1st – 7th June marks Volunteers Week, celebrating the actions of millions of volunteers in the UK. The week is now in its 30th year, promoting the value of volunteering.
At London Friend our work is supported by over 100 volunteers each month, and it’s not overstating it to say we literally couldn’t provide the services we do without the valuable time people donate. Last year our volunteers ran 16 support groups each month to over 1300 LGBT service users. They staffed our telephone helpline supporting almost 450 LGBT people. They supported 124 LGBT people through counselling. They also provided drug and alcohol information and support to over 2000 LGBT people in our Antidote clinics and outreach services. On top of all that volunteers supported vital back-office functions to ensure the organisation keeps running from week to week.
Those figures are hugely impressive and the support has enabled LGBT people to take more control of their health and well-being. I’d like to extend my personal thanks on behalf of the London Friend staff team to everyone who has volunteered their time to support their fellow LGBT people over the past year, and throughout our 40+ year history. What an amazing achievement!
A new report this week from the Citizens Advice Bureau indicates that 4 out of 5 people think volunteering improves their health. I’m not at all surprised to read this. Volunteering is something I am passionate about. Back in the 1990s volunteering was my route into working in the LGBT sector, and I spent almost 10 years as a volunteer with the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard, an organisation I’m proud London Friend still partners with today.
I had rang Switchboard on a couple of occasions; once for some simple information, but another time in the middle of the night at a point when I was so floored by something that had happened to me I just needed to speak to someone who would listen. I received incredible support during that phone call and afterwards vowed to become involved myself, as a thank you for having been there when I needed the service.
Volunteering gave me the opportunity not only to feel I was supporting my community but also to develop skills that I find useful now in my role as Chief Executive. It also helped me forge lasting friendships, and meet a range of people I’d never have met by just going to the same bars and clubs on the scene.
Being the person that people spoke to about their lives, their identities and their challenges was a privilege. It helped me to remember what it was like to come out, to explore my own identity and work out who I was. It was also a reminder of the difficult situations life can throw our way, and that we all need support from time to time, support that over 100 volunteers now provide to our service users each month.
The value of volunteering is very clear to me; giving my time had a hugely beneficial impact on my own life, and I hope that I was able to have some impact on the wellbeing of the people I spoke to. Like many of our LGBT partner organisations London Friend – and our sector – would not survive without the impact of LGBT volunteers who over the years have organised themselves to meet the changing needs of our communities. We, like many other LGBT charities, exist as a legacy of this work, advancing LGBT equality, tacking HIV, and working collectively to improve the health and wellbeing of our fellow LGBT people. What a difference we have made together.
For more information about volunteering with London Friend see here. For volunteering opportunities with other LGBT organisations check out our friends at the LGBT Consortium who support hundreds of LGBT organisations and groups across the country. If you are unable to donate your time, you can support London Friend by making a one-off or regular financial donation here.