Our Last Night on the Thames

One of the top dates in the bi calendar, BiFest London is coming up in mid May.  First things first, and especially for newer readers, what’s BiFest?

London’s BiFest is an annual one-day event that celebrates and explores bisexuality – usually it features workshop sessions, games, socialising, and dancing.  The London event has been running for a few years now, and other cities such as Brighton and Manchester run them too.  London tends to get about 120 people attending – a large proportion of them are always newcomers, which makes us happy.

And who is it aimed at?

As far as we’re concerned, its focus is on getting newcomers to attend, although obviously we do get a lot of regulars too. It’s a good event for a new person to come to because it involves less commitment and less outlay than, say, BiCon, but it still has a lot going on and a lot of ways to interact with people. And you don’t have to book in advance, and you don’t have to come out as bi, because it’s just a question of going to a pub. We want to make it as non-pressured as possible.

And who is involved in making it happen, is this being put together by some big bi organisation?

London BiFest is run by a small team of volunteers. This year it’s a very stripped-down team, just two people – David Matthewman and me – although several other people are helping out with specific parts of it such as running the registration desk.  This is the last year that David and I will be running the event, actually, as we’ve been doing it for a while and we need a break.  Poor David is currently recovering from a bike accident, so he’s especially in need of some time off.

Because BiFest is volunteer-led, it’s very dependent on what people have the time and energy to organise.  However, we’ve found that as long as the basics gets done, it will work OK.  This year we’re quite low on energy because of the size of the team and because David’s somewhat incapacitated and I’m ill too, but I’m quite sanguine that it will all be fine.

I guess there might be a bit of tension between what you do for “old hands” who have been to bi events before, and the needs of new people who maybe are just working out that they are bi.  How will London BiFest be balancing those two needs?

We’re clear that our priority is new people, which is why we keep a lot of the format the same from year to year, such as having an intro session and a craft corner. But we recognise that a lot of people are returning attendees, which is great, and we do vary the structure where we can. This year will feature a few changes, hopefully, and as always there will be an activist session which is aimed more at the old hands.

Having a mix of regulars and new people is brilliant: the new people can get useful advice from those who’ve been on the bi scene for a while, and the regular get to meet interesting new people, so everyone wins.

There have been some issues with BiFest venues in the past about accessibility.  Is there anything people should know about – whether good or bad?

We’ve recently updated the website (london.bifest.org) to clarify the venue’s access. It is disabled access in the sense that there is a lift up to the top floors, and there’s a disabled toilet; and we are providing  wheelchair ramps for the session rooms. The main remaining problems are that the lift is fairly small, so some wheelchairs won’t fit in it, and there are some problems with step-free access at ground floor level.  Obviously we can’t fix those as they’re out of our control, but hopefully identifying them in advance will be useful.

Ultimately I think the only way of getting better access will be to move to a different venue, but so far nobody’s come up with one.  London’s not great at providing cheap, accessible, central venues, unfortunately – it took me six months to find Doggett’s!  But I look forward to seeing where next year’s team ends up.

How is the day shaping up?  What discussion groups, speakers, performers or what have you are lined up?

We’ve got an introduction session and an activist session, which are staples of the event.  There’ll be a games session involving flirting/speed dating – Marcus (Morgan, of bisexualindex.org.uk) and I are working that one out at the moment so details are sketchy, but it will be fun, I promise.

I’m also currently in the middle of organising a session on diversity, which is a topic that keeps coming up and needs to be addressed.  A lot of emails and flyers have been sent to London minority queer groups, and I’m also having discussions within the bi community about how it will work – e.g. whether to have a panel, or a general discussion.

Apart from the sessions, we’ll have a craft corner and a quiet area, and there’ll be a disco in the evening with some of our regular DJs.

The other thing is that BiFest is the same day as the Eurovision Song Contest this year, so I’m hoping the pub will let us show it during the evening. We’ll see! (There will be space to avoid it, obviously, if it’s not your thing.)

So there’ll be a choice of what to get involved in during the day?

Definitely.  At most points there’ll be two sessions running, arts and crafts to join in with, social space, and a corner to just sit and read in.  And of course the terrace, where you have an amazing view of the Thames – that’s my favourite bit of Doggett’s.

With a few weeks to go, are there any ways BCN readers can help?

Of course!  There are flyers to distribute, around London and beyond, and we always need desk volunteers on the day and people to help set things up and clear things away before and after the event. People are also welcome to bring cake, magazines for the quiet area, craft stuff for the craft corner, and any flyers or leaflets they want to distribute (that are relevant to the community).

I’m also looking for people to take part in the diversity session, particularly anyone who has personal experience of diversity issues, e.g. through being non-white or a member of a specific religion  or culture, or having mental or physical health issues. Please get in touch if you’d like to be involved with any of that.

And finally, of course most people don’t live in London – any top tips for people wishing they could have an event like this “down their way”?

It would be great to have more local events.  All you really need is a small group of people prepared to make it happen – or maybe even just one person – and a suitable place to hold it.  There’s often local funding available, and it needn’t cost much to organise.

If anyone wanted some help with ideas on how to run it, we practically have an entire BiFest tookit by now – a spreadsheet of Things to Do, a code of conduct, flyers, programmes, workshop lists, bi quotes etc, and I’m sure Brighton and Manchester have something similar too.  I’d be happy to send them to someone who was setting up their own event, if they’d be useful.

Thanks for the interview!

Thanks Katy!  Find out more at the website london.bifest.org – or there should be a flyer in with this issue of BCN.


This article originally appeared in BCN magazine issue 95, April 2009.

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