Ep 4: Pride events and life in Weston’s LGBTQ+ community

We meet Matt Hardy, Operational Services Manager for Weston Town Council, and Event Creator of Beautifully Proud. He gives us an insight into life in the LGBTQ+ community, its evolution over the past few years and how Weston’s burgeoning cultural scene has ignited his creative spirit.

Matt Hardy podcast episode - We are Super Weston

Rainbow flags, glitter balls and a pier (or three)…no we’re not talking about Brighton, this is Weston-super-Mare. In the latest episode of the We are Super Weston podcast, we spoke to Matt Hardy, Operational Service Manager for Weston Town Council, Event Creator for Beautifully Proud – a month-long series of events taking place in Weston during June – and the voice of our podcast’s intro and outro. 

To listen to the full conversation between Matt Hardy and Becky Walsh, click on the podcast below:

What made you move to Weston? 

I moved to Weston in 2014 because of a partner. They had just got a job at what was then the Seaquarium on the seafront. I was working at West Midlands Safari Park at the time and the next thing you know I’ve gone from hippos to fish!

I got a job at Seaquarium for a few years, worked my way up, doing all sorts of things from customer service to delivering the ray feeding talks – it was a very eclectic role.

When you go into Revo Kitchen (the former Seaquarium, now a restaurant and Weston’s third pier) do you sit there remembering what it used to look like? 

I was there the other day and was trying to figure out where the Shark Tank and the Ocean Tunnel were. There’s been such a transformation there, now you can barely tell it was ever an aquarium.

Revo Kitchen, Weston-super-Mare
Revo Kitchen, Weston-super-Mare

You are now so embedded in the community here, tell us some of the things that you’re working on.

My working life is effectively ‘how many plates can you spin at one time and with how many people?’ It’s a challenge and I wouldn’t change it for the world because it gives me a really good insight, not only into what my organisation does, but also how the community of Weston has evolved since I arrived here.

We’re here today to talk about the Beautifully Proud event that’s coming up from the LGBTQ+ community. What changes have you seen in that community since you’ve been in Weston?

There’s two main things – the social aspect of it – the night time economy, and the support networks that I’ve seen pop up over the years, and how they are publicising what it is that they do.

When I first moved here, there was one gay bar and it was rundown, but the community there was brilliant. That was called The Edge, which I think is student accommodation now. That didn’t work out for one reason or another, then they tried it again, at a place called Cameo – the venue was nicer but the community wasn’t quite behind it. And then everything seemed to change.

I’m not quite sure what that impetus was, but now we’ve got places like Proud Bar and Community Hub. I think putting those two things together is really important. 

We’ve also got the North Somerset LGBTQ + Forum, who provide amazing support for people, not just in Weston, but all around North Somerset.

Proud Bar
Proud Bar, Weston-super-Mare

Your job for Weston Town Council is hugely diverse, and one of those roles has been working within the community and facilitating Beautifully Proud. Tell us what’s going on, because it sounds hugely exciting.

The town council has a huge focus on community resilience, so we are really focused on empowering communities to deliver the products and services that they want, need and require. 

We thought, how else can we support the community to celebrate the month of Pride, take it away from what people know is just that weekend, stretch the programme out and include as many different organisations and businesses as we could, to start building what I’m hoping will become a legacy moving forward. 

Beautifully Proud has exceeded my expectations and it’s been really nice to see all of these different organisations come together for a common goal whilst still receiving support, both from a promotional standpoint, but also from a events curation standpoint

Beautifully Proud launch
Beautifully Proud launch

How it has exceeded your expectations?

I didn’t know how many people were going to get involved, because everybody says that they’re inclusive, everybody says they are supportive of all of the communities in Weston, but until you ask, you are never quite sure. So I was surprised how many people came forward. 

We’ve got venues all over the town, different kinds of venues as well. It’s not just night time economy events, there are events for all ages, all backgrounds, all races, creeds. There’s something in that programme for you, no matter who you are and where you are from. 

Beautifully Proud Highlights:

We’ve got some drag shows – we had a huge one to kick off the month, on the 1st of June at the Blakehay Theatre – an amazing double act called Absolutely Dragulous

We are also having a huge event with multiple acts at the Blakehay Theatre, all hosted by a North Somerset Queen called Miss Jam Tart – that’s going to be an incredible night.

Proud Bar has got quite a few drag performances happening throughout the month.

Camp anthems at Blakehay theatre
Beautifully Proud month Weston super Mare

Talking about businesses getting involved, tell us about the sticker campaign that you’ve been running.

Part of the legacy building that we’re really hoping to achieve from this, is getting a little bit of investment back from businesses.

Gemma from The Stable wanted to create a membership scheme, similar to the SEE MONSTER stickers that you see around town. It’s a chance for businesses to promote that they are an inclusive and safe space for all, not just for a particular community, but for everybody.

When businesses sign up, we get to shout about the fact they’re part of the scheme. Hopefully, that’s something that we can roll out annually, and it gives the LGBTQ+ community a little bit of feedback as to where those inclusive spaces are.

What impact do you think that this has had overall, in terms of the messaging that Weston is giving out as a town?

Now we have this combined approach, or at least an aspiration for a combined approach, to really showcase what it is that we do, who we are, and why Weston is amazing. And I think the Beautifully Proud campaign, or programme, is a way of showcasing another side of Weston. 

We’re not focusing on heritage, not focusing on business, we are focusing on a particular community, and that community spreads into all of the other communities as well. So it’s showing a friendly face.

The Stable Weston-super-Mare
The Stable

This isn’t a one-off thing that we’re doing this month, these kinds of events go on in Weston all year-round. Tell us about some of the other events that people can expect if they were to move here.

Weston is an incredibly diverse place. My expectation initially was seafront, the pier, fish and chips, but if you head down Orchard Meadows, the independent business scene in Weston is exploding at the moment. New little businesses are popping up, and more importantly, they’re staying long-term. Having been here since 2014, it is great to see that change. 

I walked past a new micro brewery pub that’s opening! I think it’s called the Fat Head Brewery, just opposite The Playhouse. You’ve also got the Black Cat Micropub – really nice beers in there. Then just down the road, there’s another new one just opening,

It’s another thing for the Grove Village area of Weston, which is one of my favourite places to go – the things that are happening there are incredible.

That Heritage Action Zone shopfront regeneration scheme was great, because it makes things look new, by making them look how they used to look, so it’s bringing Weston back to its core.

Walker & Ling mosaic tiles rejuvenation
*Heritage Action Zone funding*

North Somerset Council was awarded £800k in funding by Historic England in 2017 to create the Great Weston Heritage Action Zone, which ended in September 2022. Weston was one of the first places in England to receive Heritage Action Zone status.

In 2020, the council received a further £1.1m in funding to set-up the High Street Heritage Action Zone, which will run until March 2024. Part of this work saw the introduction of a Shopfront Enhancement Scheme offering grants to help businesses invest in the appearance of their stores, making the area more attractive and increase footfall in the town centre. Walker and Ling was the first business to benefit. The work, which started in February 2021, included re-instating the original mosaic shopfront using tiles made by the original Italian manufacturer. 

See the before and after shots of the Walker & Ling store here.

Tell us a little bit about the things you do when you’re not juggling work.

So once I’ve managed to put the spinning work plates down, it’s time to go home and start the real work. And that is focusing on me, which actually, through this particular project has helped me no end.

I’ve been able to get in touch with my roots within the LGBTQ+ community and some of that has really ignited my passion for makeup. I am super enthusiastic about makeup and my skills are starting to match my enthusiasm, so I’ve launched my own YouTube channel and I’m on social media as well – find Matt Hardy (@matthdoesmakeup) on InstagramTik Tok, Facebook and YouTube.

It’s made me feel more comfortable as to who I am. And I think that’s been really nice for me. It also gave me the confidence to start really focusing on my stand-up and I’m so glad that I did.

I’m so glad that I had people behind me supporting me to get there and more importantly, I was really happy that I managed to get one of my first real opportunities in Weston without having to travel to Bristol. The comedy scene, the cabaret scene in Weston is growing quickly, so that’s really exciting to see where that goes. 

When I’m not working for the Town Council, I feel like I can be a really good version of myself at home. I have that creative outlet without having to worry about getting on the train or the bus.

Matt Hardy headshot
Matt Hardy's YouTube channel

The Stables Games Room set up a comedy festival using various venues around The Grove Village area which I’m sure will be repeated. There’s also some great stand-up taking place at The Front Room. 

That was another really good example of businesses and communities coming together to achieve a common goal – The Stable Games Room are putting on cabaret nights with local groups. I think it’s From the Mud, who are facilitating that, The Front Room…we have all these different venues with that Weston heart.

Those of you who haven’t been to The Front Room, a lovely couple that came from Bristol, where they’d been putting on shows at a place called The Wardrobe Theatre, spoke to Culture Weston to say they’d love to create a theatre venue. The Pizza Express that closed down turned out to be the most incredible venue – it holds 85 people and quite often the shows sell out. It’s got great amounts of stuff for kids as well.

Their programme is incredible and they’ve got this really nice flexibility where they can host local talent, but they can also draw in national talent as well. You’ve got people that are performing there, that are doing their warm-up gigs for the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in August.

If anyone wants to volunteer there, that would also be super helpful!

The Stable Games Room Weston super Mare
Front Room Weston-super-Mare
The Stable Games Room (left), The Front Room (right)

So favourite places to eat in Weston?

The Old Thatched Cottage on the seafront, outside with the fire pits.

Favourite place to have coffee?

Jenny’s Coffee House on the high street. Relatively new, but they were able to reuse a lot of the furniture and various bits and bobs from the coffee house that isn’t there anymore. The Coffee House was my favourite place to get coffee, so it has a very similar feeling. And the people that have taken over at Jenny’s are just beautiful people. Their paninis are incredible. 

The Old Thatched Cottage, Weston
The Old Thatched Cottage, Weston
Jenny's Coffee House, Weston-super-Mare
Jenny's Coffee House, Weston-super-Mare

Favourite pub or place to have a drink? 

Revo Kitchen  – the view. Sitting on the outside pier bit with the fire on, when the sea’s in.

It’s stunning actually watching the sunset there. Do you have a favourite shop in Weston?

Christopher’s House of Chocolates. They have these little shots, but in chocolate – I had a tequila one. It was superb.

What is the most underrated thing about Weston?

The fact that Weston is weird. The diversity of Weston and how peculiar it is, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. I like that. If it’s quirky, it works, it’s got character.

Christopher's House of Chocolates
Christopher's House of Chocolates
Christopher's House of Chocolates

Can you share some details about groups and venues to let us know where people can find things going on with Beautifully Proud?

Primary venues are Proud Bar, The North Somerset LGBTQ+ forum, The Stable and The Stable Games Room, The Front Room, Blakehay Theatre, Weston Museum – the art exhibition that they’re going to be doing is just amazing. 

But the absolute best place to find out the latest for what is going on, is the Visit Weston website – there’s a whole page dedicated to what’s on throughout the month, it’ll take you straight to the venue and you can book your tickets.

Blakehay Theatre, Weston super Mare
Proud Bar: Amrick Channa - Angie Brown, hosted by resident DJ Larry Lazza Dart
Blakehay Theatre (left), Proud Bar Amrick Channa & Angie Brown hosted by our resident DJ Larry Lazza Dart (right)

Where can businesses get stickers to keep in their window all year round?

Their first point of call is probably getting in touch with my good self. But if you send an enquiry through to the Visit Weston team, it will get to me.

Find out more about LGBTQ+ in Weston: