"I think the centre is hugely important - its a mad, busy, frantic world and a literal centre is exactly what the community needs. "
Russell T Davies
The acclaimed screenwriter has pledged to support The Proud Trust’s new LGBT+ Centre in Manchester, a state-of-the-art centre to replace the original which opened its doors in the 1980s (around the time that It’s A Sin was set).
Speaking of the need for a new centre for people across the entire North West region and beyond, which will be a hub for the delivery of life-saving and life-enhancing educational programmes, support services and youth groups, Davies said:
“I think the centre is hugely important - it’s a mad, busy, frantic world and a literal centre is exactly what the community needs. I’m lucky, I get to write about LGBTQIA+ lives, but I’m well aware that the real, hard work is done here, at a grass-roots level, by hard-working staff and volunteers. This is the beating heart of the community.
“I’ve lived in cities without a centre, and I know how much a place like this is needed.”
The original LGBT+ Centre, which was the first of its kind to be built in Europe, was demolished last November to make way for a new three-story £2.4 million redevelopment that, it’s hoped, will help an additional 40,000 people each year.
Opened in 1988, the old Sidney Street site served the LGBT+ community for over 30 years but was built at a time when safety and discretion were the biggest concerns for many of its users.
Amelia Lee of The Proud Trust explains more:
“When our centre originally opened its doors in 1988, it was at the height of the AIDS/HIV pandemic and much of our funding came from health services to help prevent the spread of the virus and support those who had contracted it.
“This influenced not just the services that were run from there but also had a big impact on the building’s design. During this time there was a lot of fear and hatred directed at the LGBT+ community. Users of the centre would literally be in fear of their lives. It was built with security and anonymity in mind. High windows and bolstered security were purposefully included to protect them.
“We didn’t even have a post box and if you’ve watched It’s a Sin, you will know why! There were mirrors behind reception so that staff were always aware of who was entering the building.
“Nowadays, the very features that were included to encourage people to access the centre, unfortunately have the opposite effect, so the new centre will look and feel very different. It will be triple the size, open, airy and a facility that the LGBT+ community can be proud of.
Amelia continues: “Times have changed, however, during the pandemic we have unfortunately seen a huge rise in young people accessing our online services. There’s an increased feeling of isolation and of course some young people will be locked down with families that don’t accept their sexuality or gender identity, leading to isolation and sometimes, sadly abuse and neglect.”
“What It’s a Sin does so brilliantly,” she added. “Is expose the shocking attitudes towards those who identified as LGBT+ in the eighties. It may have been decades ago, and we’ve certainly come a long way since then, however, as our service users tell us all too frequently, LGBT phobia still very much exists today in all areas of society. For those living with persecution, it can be just as dangerous and damaging as we saw on screen.”
Davies also recognises this idea and when speaking of how today compares to the 1980s with reference the challenges we saw the Ritchie, Roscoe and the other characters from It’s a Sin face, he added:
“There have been enormous changes [since the 1980s]. Back then, HIV was seen as the scourge of society and Section 28 trapped schools into silence on LGBTQIA+ issues. Although things are better now, old problems keep aching through the generations.
“If you’re in the closet in school or trapped in an unhappy home, then it might as well be 1981 for you.
“We still need care and diligence and kindness. We’re getting there, bit by bit.
“What are the issues affecting LGBT+ young people? I think they need to tell us! That’s the glorious thing about today, it’s not for the older generation to talk down. The younger generation is so much more free to educate us and help. And I hope we can give a wise word in return now and then. Let’s face it, issues aside, some problems are eternal, I’m still working them out myself! But that's where the centre can help. To tell stories, so we all learn.”
The new LGBT+ centre is set to open in Manchester later in the year and will provide services that reach a nationwide audience.
Davies will sponsor the date stone within the new build and will be recognised in the building with a message of thanks, alongside the many members of the public who have also donated towards the new build through the Buy a Brick scheme.
Donations of £100 for individuals, or £1000 for corporates, can be made via the charity’s website: www.theproudtrust.org/shop/buy-a-brick/.