Laura Benin, Communications Officer at Opening Doors London, writes about Opening Doors London’s befriending service and how it gives LGBTQ+ members the chance to fully express themselves and feel more connected to their community.
About Opening Doors London
Opening Doors London (ODL) is the largest UK charity providing activities, events, information and support services specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, non-binary or gender fluid (LGBTQ+) people over 50.
We are a membership organisation providing regular social opportunities and events to help develop networks, communities and create friendships for LGBTQ+ people, aged over 50.
Impact of the pandemic
Last year when the first lockdown was announced, we had to quickly rethink the way we offered our services and come up with new ways of connecting and supporting our members. LGBTQ+ people over 50 have an increased chance of being vulnerable and isolated as they are more likely to be single, have less contact with family and live by themselves. When Covid-19 hit, it was no surprise that these communities were disproportionately affected and many were forgotten or overlooked. Our Covid-19 research on the impact of Covid-19 on older LGBT+ people stated that 50% of respondents reported a negative impact on their psychological wellbeing, 37% felt more lonely than usual and 27% hardly ever or never had someone to talk to.
To make sure we were still providing vital support, our Befriending service moved entirely to Telefriending and our members got a weekly phone call from a like minded volunteer for a good chat. Apart from offering to our members a chance to make a new friend with interests in common, our befrienders are trained to ask the right questions and know what signs to look out for to help safeguard those who are most vulnerable.
Befriending works because often they have no-one else looking in on their life. Volunteers can check regularly on their members and make sure they have everything they need. 32% of our members don’t have access to the internet so this weekly call was the connection they had with the outside world during Covid-19. Volunteers can let their befrienders know about what’s going on in their boroughs such as counselling and local events and charities. They can also let us know about any kind of abuse our members are going through as well as the need for referrals to services such as food banks.
For many of our members, this is also the only contact with the LGBTQ+ community they have. This is a chance for them to fully express themselves and feel less isolated and more connected to their community. One of our members said:
“I felt isolated even before lockdown, so every week when I get the calls I feel like “I am a lesbian, I am me”. Looking forward to my calls is like the feeling of getting my pocket money – I can be me again, speak my way, talk about things that interest me without being embarrassed or self-conscious.” Florence
Our Befriending/Telefriending service is completely free (as well as our membership) and anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ and is over 50 can join. With the restrictions lifted in England, we’re coming back with our face-to-face activities such as walks, film nights, art workshops, coffee and cake and specific groups for people diagnosed with dementia and their carers, BAME/Poc, Trans/Non-binary and Bi The Way (to be relaunched soon).
Our services and events give our members an opportunity to socialise, feel connected to their communities and have fun by tackling loneliness and isolation within LGBTQ+ communities in the UK.
Follow Opening Doors London on Twitter @OpeningDoorsLdn, Facebook @openingdoorslondon and Instagram on @Opening Doors London