In one of our county’s most celebrated towns, a movement is attracting nationwide attention. Fliss Goldsmith explains why Belper truly is for everyone

There are a number of Pride events in June that take place in big cities - London, Birmingham and Manchester immediately spring to mind.

However, in recent years, a growing number of town-centred Pride events have flourished - and how lucky we are in Derbyshire to have one such event that has garnered national attention.

Let me ‘Strutt’ you thorough a little history of this soul-affirming event that I recommend everyone attends at least once.

Back in 2019 a group of brilliant ‘Belperites’ got together with the idea that their town, in the heart of Derbyshire’s Amber Valley, could be the perfect space to create an event that championed LGBT+ inclusion, the glory in the diversity across all of our society and the pride we all have in beautiful Belper.

Great British Life: Over 5,000 attended the inaugural PiB event (PiB)Over 5,000 attended the inaugural PiB event (PiB)

I remember fondly a conversation with Sarah and Helen Barley-McMullen (chair and secretary of Pride in Belper), where Sarah envisioned a ‘community picnic on the Memorial Gardens where we can all get together to celebrate.’

My husband still teases her to this day about that comment, because what unfolded was so much bigger and is testament to the graceful balance of humility and determination Sarah and Helen both have.

More trailblazing humans equally emboldened by the mission to bring an event where diversity and inclusion ran through the foundations came to the fore and a committee was formed.

From here, the ideas began to flow and the enormity of the task at hand never seemed (outwardly at least) to faze anyone.

The team were keen to ensure there would be something for everyone and this included all ages.

At this point they thought it pertinent to bring in a ‘families area co-ordinator’, and it is here that I make my entrance stage left!

The first Pride in Belper saw Sarah’s community picnic on the memorial gardens cover the whole town in resplendent rainbows, attracting over 5,000 visitors.

I don’t know about you, but that picnic would require a fair few sandwiches! The event began on the town’s magnificent Market Place and the ‘Strutt’ down King Street erupted with a riot of colour, music and banners.

Great British Life: The 2023 Pride in Belper event takes place this August (PiB)The 2023 Pride in Belper event takes place this August (PiB)

So why not a march like other Pride events, and why is it called a Strutt?

Belper is built on the history of the Strutt family and the famous mill buildings can still be seen bolstering the skyline above the gorgeous River Gardens.

So we ‘Strutt’ together in celebration of our rich diversity, the humanity that binds us and our rich heritage that spawned a spirit of community.

How do things look today, as we await the fifth Pride in Belper on August 5?

Well, a pandemic came along in 2020 but Pride in Belper was not to be derailed in only its second year and so 2020 and 2021, like many things, went online and kept the sense of community, togetherness and pride very much alive and, crucially, still gathering momentum.

Last year it was sensational to get back together in person and the sun shone down as if to welcome PiB back home to the town centre.

A day full of music, entertainment, activities, food, drink, Strutting, learning, listening, laughing, and truly levelling up happened. It was truly magical.

Though the day is always a cause for total joy, colour and lightness, Pride in Belper is built on strong values which all take very seriously.

A quote from the website sums up eloquently the inherent integrity of PiB’s intentions, ‘We believe real inclusion reflects an unedited society and celebrate the rich and wonderful diversity of everyone.’

These values are: Sustainability; Accessibility; Inclusivity and Diversity (SAID) - the founding pillars of the non-profit organisation is because they believe everyone deserves to be seen, heard and feel they belong within a community.

One of the first things organised this year was the Mobiloo, which I was blessed to have a tour of in 2019 at Belper Goes Green - another amazing event championing the environment and sustainability.

The Mobiloo allows those with disabilities and additional needs to have the same access to a toilet as an able bodied non-neurodiverse person.

The facilities are a feat of engineering that allows the user, and their assistant if required, to have the same privacy, dignity and ease of use of the facilities as anyone else.

As families area co-ordinator, it continues to be an immense privilege to create a safe space where people of all ages, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, disabilities, beliefs or religions can gather and celebrate each other and our tremendous town.

We have had local authors give readings and workshops, cake making and decorating, face painting, theatre sessions, musical activities and much more provided each year.

The Town Council has also put their feet firmly side by side with the LGBT+ Community and Pride in Belper by raising the Progress Flag in Belper and Milford in February and June.

PiB works with local schools, churches, businesses, and community groups to embed their values year-round.

As to legacy, far from the Rainbow washing which can occur in many forms - like sports brands who change their logo for Pride in June but do nothing to further the representation and support of the LGBT+ community across their organisations - PiB continually seeks to embed inclusion throughout the town.

It is now a registered charity which again speaks to the gravitas with which the organisation holds its values accountable to the people of the town and beyond.

It means they can access local grants and wider funding. Pride in Belper was runner up at the National Diversity Awards in 2022 which is a huge honour and achievement.

The BBC also took notice of what our Derbyshire-based team were doing and featured Pride in Belper as part of their 50 years of Pride documentary due to the magnitude of the event for a town of this size.

Great British Life: Sarah and Helen Barley-McMullen, chair and secretary of Pride in Belper respectively (PiB)Sarah and Helen Barley-McMullen, chair and secretary of Pride in Belper respectively (PiB)

Allyship is key and I have been asked: ‘Who or what is an ally?’ so many times.

Simply, it is anyone who shines a light on discrimination or unfairness to increase awareness and visibility of issues underrepresented people face.

We need allies to use their voices, hearts and minds to start and further conversations to create a more inclusive future.

Why should you come? Simply because this event is for you.

If you’re reading this right now, you’re not only welcome at Pride in Belper but you’ll feel instantly at home.

It is an event with such care and warmth that it is impossible not to fall in love with the joyful sense of community.

Even our canine companions have been catered for - with the prestigious Pride in Belper Dog Show which this year takes place Sunday 6 in the Memorial Gardens. So come and be ‘pawsome’ together from 2pm onwards!

Pride in Belper is free. I hope to see you there – one thing for sure is your presence will be seen, heard and felt there.

Welcome to Pride in Belper – everyone.