Opening Doors London (ODL) is our UK partner for the #GiftWithLKP campaign and the biggest charity in the country to provide information and support services specifically for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people over 50. Ahead of the holiday season, we are speaking to Meghan Herring and Evelyn Pittman, a representative and member of Opening Doors London, to learn more about the brilliant work they do.
Opening Doors London (ODL) is a charity and membership organisation providing regular social opportunities across London to help develop networks and communities for LGBT+ people over 50. They also offer specialist training for statutory and voluntary organisations, such as care homes, housing associations and hospitals, to help them understand the needs of older LGBT+ people.
Meghan is the Befriending Coordinator for Opening Doors London.
How did the Opening Doors London charity start, and in what ways has it grown since then?
Opening Doors London started out as just two Age UK Camden groups for LGBT+ members 8 years ago. Four years later ODL became a charity it its own right and has grown to cover all of London and beyond. We now offer over 40 activities and events per month, a large befriending service and over 250 volunteering opportunities. We also offer training and our Pride in Care quality standard for health and social care professionals across the UK.
Tell us about Telefriending and your other befriending initiatives.
Our befriending service is possibly the most important aspect of our work towards ending social isolation among LGBT+ people over 50. In the past six months, we have supported 104 befriending relationships with vulnerable, isolated and lonely LGBT+ people over 50 in London. Our volunteers meet up with their befriendee once to every other week, with activities ranging from visiting befriendees in their home to enjoying new (and familiar) parts of London for more mobile befriendees. We find that many befriendees who had lost their confidence to explore London on their own are getting out more and accessing new services with the encouragement of their befriender.
"Our befriending service is possibly the most important aspect of our work towards ending social isolation among LGBT+ people over 50."
To respond to the growing demand for our befriending service we are now piloting a telephone befriending service (telefriending). We knew we needed to be inventive to reach as many people as we can, particularly people who might be isolated due to location or lack of service provisions in their area. Having regular contact with someone over the phone can be a good intervention to preventing crisis for older people and making someone feel part of a community.
How can members of the public support Opening Doors?
The best way to support us is through setting up regular giving or raising money for us through a challenge event or fundraiser. We are fortunate that we have lots of dedicated volunteers who give their time. However, we really need more donations to help keep our services running. We have a large reach through a small team and to be able to sustainably grow and support more people we need to increase our resources and capacity. We’re also grateful for our supporters who spread the word about our services, groups and the training we offer.
Evelyn has been part of Opening Doors London for 3 years
Hello Evelyn, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I retired from teaching 4 years ago. After a long ‘straight’ start in life I found myself falling in love with a woman in my 50’s. Here I am looking back thinking: instead of having to come out to parents I had to come out to my children! Unlike many of the coming out stories you read about in respect of people from the LGBT+ community, my children were and still are wonderful and, all in all, my falling in love and identifying as lesbian was a happy time for me. It has opened up a wonderful new chapter in my life.
Do you remember what it was like to discover the Opening Doors London community and become a member?
I discovered Opening Doors London at a time of real turmoil in my life which coincided with my retirement. I felt very lost and ODL was an absolute lifeline! Being welcomed into the lovely community of ODL was so special. Feeling and being part of the LGBT+ community here and subsequently joining the ODL Ambassador’s Team has provided me with a safe space where I feel comfortable and I don’t have to explain who I am.
How has your life changed since becoming a member?
Coming along to the groups has meant I’ve made great friends, bonded with people over mutual experiences, shared highs and lows and found new interesting directions in my educational and creative interests. I’m currently working on an oral history project I’ve developed for ODL, From a Whisper to a Roar funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. For the project, I am using the format of podcast to capture the lives and experiences of lesbian, bi and trans women over 50. This is a fascinating, revealing and at times challenging project as many of the contributor’s stories depict hostile times. This is why ODL is so important to people, and the work here is so crucial in supporting the ongoing inclusion and equality of the LGBT+ community!
"Get on our website, look at what can be achieved, realise you are NOT alone!"
What is your advice for any LGBT+ over 50s in cities that don’t have supportive communities like Opening Doors London?
Get on our website, look at what can be achieved, realise you are NOT alone! If there are no local LGBT+ services and group, start your own! Be proud and if you are finding life a bit of a challenge, know that there are lot of great services and communities out here that you can also access online or over the phone.
Opening Doors London was nominated to be an LKP Christmas partner by Greg Bailey, the author of Alright Darling? and Game of Queens.