Opening Doors London

This week we sat down and had a chat with some of the lovely volunteers at Opening Doors London, a huge project in the UK that provides information and support services for and with LGBT people aged 50 and above across London. We posed a few questions to those at the frontlines of the different services to find out what they do and why they do it…

Annie Southerst

Annie from Opening Doors

How did you become involved with Opening Doors London?

Well I retired three years ago and looked for projects to volunteer for. I came across such passion and commitment at ODL, from both staff and volunteers and a real sense of involving members in what and how services are provided.

What are the most important services that ODL provide in your opinion?

Either the befriending which tackles isolation at its roots, or the array of social activities that keep us connected.

And what services orprograms are you actively part of and what do they do?

I am an Ambassador with two roles. I am ODL’s representative on SCIE (The Social Care Institute for Excellence) which is a national body leading the way in best practice in Social Care. I am part of their equalities group ensuring that the voice of the older LGBT person is heard.

My second role is as a fundraiser and part of a small team of volunteers spreading the word, and engaging LGBT employee groups in industry.

Is there anything you wish that Opening Doors did provide (in a world of unlimited budget of course!)

Oh yes! A housing project that will ensure that we have a place to go when we need care that will understand the issues facing Older LGBT people.

What does Opening Doors mean to you?

It gives me the opportunity to use the skills I have honed during a life time of paid work, the company of inspiring people and the knowledge that when I start needing some support it will be there for me.

Brian Baylis

Brian at Opening Doors

How did you become involved with Opening Doors London?

I became involved with ODL after finding the local council’s treatment of a close friend suffering from dementia and in a local care home – and myself as his advocate – so objectionable that I took the matter to the ombudsman who fined the council and caused them to rewrite some of their policies.

And what services or programs are you actively part of and what do they do?

I participate in both the social and campaigning aspects of ODL’s work and find that many of the members are impressive in so many ways, like the ways in which some people are rebuilding their lives after a long-term partner has died, and those who cope with loneliness and disability and others who live bravely and creatively with daunting news about their own health. Opening Doors offers fellowship, support and ways of coming together for many who have had very mixed fortunes in their lives.

Nickie Roome

Nickie at Opening Doors

How did you become involved with Opening Doors London?

I first heard about Opening Doors London when I attended a research seminar in Nottingham on bisexual ageing in summer 2013. I looked for bi groups/activities, and finding none badged as such, asked for inclusion. As a result I helped organise an event for Bi Visibility Day and the Bi Visibility Group was a direct result.

What are the most important services that ODL provide in your opinion?

I value all the work done by ODL. The most important thing is that they exist as a focus for LGBT people as they age. Different people have different needs. Breaking isolation and providing advice and information to people in need as well as social contact all helps to ensure happy and active involvement in community as we age. I also value the policy work being undertaken by Ambassadors who are often working at high levels with government and health and social care providers.

And what services or programs are you actively part of and what do they do?

I volunteer as organiser of the Bi Visibility Group. We hold monthly social group meetings. Many who come along have never before experienced safe space where they can discuss bisexuality and not be afraid of being out as bi. I provide information and support about bi community events outside ODL as well.

I attend Ambassadors’ meetings and get support for bi activism in the wider world, as well as providing bi input at conferences etc. 

I also regularly attend the mixed weekly coffee and cake mornings at Tavis House – I’m usually up at crack of dawn baking, but the appreciation makes it worthwhile, not to mention that if I don’t bring suitable food I won’t get anything because of my allergy to cows’ milk!  

I’ve occasionally attended the mixed socials at London a Friend which are jointly organised with ODL.

Is there anything you wish that Opening Doors did provide (in a world of unlimited budget of course!)

More mixed groups would be great as I hate spaces divided by gender – I’m happy to be in groups where men predominate as long as I am also welcome, but I won’t attend women-only groups. I’d enjoy a mixed crafting space where we could share resources and skills.  More dancing lessons would also be very welcome.

What does Opening Doors mean to you?

It means recognition that the LGBT community still surrounds me as I grow older and reassures me that there is somewhere where I will meet with understanding and be welcomed as myself. It’s also a great opportunity for me to help with work on bi inclusion and get support for doing so. I’m really happy to have found ODL and will do my best to contribute where I can, ahead of needing more support personally. We never know what’s round that next corner.

Ola Satchell

Ola at Opening Doors

How did you become involved with Opening Doors London?

I became involved with ODL via Outwest a LGBT charity that I work for. One of my remits is to work with the older LGBT population so ODL was an obvious way to help fulfil this.

What are the most important services that ODL provide in your opinion?

I think the most important services are the social ones, as loneliness and isolation are such potentially big problems in the older LGBT community, and that many other issues they face are symptoms of these and result from them.

And what services or programs are you actively part of and what do they do?

I am involved in the Ealing older LGBT group and do occasional publicity and promotion work for ODL, like speaking at conferences which also is part of my role with Outwest, so both organisations gain something. 

Is there anything you wish that Opening Doors did provide (in a world of unlimited budget of course!)

It would be great if there were easily accessible day services run across London, extensive outreach and befriending services and large numbers of staff to run them with the resources to run what the older LGBT community found the most rewarding to them.

What does Opening Doors mean to you?

To me ODL is a group of people who accept me on my terms. The ordinary world often will only take me and other trans*  people on its terms, which occasionally leaves one at best feeling peripheral at worst ostracised – ODL is as much a social support for me as it is work; a time when I can always feel positive about myself and accepted.

Visit the Opening Doors London website: openingdoorslondon.org.uk

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