I came awake gradually to the sound of rain lashing against the window of my Manchester hotel room and lay there listening, then it dawned on me. I would need a gazebo.
A frantic week of work had included a blur of conferences, travel, meetings, emails and phone calls, so my preparation for Sparkle, the only trans event in the country, had been done on the run. I was fully engaged with it now though, on this Saturday morning in July, with the streets flooding and the good people of this northern city flitting about under brollies.
I need a gazebo. We need a gazebo.
An hour later I was waiting outside Argos in the Arndale centre having nodded, avoided, smiled to, dodged, saluted, refused and otherwise noticed at least ten people sleeping rough on the city centre streets. Ten human beings with apparently no further recourse to access suitable accommodation. London is the same, the street count is spiralling. Which, when it comes down to basics, is really why I’m here.
I’m part of a great team for Sparkle –an eclectic mix of northern and southern, gay, straight and trans, Riverside employees and customers.
I now had so much stuff that it was impossible to actually pick it up and carry it all. And so my natural skinflintyness had a battle with my innate realism, and realism won. I called a cab for the half mile to Sackville Gardens.
After a drawn out struggle to balance setting up the equipment and staying relatively dry, the team arrived. A few strong coffees later and suddenly the festival came alive. Rain stopped, music started, people came in, slowly at first then more, then more and before long it was heaving. We spread the Riverside values, listened actively to what people were saying, contributed, and were in the moment. And we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Stacey stuck a Riverside sticker on every single person who passed our stall and between us we shifted each and every marketing item we’d brought.
I learned so much about trans issues, from the team and from the hundred or so people I’d spoken to. And I was starting to understand a bit about my own personal motivation as well. As a younger, less experienced homelessness worker I’d seen young people kicked out of the parental home because of LGBT issues, central to which was a lack of understanding and unwillingness to listen. And here was an opportunity to understand more about what those issues are and how we can try to resolve them.
I’ve also realised that I see the world through the blinkers of a straight man. And it’s great to get some new angles on it. It helps me personally to grow and in my work to provide the best, most informed services we can.
Strolling back to the train station, smiling at strangers and comfortable in my Riverside rainbow tee shirt as I board the train I’m a bit lighter baggage wise, probably in more ways than one.