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  • Sue Lowday

LGBTQ Recent History of the Village Store, c1990

During the pandemic, Cllr Karl Love - Love East Cowes, sent this wonderful piece of recent history about Bonchurch. The shop is now a private home.


"I wanted to share this with you villagers of Bonchurch. It doesn’t change the planning application but it’s an important memory for you villagers which is probably mostly unknown but important to our Heritage.



The shop is causing a bit of a stir in the village as its owner set out to convert the store into a residential dwelling. However, what many of you won’t know within the LGBTQ world is that this was a significant meeting place full of inspiration for our LGBTQ island community during the 1990s and a part of our heritage statement.

I remember this shop being run by John Reece and his partner. They were important figures within the LGBTQ Island community helping to set up and start a support group at St Mary’s Hospital and they also started along with others, the island LGBT Helpline as it was then called. There were many volunteers at the beginning including my David Hill, Jimmy Chris, David Barnard, David Fround, Agnes and Trish along with Tony Cutcher and Kieth Freeman. I know there were some others too but I just can’t quite remember who they were and I apologise for missing them off the list.

As a side note, the switchboard was also later moved to the sexual health service at St Mary’s Hospital and was also once located at the Unitarian Meeting House Newport. All was well at the meeting house until one day one of the parishioners commented that she didn’t really like the negative vibes coming down the telephone line filling the hall with negative energy. So they relocated elsewhere. Rita Harmon of the Samaritans was one of those great individuals who was an LGBT ally and helped to train people in the technique of telephone support helpline communications.

Alan Martin took responsibility for it where it became an important part of the national Lesbian and Gay switchboard and ran it for several years before it was finally wound down. I’m not just sure when it closed but it had done its job for a number of years and with the coming of the Internet it was essentially made redundant as a telephone helpline.

The helpline's predecessor was a book called Spartacus or the National Helpline. Inevitably they were always out of date and of course, Gay Times could also provide information. Freedom of information flowed through the internet to change the ways of our island community along with other mobile apps!

I remember the Bonchurch shop operating and thriving. It was one of those typical corner shops with a post office and I remember it was quite hard work for John and his partner to run with early starts and late evening closure. I’m pretty sure in that location a coffee shop come village store would be perfect and profitable. I mean how many people come to look at the duckpond and enjoy a stroll through the village? To be successful in business these days you’ve got to be different, creative and get noticed so that people remember and spread the word.

It’s actually an iconic building in the heart of the village and I remember going to several parties there where much fun and merriment was had. Today it just needs a bit of TLC and some imagination to make a business work there again assuming the locals can save it as a community asset.

John and his partner, I’m sorry I just can’t remember his name, were actually very important in the 90s because they were prepared to put their heads above the parapet in order to support others. I remember going to a number of training events with John in support of promoting and learning about LGBTQ issues. One particular HIV training event took place at the Southsea Pier which was also the venue for those wonderful fundraising adult gay pantomimes. Those pantomimes raise funds for our friend Mike Doors HIV charity and he sadly passed away from HIV in the late 1990s. Mike proudly campaigned for equality and raised many thousands towards HIV charities. Mike used his illness openly to raise awareness in Portsmouth and to try to prevent others from becoming infected.

The shop at Bonchurch has a planning application for its change of use. This has stimulated my comments here in remembering that it was once important in our lives during the 1990s. It was one of those places where you knew you could pop in and say hello and find out what was going on in and around our island LGBTQ communities. Another important venue in Bonchurch was the Peacock Vain. A rather high-class restaurant which had different changing owners but for a little while was run by Steven and Leighton. A few of us were invited to have soirées and drinks late into the night. This is just a little bit more of our LGBT heritage and I’m sure it will bring back memories for some and be interesting for others.

Take care all and keep safe in these difficult times."

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