New Documentary Celebrates the History of Iconic Notts Gay Pub the New Foresters

Interview: Yasmin Turner
Thursday 07 April 2022
reading time: min, words

Nottingham’s oldest gay pub, New Foresters, opened in 1958 and has been the hub of Nottingham’s LGBTQ+ community ever since. We catch up with local filmmaker Damien Ebanks ahead of the release of his new documentary, which highlights the significance of this venue as a safe space for self-expression, and the importance of its landlady, Debbie Law…


How did you come across the New Foresters?
I think anyone in Nottingham’s gay community has been to the New Foresters. It’s the oldest gay venue in the city and they have just been awarded Nottingham’s first English Heritage Pink Plaque. It was one of the first places I went to when I came out years ago, and I’ve been there so many times since. It’s just a cool place for the community.

What was your motivation behind making this documentary?
The thing that pops out at you straight away is its community feel. Debbie Law, the landlady, is such a character, and she’s the real driving force behind the place. The documentary is called The New Foresters, but really it’s about Debbie and the safe space she has kept alive in Nottingham all these years, against the odds. I’ve always wanted to make a short doc about this place, it means so much to so many people. Places like this, you have to document the stories and the people because there are so many venues across the UK that have shut down due to the decline of the community, as well as COVID. I’m not saying the New Foresters are doing badly, it’s actually doing quite well. But it’s still nice to have it on film. 

Have you come across any challenges when working on this documentary?
The biggest challenge was the pandemic. I started to make it in 2021, when you had to sit outside and it was table service. All I wanted was some footage of people inside enjoying themselves, but I had to wait and film when I could with masks on and distanced. Every interview has a shadow of COVID behind it - it’s not easy to build a rapport with people wearing masks, standing two metres apart. 

I’ve always wanted to make a documentary about this place, it means so much to so many people

Do you have any favourite moments from your filming process?
My favourite part was filming the Scream Queens, a group of drag queens that perform in the New Foresters regularly. One of them is David, the manager of the pub, and they’re just so good to be around. Also, from the actual documentary, the stories that Debbie told from years of working at the pub. So many funny things you’d only hear from someone that has worked there for twenty years. 

What is the future looking like for the New Foresters and LGBTQ+ community in Nottingham?
Well, in 2012, Nottingham had around nine venues - and now we’ve only got one gay pub and a few gay-friendly pubs. So, it’s always a worry that things are going to close. Debbie is stepping down in a few months, but she is going to find someone who will run the pub with the same passion she has, and it’s still going to be a gay venue. The customers will still support it and I think we’ll be seeing this pub serving pints to the LGBTQ+ community for years to come. I was lucky I made this when I did. Getting the chance to talk to Debbie, celebrating her twenty years of running this pub, has been a pleasure. In many ways this film is a tribute to her and her contribution to the gay community. 

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