‘The most political thing LGBT+ people can do is be visible’. This is the message from the founder of Croydon PrideFest.

The idea first came about, as many of the best ones do, when chatting with friends in the pub one night.

Now LGBT+ event is about to take place for the fourth time, and this year it is set to be bigger than ever.

The first event in 2016 was a parade ending in Surrey Street.

Organisers expected 50 people to turn up to the parade but had about 500 in the end with 2,000 gathering in Surrey Street for the entertainment.

Founder of Croydon Pride Mark Watson said: “People didn’t think Croydon was particularly LGBT friendly and this changed that opinion of Croydon

“It is not just good for the LGBT community it is good for Croydon.”

The following year the event moved to Queen’s Gardens before ending up in Wandle Park last year. Mark hopes that they will not outgrow this venue for a few years at least.

On Saturday (July 13) about 8,000 people are expected to gather at Wandle Park for the celebration.

In 2017 Croydon Pride was set up as a charity as a formal way of managing the annual event as well as other events throughout the year.

We want to keep it free

Mark said: “The parade goes through the town centre and there has such a positive reaction from everybody else.

“We want to keep a parade everyone can take part in and a festival that is free to enter.”

Mark has lived in Croydon for nearly 30 years and says he has not faced homophobia in the town.

He spent 12 years as a councillor on Croydon Council representing the ward he lives in Addiscombe. He now runs a digital agency.

He worked for a while at Stonewall so has visited Pride events across the country.

And Mark said the team wouldn’t want to see it grow to the size of Pride in London.

“The reason we keep it a free event is it makes it more inclusive,” he added.

We have done a lot of outreach with BME groups and this year we will have a British sign language signer.

“The event has gone off each year without any trouble and I think that is testament to Crydon being a tolerant place.

‘It was a very different environment’ 

The 53-year-old came out as gay when he went to university and was lucky to have a supportive family who accepted him.

He said: “I went to see a counsellor and said I was feeling depressed he said you would be wouldn’t you.

“And a boss openly said he would set gay people on fire and stamp on them.

“It was a very different environment now, there are still issues for LGBT people in the UK but it is very different from how it was.

“The main reason for that change is people coming out because all of a sudden we were brothers and sisters and friends and colleagues.

“The idea that you could be out at school was not there when I was growing up. I know I was gay by the age of 10 and there was nothing and nobody you could talk to.

“It is so fantastic to see young people with their parents at Pride events.”

Mark has been with his husband Martin Broodstock for 19 years, the couple got a civil partnership in 2006 which they converted to a marriage in 2016.

How is the event funded?

PrideFest now costs about £80,000 to put on with £30,000 of this coming from a council grant and another £8,000 from Arts Council England.

To make it more economical the event is twinned with Croydon Mela which takes place in the park the following day using the same stages and facilities.

The rest of the money comes through sponsorship.

Pride events are often criticised for being corporate by Mark says corporate sponsors are the key to the Croydon event remaining free.

“At the end of the day these events cost a lot of  money,” he said.

“We’ve got corporate sponsors and we want anybody to be able to turn up and be a part of the parade.

“There is an issue with other prides that the only people who can go to the parade are employees of big companies.

“I would much prefer to have corporate sponsors that charge people to attend.”

What’s on this year

The parade will start at 12pm from North End in Croydon town centre winding up at Wandle Park.

There will be entertainment in the park from 1om including MOBO award-winning rapper Lady Leshurr, Soju RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Croydon’s very own singer and songwriter, David McAlmont.

Performing on the main stage are Son of a Tutu, Danny Beard, Asifa Lahore, The London Mozart Players with Silvastone, Kim Mazelle, and Bugeye.

And brand new for this year will be the cabaret tent hosted by Batty Mama, an organisation that aims to promote Queer BME artists.

The festival will be followed by an after-party at Dice bar, Croydon, starting at 10pm.