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Chase Waterman returns to Pride in the Park 2023 as the Rochdale in Rainbows celebration took place for a second year.

When I arrived in a rainy Rochdale on the morning of Sunday 16 July 2023, it was to celebrate Pride. The town looked almost empty as I got myself a hot chocolate and headed to Broadfield Park. The rain stopped and started, and as I got closer I could hear the music (Sweet Talker by Years & Years and Galantis) from the other side of the green. Compared to its previous year, this event looked more condensed, confined to one side of the park with its stalls located in a large white gazebo by the band stand, adorned with rainbows and balloons.

The event, heralded by the slogan ‘let’s get the Borough together’, was kicked off by a speech from former politician and community activist Carl Austin-Behan OBE DL. He welcomed the growing crowd, talked about the day’s schedule, and how Pride was an opportunity to look back as a community and see how far we’ve come. As he spoke one of the event’s two sign language interpreters, Tracie Redshaw and Alison Hetherington, gestured beside him.

What is Pride in the Park?

This commenced Pride in the Park’s second year, proudly presented by the organisations of Rochdale in Rainbows. Its aim is to celebrate queer joy with family fun, performances, and workshops for the whole of Rochdale Borough. Thirty-one organisations attended this year with stalls, information, and activities. There were several I recognised from last year, with some wonderful new additions. The stalls included:

  • The LGBT Foundation, which offered information about safe sex and their range of community services in Manchester.
  • The Proud Trust, whose stall offered resources and help for young LGBTQ+ people, along with tote bag painting.
  • Touchstones Rochdale had a few artifacts from their collections, along with information about their Queering Touchstones project.
  • Camerado offered a public living room for anyone to sit and relax in, complete with sofas and lemonade.
  • The Queer Youth Art Collective had art supplies and information on their free youth art sessions in-person and over Zoom.
  • The Other World had a stall selling LGBTQ+ books for all ages, as well as pins and bookmarks.

Other organisations included The Glitter Gift Company, PossAbilities, LGBT Personal Training, Sparkle Sisters Glitter Events, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, and so many more!

There was also a photobooth with a glittery backdrop and pride props, protest sign making with Arcon Housing, yoga, face painting, and glitter tattoos with Ciao Bella Glitter Face/Body Tattoos. Scrumptious food was provided by Wood Fired Oven Pizza Heywood and Bombay Brew, while Skylight Circus made another appearance this year with their circus skills workshop.

After the initial rain, the sun appeared. It was warm enough to take my jacket off and lounge on one of the beanbags in the yoga area as I enjoyed the performances and music by Boy George & the 80s Rewind and Luca the Drag Queer. The vibes were laid-back, with more than a few very adorable dogs pottering about, and the crowd only seemed to grow.

What makes this one different?

Last year’s Pride in the Park was fun, but still finding its identity — it was uncertain how many would attend, and the attendees weren’t sure what it would be until we arrived. This year, it seems to have found its feet. Although the area of the event was smaller, it felt busier. The crowds watching the performances felt bigger, and excitement was in the air.

The performances this year shone brighter. There were familiar faces — Ghetto Fabulous performed last year, but this year was on another level. Not only did their performance live up to their name (and a couple of children from the audience joined in, to everyone’s delight), they ran a Vogueing Workshop — and they had the whole crowd dancing! Angie Mack encouraged audience participation with her impressive hula-hooping and confetti-filled big finish, while MC Ben Hodge did an amazing job at introducing each act and making the crowd smile. The open-mic was a new addition this year to end the day, and was a wonderful showcase of local music and poetry. It started to rain heavily just as the penultimate performer was finishing — we all huddled in the gazebo where the stalls were starting to pack up for the last performance by a young trans man called Max who read out a couple of poems. With no access to a microphone or speakers here, everyone was silent while he spoke. When he finished, the gazebo erupted with applause, the rain outside forgotten.

When it comes to towns like Rochdale, a significant number of people travel away– for work, to meet friends, for shops, for food. Manchester’s Pride event is absolutely huge, with tens of thousands of people grinding the city to a halt each year with its massive parade and star-studded main stage. These days, tickets are closer to £100 than they are to £50. Compared to the larger local Pride events, Pride in the Park feels like a real community event. Commercial stalls were a new addition this year — alongside everything else there were Disney-themed Pride tumblers and bottles, and LGBTQ+ books and badges being sold, and the glitter tattoos cost a few pounds. They were lovely and a welcome addition, but if you didn’t want to buy anything then you didn’t feel like you’d missed out on half of the event.

With its arts and crafts, small businesses, local performers, open mic, and plentiful community resources on healthcare, safe sex, youth groups, and finances, Pride in the Park felt like what Pride is supposed to be. One of the open mic performers, Boris Day, talked about the history of Stonewall and the importance of solidarity between the gay and transgender communities in the current political climate, because we’re all one community and always have been. And he’s absolutely right.

My takeaway — a kind Pride

One thing I couldn’t help but notice throughout the day was the sheer friendliness of everyone — someone came up to me and complimented my outfit and I complimented theirs, and as we were chatting another person walked by us and told them how cool their shoes were. When I was watching the open mic, a young boy came up to me and offered me a rainbow cupcake in a little box, complete with a list of ingredients to check for allergies (and it was delicious, even the sponge was rainbow!).

When it started raining during the open mic, the lovely Louise Corlett, who I’d chatted to in the yoga area earlier, shared her umbrella with me, and we listened to the poetry together. When I got my glitter tattoo, the two folks running the stall complimented my name and talked about how this was their first ever Pride event. The gorgeous drag queen Dana at the photobooth swapped Instagrams with me, as did the cool person who’d complimented my outfit. I’ve always been shy around people, but I found myself talking to strangers and friends, and never once did I feel odd on my own.

That kindness and feeling of belonging is exactly what Pride is supposed to be, and attending the event made me feel proud to be a part of this vibrant, joyous community. I don’t doubt for a second that Pride in the Park will only get better with age, and I’m so excited for the years to come.