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Historic Congleton Pride Event

The 23rd of July saw people of all ages, many adorned in rainbow colours, sequins, glitter and face paint, gather in the town centre for the Congleton Pride event.

Pride is a festival that celebrates diversity and inclusion of people who are LGBTQIA+, and Congleton’s event consisted of street stalls organised by the Maker’s Market, entertainment, a mini-fairground for small children and a ‘Speaker’s Corner’ for people to say ‘What Pride Means to Me’.

Cheshire Fire & Rescue brought a fire engine, Cheshire Police had a car decorated with rainbow flags, and several local Churches worked together to provide a joint stall. Local political parties were present, as was Elizabeth’s Group with an information booth next to the recently-installed statue of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, who wore a rainbow sash for the day.

The free outdoor stage show began with a kids’ disco in the morning and continued with a live show for all the family. Singers Sam Wilson, Andy Hofton, Chelsea Jade, Misty Kay, GemiTy and Heather Marie, acrobat Rowan Kimpton, dancers the Gay Gordons, magician Nick Barnes and drag artists Stella Black (James Cheffings) and Fonda D (Ronan Clayton) entertained the crowd through the day.  

Town Mayor Margaret Gartside welcomed everyone, saying “This is an historic year for Congleton, and for Pride. Seven hundred and fifty years ago, Congleton was granted its first Charter in the time of King Edward I. Fifty years ago, a group called the Gay Liberation Front marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square in London as a ‘parade of protest’ for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. There were less than 500 people in that march. Today we are expecting five or six times that number, right here in Congleton, which shows just how far both Pride and Congleton have come.”

Pride Chair Ronan Clayton introduced Andy and Jake Pear from Pride’s Diamond Sponsor The Pear Hospitality & Retail Group (including the Lion & Swan, the Wheatsheaf and Pecks), who opened the event. Andy explained why they sponsored Pride “Just over 50 years ago, starting my high school career at Sandbach Boys School, the thoughts that one of my friends and student colleagues could come out as openly gay were unthinkable.

“Fast forward 50 years I am very proud to be a director of the Learning Alliance, a multi academy trust of 9 schools, including Congleton High School and Black Firs Primary, where all of our students are taught to be tolerant and respectful, moreover they celebrate each other’s differences. This change would not have been possible without the courageous people who started the Pride movement 50 years ago and all of those people who have worked to make Pride what it is today, including the people here in Congleton.”

Richard Walton, Pride Trustee, said “Due to the historic nature of this year’s Pride we had the idea that members of the LGBTQIA+ community should have the chance to tell their story, so we set up a little ‘Speaker’s Corner’ and invited people to spend a few minutes saying ‘What Pride Means To Me’. We heard from old and young, gay, trans, pansexual, non-binary and allies, and some of the speeches were very moving. Thank you so much to everyone who took part, and to Dave Brown who provided some excellent music in between the speeches.”

Gordon Self took a slot at Speaker’s Corner, reflecting on the importance of Pride “When I was young, we never saw positive representation of LGBTQ+ people, by LGBTQ+ people. How was I even supposed to know I wasn't cisgender, if nobody ever bothered to explain to me that most people actually want the gender they were assigned at birth?

“That's why we need Pride. To be our true selves we have to discover our true selves, and to do that we have to defeat ignorance. Joining this community as an adult has been a completely different experience from the one I needed and deserved to have. One where I could have been out to the whole world as agender as a child, asexual as a teenager. It’s so good to see young people with flags for those things and many more - which I never had when I was their age. It's finally happening, but we're only just getting started.”

The day closed with a glittering sold-out evening event at the Town Hall, where the various Pride flags were hung in between the mediaeval banners, and entertainment was provided by Rowan Kimpton, Fonda D, rock band No Fit State and Abba tribute Abbasolute Dreams, hosted by Stella Black. Shaun Radcliffe, who led the evening event team, said “Thanks so much to everyone who came and the brilliant artists who entertained us. It was a fantastic night.”

The Pear Hospitality team were guests of honour at the evening event together with Platinum Sponsors Kanga Health and Loguru.

Founder of Loguru, Malcolm Pope, also addressed the daytime crowd, saying, “The truth about the citizens of Congleton is that they are warm, welcoming and open minded. You can trust them to listen with empathy and love you for the person you are. I am incredibly proud of the town for its support and celebration of Pride and would hug the whole town if I could.”

The Rev Murray George spoke from the main stage, and later reflected “It was humbling to be asked to say a prayer at the beginning of the day and having the opportunity to highlight that Pride in the UK is fifty this year. It became a chance to remember and celebrate those who were present at the start, those who have fought in the years in between as well as the uniqueness of everyone and the glorious diversity of the community. The day itself was a gloriously joyful protest at continued prejudice whilst celebrating life at its best. It was wonderful to be a part of.”

Ronan Clayton said “Every year our Pride event gets bigger. It is great to see so many people from all walks of life, and especially so many families, come to Congleton to celebrate inclusivity and the importance of being kind to each other. Thank you so much to our committee, volunteers, stall-holders, entertainers, sponsors, the Town Council and everyone else who has helped put this day together.”

Pride Trustee Maxine Bampton said "I personally find the day of our local Pride to be very empowering. All the people, all the flags. I realise we aren’t so alone in Congleton. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community can be very lonely. Especially when you feel have to hold yourself back in day-to-day life. Today gives me so much strength. Today will give strength and hope to people who aren’t out, who watching from the sidelines right now. Today is also for those who aren’t ready to be here, and we’ll be here every year for you. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to each other."

Town Councillor and Pride Trustee Kay Wesley added, “For me, Pride is much more than a celebration. It is a movement. A movement that is dismantling prejudice and ignorance and the ‘othering’ of people. It is a successful movement, but it still has some way to go. And I for one will be part of it until the day when there is no longer any need to ‘come out’ as anything because there is no closet to be in. A day when everyone is just accepted for who they are and who they love.” 

Congleton Pride Trust formed in 2018 to help LGBTQ+ individuals in Congleton feel safer in expressing their sexual orientation and gender identity, and to help the community as a whole understand and include LGBTQIA+ people and eradicate prejudice. Congleton’s first Pride event was in July 2019. 

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