Pride in Suffolk’s past


A touring exhibition will celebrate LGBTQ+ History month in February.

Suffolk Archives has developed a countywide programme of activities to engage more people than ever before with Suffolk’s archival heritage. One of the largest initiatives is ‘Sharing Suffolk Stories’, a raft of projects which supports communities to explore more about the history of where they live, create their own responses to it through art and literature, and share their work as widely as possible.

Supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, one ‘Sharing Suffolk Stories’ project is called ‘Pride in Suffolk’s Past’. The project is two-fold; to explore and share the hidden stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in Suffolk, but also to collect contemporary stories of Suffolk’s LGBTQ+ Community, documenting people’s experiences through a period of monumental societal change towards sexuality and gender identity.

An enthusiastic group of volunteer researchers has been delving into the archives to discover stories about the experiences of ordinary people as well as well-known figures, experiences during the 1980’s when AIDS and HIV were propelled into public consciousness, press coverage and the language used to talk about sexuality in the past.

Suffolk Archives has developed a touring ‘pop-up’ exhibition to travel around Suffolk to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month (February 2020) and share some of the stories discovered. The exhibition will visit venues in Sudbury, Stowmarket, Saxmundham, Lowestoft, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds and will engage with LGBTQ+ and youth groups around the county.

Dr Lisa Wade, University of Suffolk, said:

“The Centre for History and Heritage at the University of Suffolk is delighted to support this exhibition as part of our educational partnership activity with The Hold.  It is our aim to bring new life and interest to the Suffolk archives and to explore and present the history of our county and those within it, to broad audiences. 

“We hope that this unique partnership will also help introduce a new generation to the treasures of our past and offer frameworks and foundations for further research. 

“We are looking forward to welcoming visitors in February with this exciting and informative programme as we continue to investigate our rich and dynamic history together - Sharing Suffolk Stories.”

Councillor Paul West, Portfolio Holder for Heritage, said:

“’Pride in Suffolk’s Past’ is a fantastic example of the convening effect of the ‘Sharing Suffolk Stories’ programme and it’s a privilege to be able to bring the research of our volunteer researchers and participants to life in such creative ways.”

Anne Jenkins, Director of England, Midlands and East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“We are very proud to support Suffolk Archives in exploring the hidden LGBTQ+ heritage of the county, but also in their quest to build upon that important heritage through the collection of contemporary stories. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, these stories will now be shared with the wider community and will highlight the local people who have paved the way for social change.”

A series of ‘collecting events’ are also scheduled around the county during March and April 2020. The aim of these events will be to encourage members of the LGBTQ+ to share their memories, experiences, memorabilia and personal archives with us to compile an archive collection that reflects this community, living in Suffolk now.Visitors will also be able to view the touring ‘pop-up’ exhibition at these collecting events.

Gail Broom, Suffolk Archives Volunteer, said:

“It has been a great experience working on the Pride in Suffolk’s Past project. Looking at original documents and letters is fascinating and finding the voices and experiences of people in the past has been both moving and inspiring.

“I am very excited to be involved in the upcoming collecting events and can’t wait to see the Exhibition and all the stories that me and my fellow volunteers have discovered.”

Stories will also be showcased at an LGBTQ+ ‘Time Tunnel Experience’ at Suffolk Pride on 20 June 2020.

Thom Hollyer, Suffolk Pride Community and Outreach Officer, said:

“Pride in Suffolk’s Past will connect the LGBTQ+ people living in Suffolk today with those who have come before them. Often in rural communities, LGBTQ+ people can feel isolated and alone; Pride partly exists to help with this in a physical and geographical sense, but this project will help those people find their place in history.

“The historic Suffolk people that will feature in this research will serve as a reminder to our county that LGBTQ+ people are not a new or ‘trendy’ phenomenon, and the public perception of the issues those in the community face has and should continue to be a cause for progress.”