‘It’s just an incredibly happy atmosphere’ - 10 years of Norwich Pride

Norwich Pride 2017. Picture: Nick Butcher

Norwich Pride 2017. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

The 10th Norwich Pride is poised to turn the city all the colours of the rainbow

Rainbow flags will fly above a multicoloured river of people singing and dancing their way through the city centre for Norwich Pride on Saturday July 28. Ten years ago the first Norwich Pride brought 3,000 people out on to the streets to celebrate. This year there will be three times the number of people, and even more to celebrate, share and hope for, looking back over 10 years of Pride and forward to an even brighter future.

Julie Bremner, a civil servant, was one of the founders of Norwich Pride.

'It all started with an email from me to Michelle Savage, simply saying: 'Shall we organise a Norwich Pride event?'' said Julie. 'I have always been politically active. I went on my first demonstration to save the whales in 1979 when I was 10. I first went on Pride marches in the 1990s in London and remember how excited and uplifted I felt. I discovered a new feeling of pride and unity and not being afraid of who I am. I come from a generation that did not hear words like lesbian or gay at school.

'When the first Norwich Pride took place in 2009 we had already experienced two years of austerity. I remember being really angry about the banking crisis that had led to the whole country paying for other people's crimes, but wanted to harness that energy to do something positive. I have lived in Norwich since I came to UEA in 1987 and think the city is a brilliant place to live. I wanted it to feel more like a city I belonged in, where LGBT+ people felt included.

'Our vision to turn Norwich into a rainbow was a simple but powerful one. Now people line the street and watch the parade go by clapping which is fabulous. Although I would like them all to join in with our parade, this is a real change from the first year when people were much more antagonistic.

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'One of the moments that always brings a tear to my eye is when Norwich Castle raised a rainbow flag on the first ever Norwich Pride in 2009. We didn't think it was possible but it really made us feel the city was ours. Similarly, as a Canaries fan, when Norwich City Football Club first flew a rainbow flag at Carrow Road.

'It still shocks me when someone shouts abuse at me in the street. I think 'What did I do to deserve that? How does me walking down the street impact on their life to upset them so much?' The insults have changed, but how they make me feel remain the same.

'It always amazes me how much animosity some individuals feel towards Norwich Pride though, or what more they think we should be doing. We have a huge job representing a truly diverse LGBT+ community and that brings many challenges, it is never dull!

As we approach our year 10 celebrations, I feel we have the balance right; we have retained a political element on our parade and with our Question Time event as well as created a celebratory atmosphere where people can be proud to be themselves. At our heart we have retained our principles of putting on a free, family-friendly, accessible and inclusive event at the centre of Norwich.

Michelle Savage, a school counsellor, also helped launch Norwich Pride.

'One of the biggest things that has happened over the last 10 years is young people coming out as pan sexual or non binary,' she said. 'As well as the rainbow flag, at Pride you see this explosion of colour with all the different flags. Legislation has changed too. It's meant that my partner and I were able to get married two years ago. It's meant schools can hold Pride days.

'We started Norwich Pride after wondering why there was no Pride in Norwich. And then we thought, 'Let's just organise it.' I was thinking it might be a few hundred people, but 3,000 came.

Quite a few people had said they would come to a picnic but didn't want a parade because they felt it was fine being gay in Norwich, as long they didn't shout about it. For me, the really important part of Pride is the visibility. When the Samba band began, suddenly people at the picnic were dancing and part of the parade too. And we knew we wanted to be at the Forum so that if people wanted to join in but were a bit frightened they could always say they were going to the library.

It's just an incredibly happy atmosphere. I'm very proud to be part of that. A straight disabled woman said she had never felt so at home as at Norwich Pride!'

Musician Charlie Cain will be directing the Pride Choir.

'I've been going to Norwich Pride since it started 10 years ago and watched it grow over the years,' said Charlie, who is a gay trans man. 'There's always a big debate over whether Pride is protest or party. To me, protest will always be the most important thing - at least until everyone in the LGBT+ community have both equal legal rights and societal acceptance. Seeing the changes over the years, it's easy to think we've already got there, but the hijacking of this year's London Pride by transphobes has shown that this is far from the case.

'Having said that, I don't think there's anything wrong with a celebration! Indeed one of the best ways I have found to fight bigotry is to be defiant and celebratory in its face. You may hate me because of who I am, but I'm proud and I will celebrate it. 'I've had to miss portions of Pride over the years because of my work in the theatre with children, so often my memories are from the rehearsal room! About two years ago I noticed something happen: a lot of the kids started turning up with rainbow flags and make up and wristbands. Some of them were openly expressing their own identities as LGBT+ people, some were expressing their support. It made me think back to my childhood and how much it would have meant to know my peers were on my side.'


The 10th Norwich Pride is on Saturday, July 28.

It is organised by volunteers from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+) community as part of their vision to live in a city where everyone can feel safe and proud to be themselves.

There will be stalls at the Forum and Chapelfield Gardens from 10am. At the Forum there will also be a stories, crafts and film, laughing yoga, and song and dance performances through the morning.

The Sing with Pride choir will be perform at the Forum at 11am, and will be joined by Horning Junior School to sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

In Chapelfield a main stage will host talks, performances and entertainment from midday.

The parade itself begins at City Hall at 1pm and travels through the city centre to Chapelfield Gardens.

Linked events include a Creative Pride season at the Theatre Royal's Stage Two, films at Cinema City, a variety show at Norwich Playhouse, the annual Pride Without Prejudice exhibition in St Margaret's Church of Art, St Benedict's Street, and an event celebrating equal marriage with, celebrants and couples, on July 26 at the Octagon Unitarian Chapel, Colegate – followed by a performance by drag queen Marcia D'Arc on July 27.

The first King's Lynn and West Norfolk Pride is in Lynn on Saturday, August 18.