One From the Archive: Ten Years of Pride: An Interview With Jenny Dewsnap

With Doncaster Pride 2017 happening this weekend, we decided to perform some blogging necromancy and raise this interview with Jenny Dewsnap from the depths of the internet.
Right, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty of Pride and how it came about in 2006.
Pride was born out of South Yorkshire Police having a not too great equality & diversity audit. They were pretty desperate for one of the four local authorities to do a Pride. Naturally, back then I suppose the local authorities were a bit ‘nervous’, so they wanted some group to take it up. SY Police gave £1,500 to the first group to come forward. Anyway, a group of Sheffield students jumped at the cash and got on with it, but six weeks before the event gave the money back and said they couldn’t do it. A lady called Rennie Brown
  a civilian within SY Police and the first woman in Donny, I believe, to have a civil partnership on the day the legislation came into force  had a meeting with Martin Winter and he then rang me to help. One meeting, I said. Ha! Ten years later…

How was the first Pride received in Doncaster?
OK, 2007. Drizzly day, small stage, drag queen host Gloria from The Vine dressed as though she was going to a Buckingham Palace garden party. A few acts, a few stalls and some curious straight people. It wasn’t a party atmosphere that year  more a statement.
How did the Pride committee come about and who are they?
Well, it was word of mouth. Martin knew me as I’d worked at the Council in events, Rennie knew Cath as they used to be a couple. Cath was chair of sexual health charity Pathways. It was very much a plea for help on the pretty sparse gay community. Jan Milner was a founder too. Mostly women that first year, but as the day approached we had a few volunteers, including Trevor Jones, who joined the committee immediately after the first Pride. We had reps from Rotherham and Sheffield, and SY Police insisted it was a SY thing. We dropped that after year one, as I was adamant any ‘success’ or progress should reflect on Donny, not the other towns. In 2008 Sheffield hosted the second SY Pride and we broke away as Donny and raised our own funds thereafter.
The committee today is Trevor Jones, John and Kevin Dorlin-Wagstaff, Cath Fox, Jill Jenkinson, Rob Clayton and me. Three members over 60. We are the oldest committee in the world!
What are the biggest challenges? How much does Pride cost to put on and how do you raise the funds?
Unfortunately, our decision to move coincided with Peter Davies’ election pledge to cut funding. We had an interesting meeting with him, when I said, ‘You don’t actually bloody fund it anyway,’ but the public thought he forced the move. 
We always have a crisis in planning. Year three, 48 hours before the event, our stage was repossessed and impounded by customs abroad somewhere. Anyone that’s tried to book a stage like that 48 hours before a show knows it’s bloody impossible, but we constructed a stage and finally got our deposit back on the other one. It’s a tradition now to top the crisis each year.

Since we came back to SNG square, we target ourselves with £20,000. We can run with less but that’s a nice figure. We do all the fundraising and historically this has been through events, some grants, some smaller sponsorships, but it’s all changed this year. Business sponsorship and advertising has seen huge increases. We’ve always argued we have a positive impact on the local economy and massive positive PR for Donny, but this year people bought into that. We have a long list of corporate sponsors now and it’s growing. We’ve already had three emails since the weekend asking about sponsorship for 2017. Unheard of!
Can you explain to our readers what happened in 2015 with LGSM  an activist group from London known as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners  and why ex-miners and trade unions get behind Pride?
Yeah, I went to see Pride the movie, and it’s back to my roots, my passion for Donny. I sat in the cinema and said to my kids at the end of the film, ‘I want to do that here in Donny, 30 years on.’ So I set about asking questions and ended up at Edlo Top Club in a bizarre meeting with Frank and a group of 70-year-old ex-miners who’d “never met a lesbian before”. It should have been filmed. It was so funny.
I guess in a funny way I thought about the hardship of the strike  the families I knew, the proud miners who kept fighting even till after they were broke, my grandad, everything. I had to do it. I had to see the banners at the head of the Pride parade, because I was in a position to make that happen, see those still proud but ‘old’ men smiling as they marched again. My proudest moment, I think, of all the Prides. How daft is that? It’s more about Donny than anything LGBT. But it’s not  it’s me being proud of who I am, where I’m from and the unlikely coming together of the communities who had the same common feelings as inspired the LGSM 30 years ago.
One of our favourite parts of Miss Money Penny’s opening speech was that Pride isn’t about difference, it’s about equality, so via creating an event that let’s Doncaster ‘be itself’, we are allowing our town to express its true spirit.
Yes, it’s all about pride: in yourself, your town, your life, your values, your ability to help others live their life and see positives. Family, community and strength.
How is Pride linked to the regeneration of Doncaster and how visitors see our town?
We are Doncaster. I’m fiercely protective of how the corporate influence takes us a different way. We stick to who we are and our beliefs as a committee. Others are welcome  yes, come see how great the event is and how great the town is. We treat guests, visitors and performers with respect, as we want them to go away with a positive feel for us.
Regeneration… well, it’s about positive perception. How many people know where Donny is? Is it some random northern town with no heart and no spirit, where we all still have flat caps on? I joke, but we must show we’re a competitor. We are a phoenix. We’ve come out of the decimation of our industry and communities and we can now be a real, serious city  work, jobs, aspirations, great events that put positive images in people’s minds.
What’s on the cards for 2017?
We’ll build on the success of this year. Bring in sponsors, but do it on terms that gives us what we want yet satisfy their commercial aspirations. We treat our sponsors well. We respect and are grateful of their involvement, because it’s not a financial transaction alone. It’s a relationship with mutual benefits.
We will grow the infrastructure, listen to our audience and try to give them a Pride to be proud of.
How did you feel on the day, seeing all 12,000 people there?
Overwhelmed. You kind of plan in a bubble, not really thinking numbers. We were amazed, to be honest. I guess we still have a little bit of us that actually doesn’t realise how great this thing is and how we’ve made it happen. Kind of surreal to think, standing there, that we did this, even after ten events.
We want to be the best we can be. We aren’t competing with anyone. We do what we do and we believe people come because we do things right. Acts are often regulars on the Pride circuit and tell us nobody looks after them like Donny. My feeling is if they go away and tell other people about it then we’re doing a good thing for ourselves, our event and our town.
We know people travel for our Pride now and they wouldn’t if it wasn’t a great day out. Taking a step back from the planning and the surreal bubble we live in for a few days after the event, we must be doing something right.
I started off feeling that if I could help just one person come to terms with their sexuality in a way I couldn’t as a teenager, then I did a good thing. Now it’s thousands. Yes, loads now come to party, but we always have that serious side, because I guess as a committee of ‘older’ gay folk, we’ve all know how it was. We all are so pleased times are different, but we’ll never forget those struggles, the early days of the gay rights movement. I think that gives us a different driving force, a different reality and understanding, as well as a gratefulness that we can demonstrate our individuality in a way we couldn’t years ago.

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