Groundbreaking queer women’s wellness festival is helping lesbians connect – and even find love

Photo of two people wearing hoodies standing in a rural setting, with a river behind them, at Old & Wild Festival

It’s not easy for queer women to find safe spaces to meet – that’s why Polly Shute co-founded Out & Wild, the UK’s only wellness and experience festival for queer, questioning and curious women and those who are non-binary.

People are always shocked when I tell them that there is only one bar dedicated to queer women in London. But the sad truth is lesbian bars are disappearing, and not just in the UK.

In the 1980s there were an estimated 200 lesbian bars in the United States, in 2021 this number had dwindled to just 15

Research from DIVA Media Group highlights that 79 per cent of LGBTQ+ women believe that gay men have more visibility than they do, and many (one in three) LGBTQ+ women think that there are not enough events aimed at them and their interests.

So, where do you go if you want to extend your friendship circle or meet a potential partner?

In 2021, Becky French and I decided we needed a new type of event in Pride Month, one that delivered acts and experiences designed for women and their interests and that helped forge meaningful connections.

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A group of people waving while swimming at Out & Wild Festival
Out & Wild Festival offers three days of wellness events, music, comedy, sports and talks. (Out & Wild Festival)

We created Out & Wild Festival, a wellness and experience festival set on a beautiful site on the edge of Pembrokeshire National Park, overlooking the River Cleddau.

We designed the festival to have dozens of experiences and activities throughout the three days. This not only provides variety but also allows attendees to connect and bond through shared experiences. We carefully picked the key zones based on what queer women and those who are non-binary wanted from a festival: wellness, workouts, music, comedy, spoken word, sports, hikes, workshops and talks.

Women who want to travel solo are welcomed and supported

As soon as we started marketing, we got questions from women who wanted to come alone. This included trans and non-binary people, who told us that they did not always feel safe or supported at Prides and festivals. Research shows 40 per cent of women under 40 have been sexually assaulted at music festivals.

In response, we promoted solo meet-ups and set up private Facebook groups where attendees could meet others, share lifts, and swap experiences that encouraged participation.

We also made it very clear Out & Wild was open to all LGBTQ+ women and those who are non-binary, as well as supportive allies. Given some of the media misinformation about lesbians not supporting trans and non-binary community, we had queries around being a safe and inclusive space. But as soon as we opened, it became clear that there was a focus on kindness and acceptance as well as wellness.

A tent among trees illuminated by rainbow lights at Out & Wild Festival
Out & Wild Festival is returning after a successful debut in 2022. (Out & Wild Festival)

One Out & Wild attendee, Micky, notes: “Having been born in a woman’s body and being in relationships with women throughout my life, society had to put me in some kind of box. This festival was totally inclusive for non-binary and trans women which made me feel thought about.

“We found that many attendees did make new friends, and some have even set up meet-up groups as a result. And we did ignite a few relationships as well.”

The trend for solo attendees has continued with Out & Wild Festival 2023 – word has obviously spread that it’s a good place to meet others. To build on this, we are working with sponsors like OVO Energy, which is sponsoring our wellness zone and based on our research, organising pre-festival meets ups for attendees in London and Bristol.

In a world where many LGBTQ+ people struggle with loneliness and lack of permanent spaces, maybe wellness and experience festivals like Out & Wild are places not just to find yourself, but also new friends – and maybe even that special someone.

Out & Wild Festival takes place in Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire, Wales from 9-12 June, 2023. For more details and tickets head to Out & Wild.

Polly Shute is co-founder of Out & Wild and PinkNews’ head of corporate partnerships.

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