Gut Level: Nurturing Queer-Friendly Spaces and Fostering Community in Sheffield
From DIY club nights to permanent home: How Gut Level transforms LGBTQ+ experiences.
Gut Level looks to provide social and creative opportunities, with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ people and marginalized genders. It has a membership system that works to keep their spaces safe, and the membership agreement focuses on mutual respect — with zero tolerance for homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. Believing in "keeping things cheap, championing local talent, and building networks of collaboration and care," Gut Level has built a dedicated community, and they are constantly striving to grow and develop their offer. Fizzy Mag caught up with the team behind Gut Level to discuss their inception, journey to date, and their plans for the future…
You have spoken about the creation of Gut Level as a "response" to the lack of financially accessible, queer-friendly spaces in Sheffield. Was there a particular moment that sparked the process of actually putting it all together?
I think it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular moment, especially as there are five of us, so we all have our own experiences of how and why we started Gut Level. Prior to having our own space, myself, Katie, and Frazer collectively ran a queer club night called Club Rush. We held this party at a small DIY spot in Sheffield called Hatch (formerly known as Audacious Art Experiment). They provided the venue to us for free as long as all the profits are put back into the running of the space. Without them, we might not be doing what we’re doing now, so we owe a lot to them! (BIG LOVE TO HATCH MWAH)!!
After a few too many raucous late-night affairs, we received a noise complaint from the council, and it was decided we could no longer use Hatch. We didn’t want to put their space at risk and agreed we needed to find a new spot, which led us to creating Gut Level.
Aside from this story, we’d always struggled to find small-ish venues to hire in Sheffield that didn’t add an element of financial risk for throwing a late-night party. There has always been a thriving live music scene and a good selection of DIY gig haunts, but there was very little on offer in terms of grassroots electronic music venues that were considerate of women, marginalized genders, and the LGBT+ community. To be straight up about it (no pun intended lol), we’ve only ever known there to be one long-standing gay bar in Sheffield, which serves its purpose but definitely aligns more with "gay" than "queer."
Do you feel that there is enough collaboration across different groups and organizations to ensure an overall community aspect?
There are so many crossover events where all members are attending, and many things are a collaborative effort or are inspired by someone else's work. Also, the main element of being a community is that we're all friends, so collaboration just kind of happens rather than it being a contrived effort.
"We exist to give back to the queer community and provide a space that we didn't have growing up in Sheffield 15 years ago."
How do you feel that Gut Level creates a "community" amongst its participants?
We've always strived to build a sense of community among everyone who attends our events, as we wholly understand it's a key element in creating a comfortable environment, which invariably leads to better parties! I think we learned this from growing up in a smaller city like Sheffield that has consistently nurtured this aspect of partying – probably due to there being only a handful of places to go out, all with relatively small capacities, so everyone really knows everyone!
Gut Level has operated as a members' club since its inception. We function like this for several reasons, one of them being to build a sense of community and a feeling of belonging. This policy has undoubtedly led event attendees to return to our space and form friendships through partying. Besides late-night events, we've been providing an abundance of weekday evening workshops for people who don't want to stay up until the early hours.
Our summer schedule included everything from communal meals, clog dancing workshops, queer speed dating, QTIPOC film club, tabletop games, trans self-care sessions, clothes swaps, Queer Sex Symposiums (LGBT+ sex education workshops), live sound meditations, open deck & DJ workshops for marginalized genders and the LGBT+ community, DIY kink gear workshops, sex worker meet-ups, and many other kinds of lefty politically subversive get-togethers that provide space and a platform for Sheffield's finest freaks and queers.
This element of Gut Level has only thrived in the past year as a result of us occupying a space that wasn't suitable for late and loud weekends. Even though we were initially gutted to no longer have a party space, in hindsight, we're actually incredibly grateful for moving into Eyre St., as it's allowed us to foster the community aspect of Gut Level and has truly encouraged its growth!
Apart from creating a community with your members, what role do you think Gut Level plays within the local community and giving back to others?
We offer a free space for people to use, particularly platforming individuals who have historically been ignored and disregarded. We exist to give back to the queer community and provide a space that we didn't have while growing up in Sheffield 15 years ago. Besides catering to the needs of our lived experiences, we host a number of activist groups that utilize our space, such as Anti Raids Sheffield, Green New Deal Rising Sheffield, and Radical Pride. All of these groups exist to serve the wider community in Sheffield.
With regards to motivation, what pushes you to keep developing the identity of Gut Level and, most importantly, sticking at it?
The positive, encouraging, and heartwarming responses from the community keep us persevering and give us the extra energy we need to jump through all the sometimes frustrating and bureaucratic hoops necessary!
"It's most definitely a passion project, and our values are at the core of it!"
You are currently fundraising for a new space, which will allow you to expand the work you do and engage with more people. What are you most looking forward to regarding the new space, and how do you feel about the fundraising efforts so far?
The key difference with the new space is that we can safely say it will be our permanent home for the next five years (if all goes to plan with funds, etc.)! We've never had a permanent home before, so we're super excited to start nesting and making it our own. It will be a fully licensed venue open from Wednesday to Sunday throughout the day and evening. We are a little bit worried about becoming so legit, as the overheads will be significantly more than the previous spots we've had. However, we feel assured in knowing there's a strong appetite for community activity and queer presence in Sheffield.
We're raising funds to renovate our new haunt because it needs quite a bit of work before we'll legally be able to get it licensed. Plus, we need it to be a space that can easily transform from a cozy day spot to a vibrant late-night party. The GoFundMe is hovering at just under 10k. A breakdown of all the renovation costs is included in the bio, which can be found here: Fundraiser by Katie Matthews : Gut Level - New Space Fundraiser. You can also find more details about our history, what we're about, and our plans for the future.
In addition to this, we have upcoming fundraising events such as the fundraiser raffle, which will take place online and in real life at our Eyre St venue. We'll be giving away fantastic prizes, including everything from a weekend away in a camper van worth 60K to music equipment, records, queer literature, tickets, and guestlists to London-based queer events, along with a ton of other cool stuff. More details can be found on our website here: FUNDRAISER RAFFLE HOSTED BY JANE NORMAN: 31/08 — GUT LEVEL.
For local pals, we're hosting a fundraising day & night event on September 23rd in Sheffield at SADACCA (Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association). There will be food, drinks, live music, karaoke, and a slamming late-night event with performances by Ruf Dug, Finn, Blu Dream, Myna, and more. Additional information about this event can be found here: Big Fundraiser @ SADACCA W/ Ruf Dug, Finn, Blu Dream, MYNA + more TBA — GUT LEVEL.
With a growing number of community members, how do you ensure that you are still representing your values, even if delivered on a wider scale?
We are a not-for-profit organization, so it's not a major worry of ours that we'll disregard our values for the sake of profit. The organization is volunteer-led and has been since we started nearly 4 years ago. We're gradually working towards paying ourselves a fair wage, but it's most definitely a passion project, and our values are at the core of it!