Northern Ireland’s first Learning Disability Pride Parade and Carnival exceeded all expectations with huge crowds of around 5,000 people attending the carnival and fun day at Carrickfergus Castle on Saturday 27 May.
Learning Disability Pride was organised by Carrickfergus and District Senior Gateway Club, a Mencap Network Partner and the idea of club leader, Thomas Haighton, who said:
“Our first learning disability pride event in Northern Ireland and 5,000 people turn up, it’s amazing. Everyone from the club is so proud of what they have achieved and to parade through town with hundreds of people cheering on will be with them for a long time. We wanted to raise awareness and bring people with a learning disability from all over Northern Ireland together and we have done that and more.”
3,000 people from over 50 different learning disability organisations from across Northern Ireland took part in the initial parade, which was led by May McFettridge, NI Queen of Comedy, Grand Panto Dame and favourite of people with a learning disability.
Actor and comedian John Linehan, who plays May said:
“It's an honour to lead the very first Learning Disability Pride Parade and to support and make people aware of what a learning disability is all about,” John Linehan, the actor and comedian behind the larger-than-life character, said.
“And to tell all the people attending to have pride in yourself no matter what you do.”
The Pride entertainment featured live music from band ‘This Way Up’, the Jordan Academy of Irish Dancers, the Studio 68 Cheerleaders and drama by Carrickfergus Senior Gateway and Larne Adult Centre.
Also performing was local Carrick DJ Joe Hoey, who has a learning disability and he shattered stereotypes by spinning the decks in front of a crowd of thousands
The Carnival and Fun Day had facepainting, kite making, a petting farm, bouncy castle, market and food stalls, arts and crafts and information and resources to support and help people with a learning disability and their families.
Elizabeth Crozier, a member of the Carrickfergus Senior Gateway Club said:
“We really enjoyed Learning Disability Pride, it was a great day out for people with a learning disability and their friends and family. It made us all feel very proud of who we are when we marched down the highway with hundreds of people cheering.”
Mencap NI gave a massive amount of support in organising the event and special praise must go to Northern Ireland staff Christine Mulvenna, Community Support Officer, Fiona Cole, Campaigns Officer and Rosalie Edge, Employment Officer for their amazing efforts and hard work to make the whole day a huge success.
Learning Disability Pride was funded and supported by the Big Lottery Fund, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Mencap Northern Ireland.