Birmingham Pride celebrates its 25th Anniversary!

Birmingham Pride 1997

With the huge milestone just around the corner for this event, we have a great interview with the founders of Birmingham Pride for you!

Bill Gavan and Phil Oldershaw are big names in the city after founding Birmingham Pride in what celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend.

Bill Gavan owned Subway City on Livery Street, near the Jewellery Quarter for over 10 years. He is now a Labour Councillor for Langley in Sandwell & Dudley. Phil Oldershaw is the former Operations Director of The Nightingale Club 1994-2005. Not only did he work alongside Bill to found Birmingham Pride but he is also a charity and community fundraiser. He is co-founder of The Loft Lounge and co-founder of the night ‘Birmingham AIDS & Hiv Memorial’ which will be unveiled later this year on 1st December 2022.

Taking Bill Gavan and Phil Oldershaw back to an August evening in 1996. A catchup conversation over coffee triggered an event that would make a huge lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ community.

Oldershaw explains, “Bill and I were sat drinking coffee and looking out into the night sky, watching the street below when I said ‘imagine that street filled with people partying away’ and Bill quickly replied ‘like a big street festival?’ I said yes, exactly that. Bill said ‘let’s do it, how difficult could it be?’ He went on to say, with all our customers and yours, we could ship in some coaches from out of town too, we could possibly hit a few thousand and have one big party. I replied, yes, just what I was thinking, that sounds amazing, do you think the council will let us close off the street? Quickly replying with, ‘we’ll make them’ said Gavan, to which we both laughed and started discussing what else we could do to make it special” recalls Phil.

‘It was important that we got the city on board”

Bill Gavan

From there Phil said they “started looking at suitable dates the following year”. Bill acknowledges that ‘it was important that we got the city on board. Nothing has ever been done like this in Birmingham. “This was a new event, and we knew that as we were the LGBT community back then, this may be a difficult job to get the city on board”.

City leaders and officials didn’t want Birmingham Pride to happen.

“That was the last thing they wanted on the streets of Birmingham back then. We were hit with many reasons why it couldn’t happen and why they didn’t want to support it. We gave them many reasons why we should let them have it in our small part of town, now named Southside and the ‘gay village’.” They used the powers of “threatening to protest across the city unless they supported us. There was no reason why this couldn’t really happen”. The process was long but they both knew that “if we could convince them to let it go ahead we would have something to be proud of, and we could make Birmingham collectively proud” explains Phil.

Getting Birmingham Pride off the ground took a lot of raising money. Phil’s role fundamentally was to fundraise and market the brand. “We set up a plan to raise £40,000, which was our rough calculation of required costs to close the streets, staging and infrastructure in 1997”. A few years later when they built the foundations of the Birmingham Pride Ball. This became a huge fundraiser for Pride, holding an official headliner launch in March every year. Midlands Zone magazine has also been a huge support for Bill and Phil over the years.

The first Birmingham Pride attracted thousands of people. Bill said “it far surpassed our expectations, even though we planned for higher numbers to arrive, just in case they did. Phil will tell you 12,000, I thought it was 18,000. So we meet in the middle at 15,000 for an event we were hoping to exceed over 3,000 as its first Birmingham Pride appearance”.

Now in its 25th year in 2022, did they expect it to last as long as it has?

Phil says “Erm, no not really. In fact, we didn’t even think about longevity at the start, we simply wanted to create a party for the LGBTQIA+ people, as we call it now, and anyone who respected the same, giving them an opportunity to express themselves with diversity and inclusion while having fun”. Bill explains that “When we created this our focus was on delivering the first, and then the second and so on. Raising funds, bringing on the first sponsor who was Carlsberg and succeeding. The fact it’s lasted this long is a credit to the community and everybody that has taken their turn in being its guardian over the years”.

“It’s great for Birmingham and is one of the biggest festivals in the country”

Bill Gavan

The festival is no longer owned by the community. Since 2010 Festival Director Lawerence Barton has continued on Phil and Bills’ fantastic foundations for this event.

Birmingham Pride is taking place over the weekend of Friday 23 – Sunday 25th September. A parade through the city. Celebrations in Southside’s Gay Village and Smithfield site.

More information, visit:

Talking of Birmingham Pride 2022, find out who’s leading the parade this year!

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