Thursday, 10 October 2013

Week 2// Thursday // Manchester

On Thursday we travelled to Manchester to meet with representatives from two established LGBT centres within Manchester; the LGF (Lesbian Gay Foundation) and the Joyce Layland LGBT centre.  Our day started with an exploration of Manchester's famous Gay Village and Canal Street.

The Gay Village was only a short 5 minute walk away from Piccadilly train station.  We found that there was a selection of bars, clubs, shops, restaurants and pubs that lined Canal Street and adjacent streets.  It was visibly a LGBT area with many of the businesses flying the rainbow flag proudly.  We visited Sackville Gardens located next to Canal Street which paid tribute to the Mathematician Alan Turing in the form of a bronze statue sitting serenely within the park.  Turing lived in the UK during the 50s where at the time the freedom to be with someone of the same sex was not accepted and was seen as a criminal act.  Although having helped to crack the Enigma Code in WW2 and being a pioneer in the field of computer science, Turing was prosecuted for engaging homosexual acts and was forced to undergo female hormone therapy to 'cure' his sexuality which led him to tragically commit suicide by eating an apple laced with potassium cyanide.  The statue stands to keep Turing's story alive and as a reminder of the historical and current struggle for LGBT rights within the UK and globally.

Alan Turing, 1912-1954, memorial statue in Sackville Gardens.

Feeling inspired after our exploration of the Gay Village we headed to our first appointment at the LGF, located in the heart of the Gay Village.  On arrival to the building we noticed that there were high security measures in place such as a door buzzer, security cameras to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable LGBT people entering the building and to protect the staff working within the building.  Once inside the centre we were greeted warmly by Andrew Gilliver, the campaigns and engagement officer at the Lesbian Gay Foundation.  Speaking with Andrew was a great opportunity to understand more about the work that they do at the LGF and its importance as an organisation to the LGBT community.  The LGF in Manchester works across the north west to provide the LGBT community with community facilities, support, health care and works on many campaigns projects such as supporting awareness for BME LGBT groups and fighting for LGBT rights.  One of the main points that we got from the meeting was the need to reach out to the more vulnerable LGBT people within the community and go to them, especially those situated within hard to reach areas.  Another point, more specific about the building was having a second more discrete entrance that connected with the more sensitive areas of the building such as the counselling rooms.  Our visit to the the LGF ended with a lovely tour of the building as Andrew showed us the various types of meeting and community spaces.

The Lesbian Gay Foundation, Richmond St, Manchester.
Meeting in one of the LGF counselling rooms.
From Left to Right: Andrew, Yibo, Kevinney, Katherine.

After our meeting with Andrew we said our goodbyes and made our way down to our second meeting at the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre.  It was a 10 minute walk south of the Gay Village but the question we had in our minds was, why was it not situated more centrally in the city centre and was there a decision to locate it outside of the Gay Village? Again we were delighted to be met with such a warm reception by Ali, the centre manager of the Joyce Layland LGBT centre.  We found out that it was the first LGBT centre to be set up in the UK and has been running for over 30 years as a support and community space for the LGBT community.  It was named after Joyce Layland, a parent of a gay son. She was a proud activist within the LGBT community who helped set up the Manchester Parents Group.  The centre has since started an LGBT community cafe (Sidney St. Cafe) that is open to the wider LGBT community and hires out spaces to various LGBT community groups such as LGYM and the University of Manchester LGBT Society.

The Joyce Layland LGBT Centre, Sidney Street Manchester.

What was interesting about the building was that each space provided different levels sensitivity and intimacy which in turn helped to cater for the range of groups with differing needs.  The facade of the building did not express LGBT symbols apart from a small rainbow flag, with the reasoning was that it wanted to be discrete for sensitivity purposes so people could walk through the entrance and not feel like they were walking directly into a gay space, maintaining their anonymity until they could feel secure themselves in revealing their sexuality.  This was one of the reasons for locating the centre outside of the Gay Village along with supporting groups with a need for a 'dry' space such as the LGBT Youth groups and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups that find it difficult to access the Gay Village due to its high number of licensed premises.  The LGBT Centre provides an alternative community space, with a grassroots ethos, involving stakeholders and local community support.  This local community support stretches outside of the centre and links have been formed with surrounding local businesses, (such as the music shop who lent instruments to the LGBT youth groups during Manchester Pride) other community hubs and the two local universities, Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University.  On hearing this it made us think about the ideals of Sheffield as a a social city, a city forged by strong community networks and its pride for supporting a diversity of people.  Having an LGBT centre that has support from Sheffield as a whole as well as Sheffield's LGBT community will be an important factor in making this centre inclusive and connected as part of the city's fabric.  After an insightful chat with Ali, she also gave us a tour of the centre showing us the range of spaces which even included a small stage for performances!

Joyce Layland LGBT Centre's Sidney St. Cafe.
From left to right, Kevinney, Katherine, Ali & Yibo.
All in all it was a brilliant trip, giving us deeper insight into LGBT history and key pointers when thinking about the design of LGBT spaces.  It was great to establish links with the two centres and hope that this will be the start of linking Sheffield's LGBT community more to the existing national LGBT networks.  Thanks again to Andrew and Ali for all the support!

The team at the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre & Mural!
Left to right, Yibo, Katherine, Ali, Kevinney & Daisy.

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