Happy Valley Pride all started because of a piece of homophobic graffiti seen Hebden Bridge in the summer of 2015. This was a shock for many people in one of the most LGBTQ+ welcoming towns in the UK.
It led to a small group of like-minded people coming together to think about what we could do in response to the graffiti. We could simply have painted over it, however this was an opportunity to create something positive out of something so negative. We invited local artists to transform the piece of vandalism into a piece of celebratory art. It made us think about what more we could do, and what a potential pride would look like. As word started to spread we couldn’t believe how many people wanted to get involved. Writer Sally Wainwright launched the organization early in 2016 and activist Peter Tatchell joined soon after as our patron (later to be joined by performer and activist Kate O’Donnell and more recently singer/songwriter Horse McDonald). Soon after we were running monthly socials, building our volunteer team, and planning our first full festival. We always set out to be an alternative Pride, committed to ending discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality through art and education.
We were rolling out a full seven-day queer arts festival, with a pride event as the weekend focal point. Our events are always for and led by the community. They include tea dances, school projects, performances by local musicians, art exhibitions celebrating local artists, human rights talks, and much more. Each year the festival got bigger and bigger, attracting visitors from access the country and bringing international performers alongside celebrating local talent.
Like all other arts and live events organisations , everything changed in 2020 due to Covid-19. We were eager to do what we could to continue to bring people together and we hosted a range of online events throughout various lockdowns and restrictions. This included online singalongs, performances, and more. An unexpected positive from this time was being able to connect with people across the world with people joining from Australia, America, and more. It was also during this time that we expanded our youth engagement programme and launched a campaign on LGBTQ+ mental health (Mind Your Head). In a similar way to the origin of the festival, it was an opportunity to take something positive from something so negative, and we continue to develop and evolve in unexpected but positive ways.
We have been able to get back to some in-person events in 2021 though we have proceeded with caution as the pandemic is far from over. Our main festival had many digital events alongside the focal point of our pink pride picnic in the park. We were delighted that around 2,000 people joined us to celebrate.
We are already looking forward to 2022! Like everyone we hope it will bring with it more normality and stability and the opportunity to host more in-person events. Though the success of our digital activity means we will continue to do more in this area. Our work with young people will be expanding, as will the Mind Your Head campaign. Planning is already underway for the main festival next summer.
I am so proud of what we have achieved and excited about what more we can do.
Darren Spruce – Founding Member
Festival image – Happy Valley Pride
Hebden Bridge image – South Pennines Park