Mimi Jones is the founder of Queer Out Loud performance hub based in Plymouth. Mimi is Plymouth’s Young City Laureate for 2023, a freelance poet, events co-ordinator and playwright living in the city.
When they started attending performance poetry evenings at age nineteen, they soon realised that the audiences they were performing for struggled to relate to the topics of queer identity explored in their poetry. In an effort to create a space in which they could share their experiences with other members of the queer community, ‘Queer Out Loud’ was born.
After selling out their very first gig in a tiny venue in October 2022, ‘Queer Out Loud’ events only continue to grow. BIPC Devon talks to Mimi about combining their creative passion with entrepreneurship and their journey so far….
For those that don’t know how would you describe what you do?
Queer Out Loud is a Queer events group. We predominantly run performance nights, but we’re also looking into running writing workshops which will develop into staged performances.
We’re aiming to create a space where they can talk about their experiences with people who understand, or just at least have knowledge of the queer experience – walking to the shops as a queer person can be very different to walking to the shops as a straight person for example. Queer Out Loud is the space for people who get that.
It’s very focused around acceptance and being able to share your creativity in whatever way that is, and just provide the opportunity to meet other queer creatives.
Could you tell me the story of why you started Queer Out Loud?
“Yes, I was going to a lot of open mics and – well I never know how to word this in a way that doesn’t sound really rude, but there were a lot of old straight white men at these open mics!
As a young queer person, there are things that I read, where that demographic is just not the right audience. I noticed this and realised, why can’t I just make a poetry night which actually fits what I want?
I talked about the idea with somebody who had also had issues experienced with open mics, in terms of being trans – we discussed about the ideal outcome, and what we might go for… They ended up moving to London- but I thought that I may as well do it anyway, Plymouth still needed these nights!
So I just thought, “Well I’m gonna message someone!”. I ended up messaging Minerva Cafe, where we originally started, and said “Hey can I used your space to do some poetry stuff and they were like yeah sure!”.
They were really nice, they did it for free, I took some donations and gave a bit of it to them- even thought they weren’t asking for it, they got some payment which was nice!
Within the first two events we out grew the space- which was very unexpected but super cool, so then we had to move to B-Bar (the bar inside Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre) because there were too many people that wanted to come.
When we moved to B-Bar they had a proper sound system. So I thought why don’t we add music to the mix! I had absolutely no idea of how that worked, but luckily they had a sound tech who managed to sort all that stuff out. I started to invite musicians, and we’ve just been getting bigger and bigger since then! We ran the first event in October 2022, but for something that’s been going only for nine months, I think we’ve done pretty well!”
Would you be able to tell me a little bit about the funding streams you are accessing? You’re a creative first so what is you’re relationship to the ‘business’ side of things?
“Stressful! Very stressful!
I’m looking into business structures at the moment because we’re going to go over the one grand limit within the next financial year, so I need to do something to declare the business.
I’m looking into potentially making it a Community Benefit Society, which is basically like a charity, but with less paperwork! From what I understand it’s only been a thing for the last four years, and has only become popular in the last year or so.
I’m not 100% set on it because I have to read a 200 page document explaining all the rules for it! And that’s taking me a while because well, it’s 200 pages of business literature… I’m looking into doing that, but because we’re not properly set up and stuff I’m not able to apply for funding, so we’re just running off donations. I got a card reader which is really useful, because people obviously don’t carry cash! But once I’ve set up as a business in whatever way I end up doing that, I’ll be going for POP funding.”
Could you expand on what POP funding is? Just in case our readers want to apply?
“It’s Plymouth Octopus Project which receives funding from the council. I think the theory behind it is that they have ‘tentacles in every pie’ and are able dish out money to lots of different start ups. I’ve talked to a couple of people that have either use it, or work with organisations that do and it sounds like a really cool structure.”
Every small business faces challenges. Can you talk about any of these challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them?
“I guess the biggest and probably most obvious for a Queer business is, people are not always the most accepting. We’ve not had anyone who is absolutely horrible, but we’ve just had different reactions in terms of the marketing we’ve been putting out. It’s probably not that they’re not sharing it because it’s queer, but it’s just about accepting that people are being helpful even if it’s not in the exact way that you want it to go.
And the other thing would be organising events, it doesn’t go to plan every time. It just doesn’t! Yeah again, as someone who is autistic that took me a while to get over, but it’s made me a lot more going with the flow type person which is probably a good thing! The money stuff is also a little bit confusing and I definitely need to do some more courses on things like that- with the card reader you can just be like that’s how much money is there!
Do you have any advice for other young people who want to start a business of their own but are worried about making that first step?
The main thing is, you can’t really do anything wrong for a while. Even if you mess up, it’s not going to be the end of the world, and to prevent future messes up with HMRC and stuff like that- there are so many free courses! So until the finance stuff gets to a point where you really need to learn about it, you might as well just go for it! If you see a gap in the market that you really want to do, and you think others will appreciate it then just start it!
What are you most looking forward to with the future of Queer Out Loud / have you got any exciting things coming up?
We’ve got trans pride Plymouth coming up in June where I’ll be running some writing workshops in collaborate with the City Laureateship at The Barbican Theatre. Otherwise stuff that I’m looking forward to is making the events bigger and better I guess, and being able to do more stuff. There’s things that I would like to do that we’re not able to. Getting some more people involved would be great because currently it’s just me doing with occasional help from friends. So yeah having a bigger team would be great.
Feeling Inspired by Mimi's Story?
This pride month BIPC Devon are proud to champion incredible grassroots businesses founded for and by the Queer community. If you are feeling inspired by Mimi’s story and want to find out more about creating an inclusive business, check out our 2022 programme ‘Diversity in Business‘. You’ll find a series of free webinars covering inclusion, neurodiversity and BAME founders sharing their stories.