Queering Camden: a new LGBTQ+ community mapping project


Founder Sarah Allen explains more about her inventive way to tackle queer isolation in difficult times



It’s no secret that Camden’s LGBTQ+ scene has been hit particularly hard over the last decade, with legendary venue The Black Cap and newer space Her Upstairs facing particularly public closures in 2015 and 2018 respectively.

In fact, the number of LGBTQ+ nightlife venues in Camden fell by 43% between 2006 and 2017, with a 57% reduction in venues across the capital within the same time-frame. The closure of venues has led to, for many LGBTQ+ people in the borough, an incredible feeling of isolation and loneliness.

In an awfully perfect storm, the COVID-19 lockdown this year then triggered a whole new type of isolation. The LGBTQ+ community is particularly vulnerable to loneliness, as we often rely on found family as our community and support networks; tight-knit groups of radical love, acceptance, and validation.

For many of us, the lockdown meant a sudden disconnect from this community, and for some, it meant having to return to being closeted entirely to escape conflict or abuse.

I’d moved to Camden from rural Somerset in mid-2019 as a student studying for an MA at RCSSD, and this area had been one of the few places I’d lived as openly bisexual. I’d been at University in the southwest for three years by this point and had been out to a handful of close friends, but never to colleagues or classmates beyond my immediate circle.

Sarah Allen: ‘Camden is one of the few places I’ve lived openly.’ Photo: own

When I first moved to the borough, I made a conscious decision to change this. A new flat meant a new attitude, no more living in fear. Camden is home to some of the most incredible LGBTQ+ charities, community hubs and shops in London – and if anywhere was the place to be open, it was here.

In March, however, along with countless others, complications with my flat and a loss of income meant that I had to move back home with my parents. I’m fortunate in that I have a great relationship with my family, but there’s nothing like being severed from your community suddenly and returning to a farming village of less than 500 people to make you feel alone – and severely shake your mental health.

One entry on the map. Photo: QC

So, in July, after months of feeling like I was on my own, I did something about it. Queering Camden was founded as a living, community-made digital mapping project of Camden’s LGBTQ+ stories.

The website maps LGBTQ+ stories, nights out, arguments, first kisses, friends, protests, conversations, deaths, performances, and homes all onto a communal map in an attempt to combat isolation and community erosion.

The map exists as an accessible visible marker that nobody in the LGBTQ+ community, no matter how isolated, is alone. Instead, it reminds us that an LGBTQ+ person has existed in every living room, every street corner, every pub, every green space, every tube carriage that passes underneath our feet within Camden.

Another entry. Photo: QC

Stories submitted so far have included first dates, doctor’s appointments, interactions on the streets, shopping sprees in pioneering Bloomsbury bookshop Gay’s The Word and more.

So, the next time you fly your pride flag from your window, think back to a memorable encounter you might have had five – or 20 – years ago, or simply making it home safely…and why not share your story with the map to celebrate a community of individuals both surviving and thriving across the borough?

Queering Camden can be found at www.queeringcamden.com and @queeringcamden on Twitter and Instagram. Queering Camden also has a digital exhibition of by artists reimagining the map which is now open with free entry at www.queeringcamden.com/exhibition

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