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Flying the flag at Brighton’s Pride parade

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As Brighton Pride approaches, Rob White looks at the work that goes into creating a float for the parade, and how a dedicated group of museum staff decided to get involved.

August 2019 will be the third year that the Royal Pavilion & Museums have had our own float in Brighton’s Pride parade. I’ve been one of the leads of the small team responsible for our presence in Pride since the very beginning and am so proud to have seen the scale of what we have achieved grow each year.

My excitement is already starting to build and I look forward to the week before the parade almost as much as the parade itself. I love spending time with my colleagues and volunteers preparing and constructing our float – it gives us a good chance to get to know new people and share in something we all believe is so important for RPM to be involved in.

I expect there will be people who don’t think us taking part in Pride is important or a good use of money or time, but as a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself and someone who works for RPM I can say that it is absolutely a great use of both. Showing support for a community that is still not accepted across most of the world and faces homophobia, biphobia and transphobia on a regular basis, even in this country where incidents of each are actually on the rise, is vital. I hope that taking part in Brighton Pride is something that RPM commits to going forward into the future.

Towards the end of 2016 a small group of RPM staff decided to push for us to join Brighton Pride in 2017 for the first time – this group of people now make up the committee which have organised our participation annually since. Our involvement came on the back of other LGBTQ+ projects and exhibitions at the time – the LGBTQ+ trail, our Be Bold/Museum of Transology exhibition programming and a series of events for Brighton Museum. We recognised that our engagement and support of the LGBTQ+ community needed to extend out of our museums and be expressed in a more public way.

We didn’t expect organising our first Pride to be as much work as it ended up being. During the first year each member of the committee worked on Pride voluntarily and out of our regular work hours. We worked with a member of SameSky’s creative team to help us build and decorate a large model of the Royal Pavilion which would fit the size of our float (which was a mere 3 meters long).

Taking part in the parade, costumes including Martha Gunn and a film-themed outfit inspired by Hove Museum. 2017

Costumes in the parade themed on Martha Gunn and the film collection at Hove Museum. 2017

We wanted our Pride participation to be more than joining the parade and instead something that members of staff could be involved in creating. Along with the construction of the float we also made costumes reflecting the collections held at our five sites. It’s safe to say we certainly set ourselves an ambitious task which ended up taking much more time than we anticipated (doesn’t it always?!). The amount of ‘behind the scenes’ work was also somewhat underestimated by us – health and safety prep, paperwork, meetings, sourcing vehicles and sound systems, management of participants and volunteers and dissemination of information. We used one of the museum art rooms and arranged sessions for volunteers, some taking part in the parade and others not, to help us build each of the various elements.

Despite July of that year being quite stressful and the week leading up to the parade slightly anxiety-inducing; it was a great chance for members of staff to spend time together doing something outside of our usual work and collaborating to build something great. Everyone was passionate about what we were doing and this part of the project has given me some of the best memories from that year. However, we did all agree that if we were to take part in Pride again in 2018 we would need to make changes in order to relieve some of the stress from our small team.

Parade group and float. 2017

Parade group and float in 2017.

We did manage to achieve this, partially at least!

The biggest change for us in the second year was booking more of our provision through Brighton Pride themselves – this meant that we didn’t have to source our own vehicle, driver, sound system or generator and do all the work associated with each of these things.

We also wanted to use the same Pavilion structure but decorate and refresh it to cut down on the workshops and hopefully help make the last couple of weeks of July less hectic. We had some help from a member of Pride’s creative team who provided us with fantastic recycled materials which added extra colour and decoration to the float.

The day before a team made up of the main committee and other dedicated volunteers spent around 12 hours getting everything set up and the float fully decorated and ready for Saturday morning. We worked into the evening in the heat and managed to build a float that looked amazing and really showed off everyone’s hard work. We were themed on the colours of the rainbow, celebrating the anniversary of the pride flag, and it was so incredible to see around 70 people’s dedication to the theme with everyone coming dressed in outfits of one of the colours. It was inspiring and made me feel like all the work was totally worth it.

2018 was much easier to manage even though we had a truck 13m long (4 times bigger than the previous year!) and more than double the number of participants.

Parade group and float in 2018

Parade group and float in 2018

We all felt that last year was a huge success and I was so happy to hear from people who took part in the parade or who saw us from the crowd to say how great the float looked and how much fun they had. We came into 2019 wondering whether we would be able to top it!

The Pavilion structure got damaged last year so unfortunately has seen its last outing; though we are planning to use some of the domes this year in one way or another. We decided the focus of our float should be the adorned sides and everyone’s outfits – this would take more of the pressure off us to build something in July when the creativity of our float could be shown in different ways.

We have partnered with VisitBrighton for the first time this year and it’s been great to see a large number of their team joining us. New banners are being made and new playlists of fabulous music being put together. The theme for this year marks 50 years since the Stonewall uprising so people are using fashion inspiration from the 60s to now for their outfits.

As I write this we still have a week and a half to go but we already have a large number of participants from across both our organisations. Everything has gone smoothly so far and hopefully will continue to for the rest of the month. If you watch the parade on August 3rd keep an eye out for what I hope will be our best looking float yet!

Rob White, Marketing Support Officer & Booking Office Asistant