A senior figure at Manchester Pride has said he understands the ‘disappointment’ over the decision to end support for a distribution scheme providing free condoms to people across Greater Manchester.

On Wednesday, the Pride organisation announced it would no longer be in a position to financially support the scheme which has been run by LGBT Foundation since 1994.

The project distributes more than 90,000 packs free of charge every year.

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Mark Fletcher, chief executive of Manchester Pride, said the scheme had 'done absolutely vital work over the past 27 years' but that the pandemic had impacted how Manchester Pride is able to support such schemes.

“Like many other charities, we have had to take some tough decisions as we focus on recovering,” he said.

The move was met with disappointment from members of the LGBTQ+ community who questioned the decision.

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Hollyoaks actress Annie Wallace, who resigned as a patron of Manchester Pride last year, said it was ‘terrible news for Manchester's LGBT+ community’ and ‘sees the end of a core Pride duty’.

In an updated statement, Manchester Pride has reiterated the reasons for the move.

Rainbow flag on Manchester's Canal Street
The chairman of Manchester Pride says the organisation has lost out financially during the pandemic

Paul Wheeler, chairman of the board of trustees for Manchester Pride, said: “Manchester Pride is a charity that is committed to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Greater Manchester and beyond.

“Every penny that you help us raise is ploughed back into the community where we campaign for the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality at home and abroad, raise awareness for LGBTQ+ issues and support LGBTQ+ mental health and grassroots projects and initiatives.

“We recognise that the decision to end our funding of the condom and lube distribution scheme has been disappointing for some LGBTQ+ people however we have taken this tough decision for a number of reasons.

“In 2020, as we looked to address our recovery from the pandemic, we asked our supporters and donors what they wanted the future of Manchester Pride to look like, and almost 90% said they wanted our grants to be distributed to LGBTQ+ mental health and wellbeing projects, small, independent LGBTQ+ organisations, grassroots LGBTQ+ community groups and networks and individual LGBTQ+ projects and initiatives.

“Less than 3% wanted us to be distributing to larger LGBTQ+ charities and organisations. This is understandable as people face a long recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

“Being inside and away from people has had a huge impact on all LGBTQ+ people and mental health and opportunities to come together have become priorities for many.”

Manchester Pride
Questions have been asked about the decision to stop funding the scheme

Mr Wheeler added that the pandemic had been tough for the Manchester Pride organisation but that it would continue to support LGBTQ+ people.

“What’s more, we just cannot escape the fact that the pandemic has hit us hard too,” the statement continued.

“The Manchester Pride Festival is one of our biggest income streams, enabling us to deliver direct support to LGBTQ+ people and other groups and charities.

“We have seen our turnover drop 85% from 2019 to 2020.

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“Through a combination of grants, support from sponsors and by sadly reducing overheads and making redundancies within Manchester Pride, we are proud that we have still been able to continue creating opportunities to support LGBTQ+ communities all year round including delivering a world-leading celebration of LGBTQ+ life in Greater Manchester this Summer.

“The pandemic has been tough for everyone and its effects will be felt by many for a long time yet. But we are committed to driving forwards, to supporting you, our communities, and helping LGBTQ+ people everywhere.”

Following Manchester Pride's decision to financially step back from the scheme, LGBT Foundation said it would continue to distribute free condoms and would look for alternative ways to fund and secure its future.

Paul Martin OBE, chief executive of LGBT Foundation, added: "For 27 years the scheme has provided free and accessible Safer Sex packs, first to gay and bisexual men, and now to all LGBTQ+ people living, working and visiting Greater Manchester.

“Throughout that time, the scheme has been run for the community, by the community and I pledge to the community that it will continue in the future.

“Condoms remain one of the key ways that we can reduce HIV and other sexually transmitted infections."

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