Pride of the Déise festival takes place online from Friday, May 29th-Sunday, May 31st
BEHIND every great festival you’ll find a hard working team of like-minded, highly motivated individuals. The Pride of the Deise Committee is a perfect example of that.
The Waterford News & Star caught up with the team Cam Lyttle, Éadaoin Walsh, Steve Furlong, Debbie O’Rourke and Michelle Byrne – over a Zoom meeting – to discover why Pride of the Deise came about, what it stands for, and how it’s coping with these “Covid times”.
First and foremost, Pride of the Deise is a volunteer led community organisation based in Waterford City whose aim is to provide a platform of solidarity and celebration for those who are LGBTQIA+ in the South East of Ireland. They promote a safe and inclusive space by organising and encouraging events, workshops and social gatherings culminating in an annual Pride festival.
Currently, Waterford is the only city that does not celebrate an annual Pride festival. There have been parades, groups and organisations in the not-so-distant past but now there are limited venues and avenues for people of the LGBTQ community to find each other and to access their own community in general. Consequently, in September 2019, the Pride of the Déise Committee was established to address this and to culminate in Pride of the Déíse, a festival celebrating inclusion, diversity and the beauty of Waterford.
The group’s activities are that of any good community organisation – to do significant outreach in Waterford City and County to get to know more people and more organisations from the LGBT community. There is a plan of monthly meet-ups to hear more from people, to create good relationships with local businesses and to build up to a great Pride of the Déise festival on the ground.
“Before Covid-19, we had a really exciting programme to look forward to,” said Éadaoin Walsh, Committee treasurer. “A lot of businesses and organisations had come on board to support us and we had a lot of elements working together to create a festival that was both educational, inspirational and incredibly fun.”
Alas, some of those plans have been stymied by Covid 19 but Pride of the Déise has now gone online with a weekend full of activities for all ages and interests. There’s some yoga, film, educational and mental health focus, political, storyful, energetic, playful, celebratory but political, youthful but also wise. Last, certainly not least, there’s a party and a dance or two as well.
One of the events from the original programme that has moved seamlessly online is Sceal, a hugely important component of this year’s festival, as Committee Chairperson Cam Lyttle explains.
“LGBT history and all of its stories generally gets overlooked so we wanted to provide people with a platform from where they could tell their own individual stories,” Cam said. “That was originally going to happen in Garter Lane, but with Covid-19 we’ve had to move it online. I’ve been doing Zoom interviews with people from the community to get an idea about where people are at or where they’ve come from. It’s been really interesting hearing people’s stories and the plan will be to compile them altogether for documentary style piece that we’ll put out live on Facebook on May 29.”
The Committee have been meeting up once a week over Zoom as well as getting things done through the classic WhatsApp group chats. Committee Secretary Michelle Byrne said that it was the decision to move things online was made because they wanted to maintain a sense of “normality”.
“Being the first Pride to happen in 2020, we were going to be the first ones trying it out online,” Michelle said. “What was most important for us was that there was visibility of events for people living in Waterford and we even though we wanted to keep the spirit of the programme, we obviously had to amend a few events as well. Using a bit of creativity, I think we’ve succeeded in creating a programme that’s diverse, and entertaining as well as being accessible to all.”
Steve Furlong is the festival volunteer manager and explains how their roles have obviously changed since the festival moved online.
“One of the biggest requirements we’ll have from our volunteers this year is promotion, and making sure as many people know about the festival as possible.” Steve said. “Word of mouth is usually the quickest way of spreading information so that’s objective one for our volunteers. Obviously because there’s not as much hands-on work to do the uptake of volunteers has been a little slower, but thankfully there has been a considerable interest, which will stand to us for future festivals. We want people to join us to make this the best possible event it can be.”
Debbie O’Rourke, who is the Youth Co-ordinator for the festival says that Pride of the Deise gives people opportunity for young and old to meet each other in a shared, safe environment.
“For me it’s about everyone being able to meet up – whether it’s online or eventually in person – and share the same vibe and the same interests in an organised and safe way,” Debbie said. “Obviously we really miss the way we used to meet up, whether it was for a pub quiz or a cup of coffee, but we will be back there soon. It’s so important to be connected to your community and to me, that’s what Pride of the Deise is all about.”