The past year has been an isolating experience for us all – and particularly for LGBTQ+ people, lockdown has meant the connections with our communities and chosen families – that were vital for so many of us – have been severed. But perhaps one good thing about being stuck inside all these months is that we’ve seen a huge surge in virtual groups and events, which a lot of us have turned to to keep ourselves going.
One of these new initiatives is Sappho Events. Named after the famous Greek poet and the “godmother of gay women”, the Sappho team runs a programme of social events for LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people, based on common interest areas such as literature, film, and crafts. Sappho was created out of a need to see more dedicated queer spaces where we can make connections with one another, founder and director Maryann Wright tells us, and was an idea that had been brewing for years.
“When I came to London about three and a half years ago, I was really excited about a bigger LGBTQ community – because I came from Australia, and a lot of people said, “You’re going to meet so many awesome gay girls!”” Maryann says. “But I found that there was nowhere for me to go – I would spend hours on Google searching and find nothing.” The fact that Maryann wasn’t a “club and pub kind of girl”, she says, left her with little options to connect with her fellow community. “There was just this massive gap of events for people like me. And I thought, this is a completely untapped part of the LGBTQ community that needs something like this. The opportunities are endless, and there are just so many incredible people out there.”
As part of Sappho Events Maryann has also created the Lez Be Ann’s podcast with Ana Ndekwe, a fellow member of the Sappho team, which is all about the joys and challenges of being LGBTQ+ in the UK. “We would often sit on the phone together, way before Sappho was created. We would just talk about being lesbians and all the things that come up, and have a massive laugh,” Maryann says. “Then we realised this is probably stuff that you only really understand if you’re a gay woman in in the UK. And then we thought, this is just too good to not share. It came from a space of making a place that people can come to if they’re gay, to feel like they’re not alone.”
While the long-term plan for Sappho is to host events in-person, having to do things virtually has been a good opportunity to trial out what people enjoy and make things accessible – from craft sessions, an LGBTQ+ book club, and speed dating, to events focused on helping people look after their health and wellbeing. “When I was putting together the business plan, I was expecting Covid to be done by now,” Maryann admits. “When it turned out it wasn’t, I saw it as an opportunity for accessibility and to be UK-wide, so the people who come to Sappho’s events are up and down the country, and there’s nothing that stops them from meeting really interesting people. For people who it takes a lot for them to muster up the courage to go and put themselves out there in person, this is a much more gentle way to ease people into these spaces, and show how welcoming and positive they are.”
The team has had “great” feedback from those who have attended events so far, and Maryann hopes to see audiences continue to grow. “Every day we get bookings from people from up and down the UK. The challenge now is keeping that momentum going, and expanding the number of people who know about Sappho. There are lots of people who want this but they don’t know about it, so it’s about trying to make sure that we’re continually reaching new people.”
For Maryann and the team, the future will be about making sure that Sappho Events can thrive as a business. “I’ve been self-funding to kick us off, and I’m not making any money from it myself so I have to rely on having a full-time job, which obviously isn’t sustainable in the long run,” Maryann says. “My bigger ambition is to learn about how to grow and make it sustainable, and then I want to make it into a franchise so that people can run events all across the UK.”
The Sappho Events website describes the “life-affirming” process of finding a group “who not only understand you, but have walked a similar journey to yours” – and the importance of having dedicated queer spaces is undeniable, not only for individuals who can find a sense of belonging through events like this, but for the community as a whole to unite. “I think when we’re in when we’re in a marginalised group of people, which is the LGBTQ community, where in the past we’ve faced a lot of prejudice and discrimination, having an inclusive space that is very much about empowerment and inspiration and having a nice time together is essential,” Maryann says. “It’s really important to me that people feel Sappho is a safe place they can come to, and there’s not going to be judgment . It’s about a community.”
To view Sappho’s programme of events, head to their website: https://www.sapphoevents.co.uk/events.
You can listen to the Les Be Ann’s podcast here: https://www.sapphoevents.co.uk/podcast.
You can also keep up to date with Sappho Events on social media – find them on Instagram and Twitter at @SapphoEvents.