Out On An Island Project
We are thrilled to have received a grant from the Heritage Fund to continue delivering LGBTQ+ Oral History and Heritage on the Isle of Wight with our new project ‘Out On An Island: Pride In Self, Pride In Place’.
Save the date: Launch evening on Friday, 7 July at Caffe Isola, Newport FREE EVENT!. Get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place
Click here for the full press release
The story so far…
Out On An Island was set up in 2019, and before we get to its history, here’s some of the project highlights/legacy:
1. Out On An Island book published by Medina Publishing on Valentine’s Day
Medina Publishing has released the long-awaited book that summarises all the work behind the Out On An Island project. The book gives readers access to deeply personal testimonies and factual research, Out on An Island presents a rich and diverse portrayal of Isle of Wight LGBTQ+ history. Shining a light on stories of struggle and truth shared through recorded oral histories, this is a book which unearths a public history and cultural heritage hidden for over a century.
In a collaborative effort among LGBTQ+ Island residents, Out on An Island signifies the first ever project dedicated to local LGBTQ+ oral history on the Isle of Wight. Created in remarkable circumstances, it celebrates a close-knit community surviving together in the face of exclusion, prejudice and misrepresentation. The struggles were brought about by changes in the law nationally and conservative attitudes locally.
The book has been endorsed by human rights activist Peter Tatchell, novelist Patrick Gale and British politician, LBGTQ+ rights activist and actor Michael Cashman who said: “A wonderful rich history of an island I knew as I child but never knew as an adult gay man. This wonderful and intriguing history is brought together by the personal testimonies and experiences of LGBTQ+ people who lived on the Isle of Wight and delves courageously into the past one hundred years. In doing so, it builds bridges and looks forward with optimism and joy.”
2. Out On An Island Exhibition re-opens at Carisbrooke Castle Museum
We are delighted to announce that the project exhibition, first displayed at Quay Arts in Newport for a month in the Summer of 2021, has now found a six-month home at Carisbrooke Castle Museum. The exhibition will be open from 19 February through to 31 July. To coincide with the opening of the Out On An Island exhibition at Carisbrooke Castle Museum, and the publication of the project’s book, the Museums and Schools programme is offering a limited number of free LGBTQ+ Awareness workshops. Run by Stonecrabs Theatre, these will help students recognise and celebrate their own local diversity and help promote an atmosphere of acceptance and respect within any school.
Carisbrooke Castle Museum cares for a large and varied collection acquired over more than 120 years, it includes social and military history, photographs and archives, applied and fine art, and science and technology and covers local topics from prehistory to the present day. For us, It is of great significance that the Out On An Island recordings are joining a growing Island Voices Archive at Carisbrooke Castle Museum, covering different aspects of the Island’s history.
3. LGBTQ+ Awareness workshops
An unexpected outcome of the project came after an email from The Limes Residential Home in Bembridge, Isle of Wight arrived, asking for help with working with LGBTQ+ residents and staff. They explained how people with dementia often become less inhibited. They shared the story of a resident who came out as gay and was teased by others. The home explained that they take a person-led approach to care, trying to cater for everyone’s needs and that staff were not sure how best to support a gay resident. They asked for our help in this regard in terms of LGBTQ+ Awareness Training.
The project has now included LGBTQ+ Awareness Training as part of the offer that we make to schools, museums and businesses across the Island and online.
4. Lie Along The Shore by Sydney Cardew, the visually striking artwork by local visual artist responding to Out On An Island Oral Histories available in book format.
During the project we invited artists to respond to the oral histories we collected. Island born artist, designer, poet and illustrator Sydney Cardew produced a collection of 18 Illustrations, depicting queerness and queer identity as a living force emerging from a hostile, colourless world, challenged and threatened by external forces, but blossoming finally into something wonderful and liberatory, with the promise of a brighter future, if further treacherous seas can be crossed.
Sydney is also one of 20 people we interviewed for the project.
5. Oral histories
Listen to Robin Ford and all the oral histories collected by Out On An Island.
Robin is a writer, poet and retired teacher who identifies as queer. Robin remembers the first time he heard the word ‘homosexual’ in 1954, his experiences of working in an Island secondary school when Section 28 was introduced, and manning the phones for the Isle of Wight Gay Social Club in the late 70s and early 80s.
All about Out On An Island
Out On An Island project is a Heritage Community Project by StoneCrabs Theatre, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England through the Culture Recovery Fund. Project Manager Caroline Diamond and Artistic Director Franko Figueiredo lead the project. Since 2018, they have been working with community groups and other charities, some with no previous connection to LGBTQ+ projects such as heritage groups and historical societies. The project has received further funding from Age UK Isle of Wight and Southern Water.
StoneCrabs is indebted to all of our volunteers and supporters, a dedicated team which has been working tirelessly to reveal the untold and often hidden heritage of the Isle of Wight LGBTQ+ community. The project has been working with people of all ages to highlight a section of history, largely ignored and often erased, particularly in rural communities.
Project Green Light
In March 2019 we received funding for Out On An Island, to record and archive oral histories from LGBTQ+ people with an Isle of Wight connection and to research and record LGBTQ+ history from the last 100 years. This project was originally planned to run for 18 months, however lockdown restrictions meant that we needed to adapt our plans and move work online. We underestimated the need and importance of the Out On An Island project and it is now an ongoing part of StoneCrabs charitable activities. We are creating a much more sustainable project in order to provide ongoing support for the local LGBTQ+ community, and to build LGBTQ+ awareness for the wider public.
This is the first time an LGBTQ+ heritage project has focussed solely on the Isle of Wight. Out On An Island aims to break down stereotypes, overcoming ignorance, confusion and negativity, inviting honest and open discussion about issues such as gender stereotyping, the history of Pride and the value of education around LGBTQ+ in schools.
Franko Figueiredo says “The time of full equality is not quite with us yet, we still feel oppressed by the legacy of the hetero-normative history and many of us don’t always feel safe or comfortable in public places: there is still a lot of misunderstanding and bigotry against the LGBTQ + community that we need to overcome. Caroline and I have been meeting since the National Lottery Heritage Fund team visited the Island in February 2018 and ‘Out On An Island’ came from our discussions on the meaning and importance of cultivating connection and change through our Island’s unspoken LGBTQ+ history. ‘Out On An Island’ can show us that the Island can and should be a diverse, inclusive home for all of its residents and visitors.”
The Isle of Wight is a unique part of the United Kingdom due to its small size and geographical location with the Solent as a natural barrier. Those who identify as LGBTQ+ are restricted due to cost of travel and inaccessibility of larger towns and cities which may offer increased diversity. Our primary interest with the project was to highlight LGBTQ+ stories from the 1980’s and 1990’s we had heard. Also to look back further in history, which was more challenging, to unearth the LGBTQ+ heritage which has always existed. It is important to paint a full and true picture of the past for future generations, creating a space where LGBTQ+ people can meet and learn about each other, without any fear of being their authentic selves.
To many, the Isle of Wight evokes memories of seaside family holidays or festival weekends spent revelling in muddy fields. So when the Island was featured in Channel 4’s It’s a Sin you may have wondered …is this a true reflection of the Isle of Wight?
Caroline Diamond explains “Successful and groundbreaking Isle of Wight Pride events from 2017-19 including IW UK Pride in 2017 have brought the local LGBTQ+ community into the public eye here. This isn’t a ‘new’ community and we are excited to have the opportunity to highlight and learn from the unspoken LGBTQ+ stories from the past. We are grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund team who visited the East Cowes Classic Boat Museum in February 2018 to highlight the value of LGBTQ+ Heritage. We hoped to encourage the sharing of stories and had no preconceived ideas of what to expect.”
It was a challenge to unveil the project locally as, in 2016, the Isle of Wight community was planning its first ever Pride event after a vigil to remember the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando reignited discussions around organising Pride here. Two catalysts to the success of Isle of Wight Pride were an ill-judged opinion piece in the local newspaper, Isle of Wight County Press entitled ‘Pride Parade – Do a deal?’ by columnist, Charlotte Hofton. Hofton’s tone and statement infuriated many and resulted in an apology from the editor and Hofton’s resignation.
Andrew Turner, the Isle of Wight’s Conservative MP, stood down in similar circumstances in 2017. After a visit to a Christ The King School in Newport where he allegedly stated that he would not be attending the first Pride and ‘Homosexuality is wrong and dangerous to society’. This was reported nationally and, although it brought increasing support for Pride, left us to question how many people on the Isle of Wight held similar views.
LGBTQ heritage could be considered to be at risk in part because of the ever changing political picture. Historically the law only changed in 1967 decriminalising homosexual acts in private between two men aged over 21. In May 1988 Section 28 of the Local Government Act stated that a Local Authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality’, this was not repealed until 2003. This meant that many people identifying as LGBTQ remained hidden. The stories we have recorded, and the research that accompanies them, builds chapters and enriches modern Isle of Wight history.
The project was supported by a number of organisations including Solent NHS, Isle of Wight Council Libraries, Quay Arts, Carisbrooke Castle Museum, Isle of Wight County Records Office, County Press Archives, Wight LGBTQ+ Women, Time For T trans support group as well as Wessex Film and Sound Archive, IWPride, The Oral History Society, Isle of Wight Literary Festival, Medina Books, Age UK IW, Southern Water and we welcome enquiries from other organisations project continues.
Out On An Island project takes off
Our project achieved many outcomes for people and communities. People can now see/hear LGBTQ+ stories from the Isle of Wight and reflect on how they fit into national LGBTQ+ heritage. Volunteers have learned and are learning new skills including listening skills and interview techniques from the Oral History Society. This is an integral part of this project. We hope that people can start to get a clear sense of the past in relation to LGBTQ+ and to understand why gay/queer venues were and still are needed, nowadays we refer to these as ‘safe spaces’. We hope to continue to bring people together, overcoming prejudice and exploring how language has changed, creating a clearer understanding of why inclusion and diversity is so important. It’s now 2022 and we are still finding potential new interviewees.
We attended a good number of local fairs and conferences, such as the Good Grief Trust Fair and of course Isle of Wight Pride. We were present at the IW Literary Festival in October 2019 with a stall to raise awareness of Out On An Island Project and we hosted a talk from comedian and oral historian Clare Summerskill. This was the first time the event had included LGBTQ+ representation.
In February 2020, we invited Human Rights Activist Peter Tatchell to the Isle of Wight for a talk on his life and work. The talk was well attended with representatives from Isle Of Wight Pride in the audience. This helped promote the project and spread the word that we were in the process of collecting and recording stories and memorabilia. Through this event we met Robin Ford who went on to share his story with us.
The project is supported by Human Rights Activist Peter Tatchell who said:
“LGBTQ+ History and Pride events have tended to be focused on Britain’s major cities, to the neglect of more out-of-the-way places like the Isle of Wight. But LGBTQ+ people are everywhere, in all parts of the UK. This project aims to shine a light on the Island’s LGBTQ+ community and its long history: to inform, educate and inspire. Bravo!”
Re-inventing ourselves in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic
We were recording our 19th oral history interview, and making our final visits to museum archives in London, unfortunately, many of the archives holding material on LGBTQ+ history are yet to be digitised and accessible over the internet. When the lockdowns began, we planned how we could deliver all of the project outcomes planned for the autumn. Thanks to Arts Council England through the Culture Recovery Fund we were able to continue and finish the project a year and a half later than originally planned.
The Covid pandemic presented many new challenges, as well as exacerbating feelings of isolation. We moved Out On An Island’s activities online, and Zoom became the new normal. Our funding included counselling sessions with an LGBTQ+ counsellor and these were invaluable. We held social activities on Zoom including a Queer Quiz, a Halloween Party, monthly volunteer meetings and Zoom coffee mornings. When lockdown restrictions eased, we held Pink Picnic meet ups at the beach with social distancing rules in place.
An Untold Heritage Exhibition
We produced the Untold Heritage Exhibition which went live during the months of June and July 2021 at Quay Arts Clayden Gallery, in Newport. Attendees discovered the personal stories and memories of LGBTQ+ Islanders through oral history recordings, paired with powerful portraits from Island photographer Jon Habens. Stunning and expressive artwork from artists Karl Stedman and Sydney Cardew was also part of the exhibition, created in response to the histories we had uncovered. Many were surprised to learn about forward thinkers such as Phaedra Kelly, who coined the term ‘gender transient’, as well as how media coverage of the LGBTQ+ community has changed throughout the years; how ‘Captain Condom’ came to Cowes, why Virginia Woolf wrote a play about Freshwater and how a gang of queer women helped save Newtown Old Town Hall.
A smaller version of the exhibition will be at Carisbrooke Castle Museum from February 19 for 6 months.
Our Stories Matter, a documentary film
StoneCrabs was granted permission to use some of its budget so that Out On An Island could produce Our Stories Matter, a documentary film, highlighting inspiring LGBTQ+ historical people and places, all with an Isle of Wight connection. The project could not deliver many of the live events originally planned due to Covid restrictions.The film includes historical figures like feisty lesbian Joe Carstairs – the so-called “fastest woman on water” who raced in the Solent in the 1920’s, as well as renowned architects and partners Paget and Seely, who made their home at Mottistone Manor.
Our Stories Matter been selected for the Aphelion Film Festival 2023 in Rome. This outstanding film has already won the Accolade Global Film Competition for best short documentary in the LGBTQ+ category and received an honourable mention for best LGBTQ+ short at the Scarab Short Film Festival. You can now watch it online here.
The Island has a rich and fascinating LGBTQ+ history. Like lifting a stone on the beach, we were unsure of just what we would find but in our research the courage and achievements of our creative community and the resilience of ordinary people is unmasked for all to see.
Check out the trailer:
Touring the Island, pop up cafés
The project continues beyond the final event at Quay Arts by touring an accessible version of StoneCrabs’ Out On An Island Project exhibition and film, where the public is given an opportunity to catch glimpses of the work.
StoneCrabs’ Out On An Island Team continues delivering Pop Up Cafes at libraries across the Island during the quieter autumn and winter months. The project has visited Lord Louis Library in Newport and libraries in Ryde, Sandown and Freshwater. These are accessible events where we can relax with coffee, croissants and chat, watch the project’s documentary Our Stories Matter and the recording of Out On An Island’s exhibition showcasing our research and memorabilia filmed at Quay Arts. It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness of the project with library staff and visitors, building bridges with the community in the area.
What the future holds
Thanks to the Heritage Fund, Isle of Wight Council and all our supporters, StoneCrabs Out On An Island Team will continue to produce local LGBTQ+ themed events and to provide support and safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Out On An Island will seek new and innovative ways to promote diversity and inclusion, always celebrating the Isle of Wights untold history and rich heritage.
To find out more visit www.outonanisland.co.uk