A Belfast charity that aims to collect, share, and conserve the hidden heritage of the LGBT+ community has been celebrated by The National Lottery as an inspiration during LGBT+ History Month.

HERe NI, who were awarded £70,000 in 2019 by The National Lottery, created and delivered the first large-scale LGBT+ project of its kind to be funded in Northern Ireland called The Troubles I’ve Seen.

The two-year project aimed to collect, share, and conserve the memories and experiences of the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s – a time of significant legislative change.

Through The Troubles I’ve Seen, the wider community have been able to hear stories of those who lived during this period for the first time.

In partnership between HERe NI, The Rainbow Project and Cara-Friend, The Troubles I’ve Seen is also currently producing a documentary about LGBT+ heritage between the introduction of decriminalisation and section 75 – an act that ensured the promotion of equal opportunity.

Homosexuality was not decriminalised in Northern Ireland until 1982 – 15 years after legislation was passed in England and Wales.

LGBT+ Heritage Coordinator for HERe NI, Mary Ellen Campbell, expressed how vital the project has been to conserve LGBT+ history and educate the wider community.

Ealing Times: The two-year project aims to collect, share, and conserve the memories and experiences of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990sThe two-year project aims to collect, share, and conserve the memories and experiences of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s

“There was this gap where there was no one to record our history,” said Campbell.

“As more and more LGBT+ people were getting older and passed away, we were losing that history as it wasn’t being passed on or shared.

“We’re unique because we’re a community sector organization, right in the heart of the LGBT+ community, so people trust us more.

“We help save lives – we’re not walking away; our projects are still here.”

Alongside running a monthly history club at Linen Hall Library and organising heritage trails throughout Belfast, the project also collects documents and historical items for both a growing digital archive and an exhibition they are running later this year.

Campbell explained: “Some of the stuff we’ve gathered is amazing. 

“We managed to get the original LGBT+ helpline phone and that’ll be in the exhibition opening hopefully at the end of March.”

Accompanying the exhibition will be the release of a documentary, drawing on the research conducted by Campbell and her 19 volunteers.

She said: “I’ve worked in other projects with volunteers, but I’ve never seen the level of commitment that our volunteers give to this project. They really believe in it.”

As part of LGBT+ History Month, the project is running a variety of talks and events as well as their usual lunchtime equality workshops with local businesses.

And for Campbell, exploring the past is vital to supporting a community who have been mistreated for decades.

“For LGBT+ people visibility is really important, seeing ourselves in others and we also have to see it in our past,” she explained. 

“We haven’t just become LGBT+ in the last decade. We’ve always been here, but unfortunately, we’ve been persecuted.

“We look at history to remember the past, to celebrate our present and to create a new future.

“LGBT+ history is about the grassroots voices but also to help us learn from the past.”

And none of it would have been made possible without the £70,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Campbell explained how vital the funding has been to the project.

“This project gives a voice to those who have gone before us or to those who can’t speak for themselves. 

“Without the National Lottery funding we would lose all of those voices. We wouldn’t be able to gather them.”

More than £30 million goes to good causes from The National Lottery across the country every week, making vital projects like these possible. To find out more about how The National Lottery supports good causes throughout the UK, visit www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk.