As the economy slowly unlocks, many of us are enjoying nights out again. The lights are back on in Chelmsford’s bars and restaurants and the sounds of chatter, laughter and music have returned to the city. But are spaces opening up for everybody?
Today is Pride Day. Garry Patrick, who has performed as drag queen Ruby Violet at venues around Chelmsford and beyond, contacted City Life for a frank chat about the LGBTQ+ scene in Chelmsford – and he says more venues need to consider this community.
You’ve just started up a new ‘Boozy Bingo’ night in the city centre in partnership with another drag performer, Saffron Slayter. Do you think this is filling a gap in Chelmsford’s nightlife, or is there quite a bit happening?
I’ve been in Chelmsford around three and a half years now and there used to be Smiths, a dedicated gay bar and the odd night that never really took off. You had dedicated Sunday nights at one bar too, but there was nothing specific to it, it was just labelled as a ‘LGBTQ+ night’ and there weren’t any acts.
Back then events were always scheduled on a Sunday too, which isn’t really a great night to go out. There isn’t really a space or a place to have a dedicated, decent night that people would want to go out to: just a place and a space really.
I’ve had this conversation with people, and they say we don’t need to have a dedicated night because we’re all inclusive now, but actually we do need this.
I talk to a lot of my friends and people from the LGBTQ+ community and we do still want that place that we can go to feel comfortable and meet other people like ourselves in that community and we want to feel safe.
You say this is something that’s very much still needed. Do you think things are easier or more difficult for young people coming out at the moment?
The pandemic has been tough on young people who are just coming out and who are finding themselves. It is really important for us to be able to say this is a safe, fun, kind place. You want young people to have great first experiences, not difficult or dodgy ones and I’d love to help provide a safe space for young people in Chelmsford.
Essex Pride and Basildon Pride were both really good when I went along, and there were so many young people there who were gay, lesbian, trans, non-binary, straight, families, and everyone felt included. It was so wonderful and encouraging to know that seeing us perform inspired some people to find out who they really are.
Is this an Essex-wide problem?
There are great nights in Southend at places like The Cliff, but this means someone has to drive…not always practical on a night out. I think Colchester has something and obviously we have Essex Pride which is held in Chelmsford, which is great. Obviously that’s Essex Pride and it’s wider, which is fantastic.
Chelmsford is the place I’m nearest to and I want to see more local community stuff.
Has the pandemic had an impact? Was there much to have an impact on beforehand?
The pandemic has had an impact but there wasn’t that much beforehand. There used to be Pop Rocks at Pop World, and I used to do the odd number there – again, that was on a Sunday. Before the lockdown there wasn’t much, and I was keen to get things going for both the community and for myself and my own drag career, but the main drive behind it is because I want something for us.
I do a regular Boozy Bingo with Saffron Slayter at ACANTEEN, which is great and isn’t targeted at LGBTQ+ specifically; it’s bingo with two drag queens, which sells out and it’s fun.
I would love more events to develop into weekly nights out and become more regular. At the moment, things seem to happen monthly, but from a business perspective, I don’t think something is going to take off if you just do it once a month. So we really want to have those weekly things.
Why do you think people aren’t putting on LGBTQ+ events? Is it an aversion to doing something new? Or does it come down to money?
Finance is a huge thing, especially at the moment after the pandemic. I think people are taking fewer risks. But I don’t know if people generally are necessarily seeing the need for these kinds of event, whereas I do.
What is the solution for Chelmsford?
There needs to be more visibility all round and it’s about doing something meaningful rather than a token gesture.
I’ve really thought about this in terms of specific nights and venues. Having these means you feel more comfortable in a place. In Chelmsford I don’t always feel like I can be myself openly and hold hands with my partner in public.
It’s Pride month, it feels like a good time to get this out there.
Acanteen’s next Boozy Bingo is on Thursday 29 July. Tickets are on sale on the acanteen website.