Volunteers involved in this year’s Pride Glasgow event have hit back at what they say are “shocking” levels of abuse directed towards them since the summer.
At a public meeting in the city on Friday, organised by the new Pride Glasgow board, around 60 people, many of them current or former Pride volunteers, gathered to hear the new Chairman, Chris Laing, outline his plans to move the organisation forward.
Laing confirmed that 2 separate complaints had been made by the board to Police about financial irregularities discovered and that the charity owes over £32,000 in unpaid invoices. He is to hold meetings with Glasgow City Council soon to discuss outstanding debts the charity has with the local authority.
Members of the public had a chance to ask their own questions during the meeting, with issues around sponsorship, charity governance, event planning and ticket prices being raised.
A number of volunteers at the meeting spoke of their upset at how they felt let down by its former management team and by the reaction from a small minority of the community, with one volunteer sharing how she was spat on and verbally abused as the chaotic scenes unfolded in Kelvingrove Park.
Several others spoke of abuse they’ve had to endure online, simply for being linked to the Pride organisation as a volunteer in the past few months.
“We couldn’t go out with our Pride t-shirts on, I’ve had to stop going out on the scene as things got so bad” said one volunteer, “I’ve been ashamed to be part of the community recently. As soon as someone saw us and they’d had a couple of drinks we were the target of all their abuse.”
Ruth McGill, Volunteer Manager and now the only paid employee of the charity, told us:
“Pride Glasgow’s volunteers are some of the most amazing people I know and learn from – they are dedicated to Pride in Scotland and to their community. The volunteers are part of the Pride Life Project, a project that runs all year round to support and encourage building meaningful relationships, basically a big family that supports each other and anyone who joins.”
“Each month there is an activity and training session that promotes a healthy and happy ethos and supports volunteers who need it. Activities can range from CV building, employability skills to camping and team building. Pride Life supports some very isolated volunteers, it is the best part of their month, it’s the place were its ok to be yourself.”
“In my opinion there would be no Pride Festival if it wasn’t for volunteers, they gave over 4300 hours of their really valuable time this year to help ensure that the LGBT community had a festival and we really appreciate all they do for the city.”
One volunteer, who has been involved for almost 20 years with Pride events in Scotland, said:
“All we are asking for is not to judge us as volunteers, give us a chance to help make it right. We need the chance to prove what we can do and I think the next Pride event will be run properly and people will see a big difference.”
“People need to take a step back and know that we had nothing to do with these decisions. There are new people in charge and more to be added – everyone’s ideas have been taken on board, now give us a chance, it’s all we’re asking for.”
Organisers have faced a barrage of criticism following ticketing and over-crowding issues at the event in July, with the Festival Director Ross Stevenson and Pride CEO Alistair Smith, both leaving the charity.
Reports in the press last week also confirmed a second Police investigation is underway, this time into financial irregularities allegedly authorised by a former trustee. Earlier in the year, a similar report was made to Police after concerns about electronic transactions were raised by the new Board, which is understood to be part of an investigation by Greater Manchester Police.
Pride’s charity trustees are attempting to engage with the community to find a way forward, with an online community survey attracting over 700 responses in just a few days, as well as the public meeting being held.
Laing also made a commitment that an open and transparent AGM would be held in “the coming weeks”, where a new constitution and the latest accounts would be presented, in an attempt to ensure the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated.
Earlier in the year a new group, called West of Scotland Pride, launched a Facebook page and held an invite-only meeting for LGBT groups working in Glasgow to discuss the way forward.
The new group then held an open public meeting on 17th October with around 70 people attending and committing to a further public meeting to discuss plans to ‘take back’ Pride in Scotland’s biggest city.
Adding another element into the mix is ‘Mardi-Gla’, a new LGBT-focussed event which is rumoured to be taking shape, with early discussions around an event based in the Merchant City for 2019. Pink Saltire understands planning has already begun, although organisers remain tight-lipped at the moment.
What was clear from Friday’s gathering is the impact that poor governance within any organisation can have on its volunteers and its community. Not only is the reputation of the organisation tarnished, but its relationship and standing with those who choose to commit their valuable time as volunteers has been seriously dented.
The volunteers feel hurt and let down by mistakes made, but it’s also clear that these volunteers are hugely committed to a successful community event which brings everyone together. The test for Laing and the new Pride board will be whether they can live up to these expectations in extremely difficult circumstances.