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Amble speaks to Jenna Pickin-Jones about all the colourful aspects of Chester Pride, in its 5th, rainbow-ready year. Jenna Pickin-Jones is a Director/Trustee on the Chester Pride Committee and lives in Wrexham.  She has volunteered on the Chester Pride Committee officially since 2014 and has worked within a variety of different roles as part of this including organising the first Chester Pride Parade in 2014. As part of Chester Pride, Jenna also volunteers with Phoenix LGBT+ Youth group in Chester. Jenna is married to Helen Pickin-Jones (Chairperson of Chester Pride) and in her spare time she plays Roller Derby for the Cheshire Hellcats based in Ellesmere Port.

Pride is imminent! How are things going?

Pride is very imminent!  Planning is going well and we’re pretty much all sorted. The outstanding things are the practicalities like banners and signage, as well as bits that crop up with all large events as they get closer. We’re lucky as a lot of our Committee members are experienced in what needs to be done, so as soon as we arrange the date for Chester Pride we get started.

Was the pressure on, with the date change from October (in previous years) to August?

This year has been a little busier – we ‘ve had less time to arrange the event, attract sponsors and gain funding but we’ve risen to the challenge and it’s been our most successful year yet; we have more sponsors than ever before who all want to support and celebrate diversity and equality with us at Chester Pride.

What kind of numbers are you anticipating?

Hopefully (fingers crossed) around 8,000 people over the day. Our event has grown so much both with attendees and what we’re offering.  Our first Chester Pride in 2013 outside Town Hall Square, Chester, attracted crowds of 2,500. Last year saw 6,000 people attending, slightly down on what we expected due to the rain. Now that it’s in August, we’re all hoping it’ll be a little warmer this year!

What’s your role in Pride?

Director/Trustee, Social Media Co-ordinator and Sponsor Liaison. I also volunteer as a Youth Worker as part of our Phoenix LGBT+ Youth Groups. During the run up to Pride I’m sending out around 70 Social Media messages a week. I also ensure that sponsors are kept updated with all our events and we have everything we need from them such as logos and adverts for our Pride Guide. The Director/Trustee role is basically overseeing the running and organising of Pride, getting out there speaking to organisations and working out how to keep it a free event.

Sounds like a big commitment! And it’s all voluntary?

Yes, it’s very hard work throughout the year but so rewarding on the day. Working on the Chester Pride Committee as a Director you have to be prepared to live and breathe Chester Pride for around 6 months before the event.  I have a full time job outside of this. I work mornings/after work/weekends on Chester Pride, most of the Committee members do this.

Dedicating so much of yourself and your time must make you very personally invested.

It does. Volunteering can be incredibly rewarding; you do things that you never thought would be possible, such as organising the parade, event plans, risk assessments, steward rotas and much more, seeing your work on the day coming together is such an incredible feeling. We want to make Chester proud. We want people to have access to support and services they need on the day, and for people to come together and feel comfortable to be themselves. We try to offer a diverse event that caters for everyone and we think we’ve have achieved this.

When you’re spending so much time and energy promoting an inclusive Chester, it must be really frustrating when protestors attend. Is this an increasing problem?

We have protestors at a particular point of our parade route every year.  I wouldn’t say it’s an increasing problem as it’s always the same group of protestors. Our parade attendees and crowd of supporters don’t let them put a dampener on the celebration of diversity and equality.  We’ll continue to promote diversity and equality and wave our rainbow flags just as they will continue to protest us.  To be honest if the protestors didn’t show up I would think we were doing something wrong! But on a serious note, it demonstrates that homophobia still exists and why we have a pride.

What can people expect from the 5th year of Chester Pride?

Our 5th year is going to be a huge celebration and we feel proud to have something for everyone.  Our Parade this kicks off at 12pm from Castle Square and so far we have 81 entries, which is our most yet!  The entertainment on our three stages starts from 1pm. This includes our M&S Bank Main Stage, which has a viewing platform for those with a mobility issue and on stage a BSL interpreter. We have our Glitter Lounge which is a Cabaret Stage and our Hot Apology Original Music Stage which will showcase a number of local bands.

Anything not to be missed?

Our M&S Bank Main Stage is full of our attendee’s favourite’s acts from the last 5 years, so for anyone who’s been along to every Chester Pride and loved the acts, this will be the stage for them.  I can’t pick a particular act from here as they’re all so good, but I’m looking forward to seeing Vicky Jackson open the stage as Lady GaGa, as this holds great memories for me from the first Chester Pride event held in 2013, and also Saffron from Republica as she’s doing a special closing performance for us after B*witched headline. Our Glitter Lounge is always a firm favourite with a cult following and I would recommend getting there early as the seats go fast.

What about all the wonderful things off-stage?

Our Health Life and Wellbeing Zone will house stalls from public sector services, charities, voluntary organisations and community group – we’ve reached capacity at 68 stalls this year. This is one of the largest in the country! We also have our Children’s Zone (in association with Asda and Motherwell, LGBT parents group and Chester Library), where we will be offering lots of children’s activities including ‘Storytime’ sessions, crafts, play, and a baby feeding and changing area provided by NCT Chester.

Is anything new for this Pride?

Lots; there’s a Youth Zone which is run with Phoenix LGBT+ Youth Group and Cheshire West and Chester Council Youth Workers.  At the beginning of the year we started a Chester Youth Group in partnership with The Proud Trust and it’s great to welcome the young people into this space and within our parade entry. We also have our Older People’s LGBT Network Space working with Silver Rainbows.  Another new area is our Alcohol Free Chill Out Space within Chester Castle in partnership with Cheshire Autism.  Chester Castle will be running their free Castle Tours on the day of Chester Pride. There’s also a Marketplace and funfair!

What’s Pride in the Past about?

Pride in the Past was an exhibition we displayed in Chester earlier this year.  It was run in association with Big Heritage and was Heritage Lottery Funded.  The exhibition uncovers the hidden history of the LGBT+ community in Cheshire, which dates from Roman times through to the modern day. This was held in Grosvenor Museum and Chester Forum Market.  As part of this project we also displayed codebreaker, Alan Turing’s court records in Chester Town Hall, which showed detailed records of when he was convicted for homosexuality.

And people will be able to take a look at this at Pride?

They will. The exhibition received great feedback and we wanted to be able to educate more people on this, particularly in schools so decided to make this into a pop-up exhibition which we could travel around with.

How do you feel when the event’s over?

It can make me quite emotional, especially when you see how much people have enjoyed themselves or people who have been able to speak to a service for support they need.  My most emotional moment of the day is always being part of the parade, when you see crowds of people who have come along to clap and cheer you on as we march through the city streets.

How can people support the LGTB community in Chester, beyond Pride?

By challenging Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia when they see it or hear it, don’t stay silent.  Sometimes the way in which people use certain language can be hurtful to others and it’s worth being mindful of this and educating people when this happens.  If you know someone who is struggling, help them, talk to them, make them aware that they are not alone and that there’s lots of help and support for them out there.

Do you have any advice to offer to someone who’s struggling with their identity?

You’re not alone despite how it may feel at the time. Sometimes the most difficult part can be accepting yourself. Talk about it with someone you feel comfortable speaking with like a friend or family member, or to a support network.  Support and Advice networks are listed on our Chester Pride website and places like Pride events are also good for accessing services and information. At Chester Pride we have our Health Life and Wellbeing Zone and others across the UK have similar spaces. If you’re age 19 or under you can also come along to our Phoenix LGBT+ youth groups which are good fun and a way to meet other people that might be going through similar situations, or speak to a youth worker.

Last but not least….

In the run up to Pride and the week following, Storyhouse are showing a selection of films to mark the 1967 sexual offences act which partly decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. As I said Silver Rainbows have organised a screening of sing along Wizard of Oz in Grosvenor Museum the day of Pride. There will be Pride after parties in Telfords Warehouse, The Commercial, The Old Queens Head, The LA, Bar 6T9, The Saddle and Commonhall Social. There will be rainbow flags flying all over the city!