A MUM of a non-binary child has raised hundreds to establish a safe space for LGBT+ youth in Darlington, following the closure of Darlington ARQ.
Michelle Haigh, a full time biomedical science student at Teesside University, is on track to meet her her £350 crowdfunding target, raising £300 in just one week, to set up a charitable organisation and safe space for LGBT+ youth, filling a gap left by the closure of Darlington ARQ.
Ms Haigh’s 16-year-old child Eli suffered years of bullying and isolation at school, but ARQ offered a sense of community, where Eli was able to grow their confidence grow and make friends.
Darlington ARQ officially handed back its keys to the Cornmill Centre unit yesterday, following a gradual closure after being hit with a large energy bill in December.
‘They can’t just go to cafes’
“ARQ did loads of good for my child and others. They were getting a lot of grief, every day, and ARQ was a safe space for them to do what they wanted. I just wanted to keep it going because there doesn’t seem to be much else for LGBT+ kids in Darlington,” Ms Haigh said.
“It’s somewhere away from home they can go to on a Saturday afternoon where they can hang out as a group, because they can’t just go to cafes.”
Eli and friends once walked from Darlington ARQ, in Cornmill Shopping Centre, to Tesco Express, on Tubwell Row, and were still harassed. The walk is less than a two-minutes.
“It’s crazy that Darlington waves the purple flag for being safe at night but the LGBT+ community aren’t even safe in the day,” Ms Haigh added.
Fundraising to take over YPOP
The 48-year-old mum is taking over Darlington Young People of Pride (YPOP), which will run each Saturday. Money raised will cover public liability insurance, taking care of the organisation’s legal and compensation costs if someone is injured or there is damage to property, as well as additional resources for the youth group.
“I was so emotional and gob smacked by the reaction to the fundraiser,” Ms Haigh said. “One friend donated £100. Eli keeps saying that I don’t have to do it, that it’s too much stress, but they love that I’m doing it. I just know how much they need it.”
Once YPOP is registered as a charity, Ms Haigh aims to apply for grants and funding to ensure financial sustainability and security. In the next six months, she hopes YPOP is “really stable”, with more kids attending the sessions.
Future LGBT+ support lies in collaboration
Andrew Cull, Chief Executive of Darlington ARQ, said: “I think it’s absolutely great Michelle is doing that and have donated to it. Everyone else should as well.”
Mr Cull will be continuing the counselling and training arm of ARQ through his private counselling practice Arcus, where he will offer affordable session to LGBT+ youth and provide training to organisations for a better understanding of the LGBT+ community.
He said: “People are gutted about ARQ, there have been lots of tears. There is still a social element and the help, but the sad reality is that they’re losing this space that they’ve used for three years.”
Distributed risk for sustainability
Arcus and YPOP will work closely together but decided to distribute the risk “instead of having all their eggs in one basket”.
“It’s massively important that the users of these services know that it’s a collaborative effort. We’re doing this because it needs to be done,” Mr Cull said.
Both organisations will be based in the old Marks and Spencer’s building, which is now ran by Cornerstone Arts.
Councillor Jonathan Dulston, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Stronger Communities, said: “I have had meetings with Andrew Cull and Michelle Haigh in recent weeks, to discuss the possibility of an LGBT+ youth group in Darlington. I absolutely agree that there is a need for a group like this in the town, particularly after the sad loss of Darlington ARQ.
“I am pleased to hear that the crowdfunding appeal has got off to such a successful start. There’s more that we need to do to support the LGBT+ community and I look forward to playing a role in that going forward.”