A NEW cultural exhibition showcasing the hidden history of an iconic figure in the gay rights movement, who lived in Atherton, has been unveiled.

The council opened the second year of its five-year plan called The Fire Within, which sees the heart of a Wigan town centre shopping centre transformed into a ground-breaking social space for performance and culture.

The new theme, Digital Wigan, will explore the evolving experience of real life and the digital world by featuring international artists and new commissions by emerging local artists.

One of the displays called ICONS, celebrates iconic people and hyper-local stories from the borough’s heritage.

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It will pay particular tribute to Allan Horsfall, founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and British gay rights activist, whose work was recently discovered by artists and show curators, Al Holmes and Al Taylor.

The duo has been commissioned by Manchester Pride’s year long calendar of culture and arts, Superbia, thanks to funding from Arts Council England to acknowledge Horsfall’s activism in the heart of a mining community.

This piece and others from the Superbia Spotlight Series will contribute towards Arts Council England’s ‘A Creative & Cultural Country’ helping to develop a professional sector of artists.

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They said: “What Allan did was very, very brave. He was the first gay man to publish his home address and out himself by creating 10,000 leaflets promoting gay rights equality before it was legal to be gay.

“Horsfall’s home address was a miner’s cottage in Atherton as he worked for the national coal board at that time. Allan made front page headline news in the local newspaper, but the Leigh Reporter did not stir up hatred towards Allan, in fact he had no trouble at all from his local mining community. Soon the leaflet connected thousands of people together who wrote to Allan in support of his campaign

“Allan created the first LGBTQ community just by publishing a leaflet with his home address. It gave thousands of couples someone to write to and connect with and he was from Wigan Borough. We’ve all heard about Stonewall and activist movements from across the world, but we don’t even know this amazing story that started in our hometown.”

A neon sign lighting up the coordinates of Horsfall’s former home, will feature in the show, highlighting where Wigan’s fight for equality began.

In addition to bringing about the decriminalisation of male homosexual partnership in the 60’s, Horsfall’s work with the National Coal Board links strongly with Wigan Borough’s mining history.

Al and Al added: “Allan’s gay rights work started in our borough and as a gay lad growing up in Wigan, I didn’t have any idea that this was part of my history. I only discovered Allan in recent months and I think that’s a huge shame.

“The Fire Within is about openness, tolerance and discovering a new heritage with stories everyone can connect with and feel proud of – Allan’s story encompasses all of that.

“Growing up as part of a minority group can sometimes be isolating. The Fire Within welcomes everyone, creating a safe space for people, including our young people who are figuring out their identities.”

The Fire Within has already celebrated a successful first year following its launch in May 2019.

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Digital Wigan explores the story of the computer age and visitors of the exhibition will discover digital worlds, created by using new technologies.

It encompasses six former shopping units that have been transformed into cultural and social spaces exploring social media, the computer age and superheroes, even featuring a transformer robot created by Jarman Award winner, Hetain Patel, using his first car.

Cabinet member for communities and culture at Wigan Council, Cllr Chris Ready said: “For the last couple of years, our teams have been working really closely with the borough’s cultural organisations, freelance artists and other creative professionals in order to create a 5-year plan that will bring arts and culture to the forefront of people’s minds.

“Our focus last year was on bringing people together and transforming the previously vacant shopping units into a ground-breaking social space.

“Our second theme was always going to be Digital Wigan and with the current climate, this focus is actually more important and relatable than we ever would have thought.

“As well as exploring how digital and technology can inspire our Fire Within and keep us connected, it’s also really important we acknowledge the icons from our town and region. Thanks to Allan Horsfall’s tenacity and commitment to making a difference, life changed for the LGBTQ community. It’s only right that we celebrate this achievement and key part of our history.”

Mark Fletcher, chief executive for Manchester Pride, said; “It’s more important than ever for us to be able to support local LGBTQ+ talent where we can. The Superbia Spotlights series, which is funded by a grant from Arts Council England, is the perfect way to enable and shine a light on work such as Al and Al’s and the incredible story of Alan Horsfall. I can’t wait to see it.”

The exhibition will be officially open to the public from Thursday, September 24 but closed tours took place over the weekend.

Following the opening, visitors will be expected to wear face masks and to social distance when in the space. Hand sanitising stations and one-way systems will be in place.