A University of Worcester academic has been recognised for his contribution to the LGBTQ+ community in Worcester with a special award.
Dr Daniel Somerville, senior lecturer in Drama and Performance, was awarded the Mayor of Worcester’s Best of Worcester Award 2020.
He shared the award with community organisers Amanda Hickling and Andre Oldfield, which was presented by former Mayor of Worcester, Cllr Allah Ditta, at a socially distanced ceremony outside the Guildhall. The three recipients founded Worcestershire Pride and have overseen the governance and events of the voluntary organisation from 2016 to 2019.
"On a personal level it is obviously a great honour to be recognised by the city for the work I have done,” said Dr Somerville, Director of Arts for Worcestershire Pride. “On a wider level, it is significant in that members of the LGBTQ+ community are being recognised with an award at all. So it means a great deal and it is a pleasure to share it with other long standing community organisers.”
The Worcestershire Pride organising committee was formed in 2016 in response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, and to facilitate support for a vigil for the LGBTQ+ community to express their solidarity with victims and their families. The organising committee then went on to host the first Worcestershire Pride festival in 2017 and Worcester’s first Pride parade in 2018, with the festival and parade continuing in 2019. The University of Worcester has supported Worcestershire Pride each year since 2017.
Dr Somerville said: “The fact that a relatively small community like that in Worcestershire can gather each year helps build connections between organisations, offering support to LGBTQ+ people and, through being an open to all, outward facing event, it builds bridges with other communities in Worcester and helps combat prejudice. For individual LGBTQ+ people, events like Pride offer safe spaces to express their sense of identity.”
Alongside these activities, Dr Somerville also directed an arts and culture festival showcasing queer art and performance. As part of this, he presented a public lecture on queerness in opera at the Hive in 2017, and in 2018 performed his show, Admiring La Stupenda, about an opera queen's obsession with Dame Joan Sutherland, at Worcester Arts Workshop. Many students and alumni have presented work at the Worcestershire Pride festival and Dr Somerville has mentored them and facilitated their involvement.
"The work we have done since 2016 has changed the landscape in Worcester for the LGBTQ+ community,” he added. “It has placed Worcestershire Pride on the calendar. It’s hard to explain how a simple gesture like encountering a Pride flag as you go into the train station or how seeing a flag flying from the University buildings for example, has a huge positive effect on LGBTQ+ individuals. There has also been an increase in arts events showcasing queer artwork in the city and all this contributes to a richer cultural life for the city and forms part of the legacy of Worcestershire Pride.”
Dr Somerville’s role also informed his research activities concerning queer performance, autobiography and the identity of the opera queen. This recently culminated in a post-doctoral research project Pavarotti and Me which explores queerness in operatic performance.