketing like this can be a great additional revenue stream, helping you to cover your costs and raise funds for your next event.
Health and safety are chief concerns at any busy event these days, and Durham Pride is a particularly well-managed affair. The organisers have collaborated with Durham County Council, the Safety Advisor Group, and local police. Issues that you may want to address with these entities include licensing, security, noise control, toilet facilities, and accessibility.
The need for Durham Pride to limit capacity in 2021 meant that the organisers had to add fencing around the main festival area. Mel says this was an idea applauded by the local council as it helps to reduce security issues – any bad behaviour is nipped in the bud by the security team in coordination with the local police. If you’re expecting large numbers of attendees at your Pride month event, it’s worth considering some level of security. Durham’s organisers are also eager to make their Pride events family-friendly affairs, so they have a policy against marchers using offensive language or images on their placards.
Dealing with counter-protests
Unfortunately, most Pride organisers will be aware of the need to deal with counter-protests. “It’s part and parcel of Pride”, Mel explains. “Once you see a few [anti-LGBTQ+] banners, you know you’ve made it and you’re actually on the map! You’ve made it as a Pride!”
Mel and Debbie recommend getting ahead of these problems by blocking any hate speech on social media before the event. During the parade itself, Mel notes that in previous years, fringe groups have tried to hijack other parades to impart their own political message. Durham Pride has effective ways of dealing with this kind of problem since the focus of the event is on creating a safe space for everyone. Firstly, it is a requirement that groups over 10 have to be registered prior to the event. Any large groups who turn up unregistered on the day are asked to join the back of the parade, or in the worst-case scenario, they’re removed by police.
“We don’t speak for anyone. People are more than welcome to express their own views in their own way, as long as they’re not disruptive or offensive to other groups. The day is all about coming together in unity to promote the one message of “love is love”, getting together to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, giving them visibility, and giving them a voice. That is our purpose. If anyone wants to add their own voice to it, that’s fine, but if they want to take away from the message of unity and inclusivity and diversity of the day, then they will be asked to leave”, says Debbie.
Pride month event ideas for your community
For areas where a full-blown Pride parade isn’t practical, we have some wonderful alternative LGBTQ+ event ideas to help you celebrate this year.
1. Play a trivia game to learn about LGBTQ+ history
Who was the first queer person to win an Oscar? Who was Marsha P. Johnson? What goes on at Fire Island? If these are things you don’t know, take the opportunity to learn by marking Pride month with an LGBTQ+ Trivia Night. Consider inviting an LGBTQ+ comedian or speaker to host the event and add some fun to the proceedings.
2. Do an LGBTQ+-themed paint night
Invite guests to set up canvases and paint together to create pieces informed by LGBTQ+ issues. Provide cheese and wine and have a gallery viewing afterwards so that all the artwork can be appreciated.
3. LGBTQ+ film screening
Now that Queer Cinema is (finally!) part of the mainstream film industry, there are a plethora of brilliant titles to choose from. Popular modern and classic picks include ‘Milk’, ‘Pride’, ‘Carol’, ‘The Birdcage’, and ‘Paris is Burning’.
4. Local LGBTQ+ fair
Invite local queer and ally businesses to set up stalls in a community space and encourage them to use Pride-themed decorations.
5. Tune in to virtual Pride events
The whole point of Pride is to come together, so take advantage of technology and livestream other Pride events happening around the world. Make it a community streaming to create a sense of togetherness. Creating a comfortable, accessible environment for the livestream is also a great way to make your event inclusive.
6. DIY flag-making night
Hold an event where everyone designs their own unique rainbow flag or collage to take to Pride events. Encourage attendees to bring in different colourful bits and bobs they have at home and pool their resources so that everyone has enough colours to use.
7. T-shirt design competition
This is one for the workplace – encourage employees to contribute their design ideas for a t-shirt that demonstrates your company’s support of the LGBTQ+ community.
8. A retro disco
This one’s a classic: celebrate Pride ’70s-style with smoke machines and queer club classics. Serve rainbow cocktails and dance the night away!