Opening Doors London – supported by the Masonic Charitable Foundation
W Bro Richard Cavanagh reports
Almost one year ago, London Freemasons, through the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), gave £15,000 to Opening Doors London (ODL) – a membership charity dedicated to supporting isolated LGBTQ+ people over 50.
ODL provides activities, events, information and support services to anyone over 50 who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, non-binary or gender fluid (LGBTQ+). Its aim is to support its members to live full, vibrant and respected lives free from isolation, loneliness, discrimination and prejudice.
It achieves this by providing regular social opportunities and events to help develop networks, communities and create friendships for its members, as well as offering a range of specialist groups or services for members. Over 2,000 beneficiaries are supported each year with services such as befriending, specialist support groups and information events.
However, during the lockdowns, feelings of isolation and loneliness became greater as the opportunity to socialise became ever more restricted. Enquiries for support increased by 270 per cent from members who felt more lonely or socially isolated. During this difficult time, the MCF donated £15,000 so that ODL could increase its capacity to meet this rise in demand.
To negate the increased feeling of isolation during the lockdowns, ODL sought to adapt one of its most valuable services, that of Befriending. This is where volunteer Befrienders are matched with members to provide social contact and friendship. Befriending reduces the stress of loneliness and isolation, increases peoples' confidence and enables members to maintain their independence. It's also a great way for members to spend time with someone else who identifies as LGBTQ+, and feel a part of their community. With personal visits restricted during the lockdown, the charity had to adapt the service to focus on telephone and video calls for Telefriending, as well as virtual groups on Zoom. Fortunately, Befrienders are once again able to meet up with members to attend events, social groups, and community activities or visit a member's home for a chat and a cup of tea.
Whether through Befriending or Telefriending, the support provided by ODL remains invaluable. As the charity explained: ‘One of our members and user of our Befriending Service lives with her partner in social housing and is not out to anyone at all. Neighbours think they are cousins. She has never knowingly spoken to anyone gay and was excited to chat with a volunteer, an out gay man. She asked him, "You mean to say you are gay and people know about that?" She is very isolated and would love to get to know other lesbians but has no option as to how to make this happen. Befriending helps isolated LGBQ+ people over 50 to connect with people from the LGBQ+ community, tackling loneliness and making them feel more comfortable being fully who they are.’
For some members, participating in the activities and receiving weekly befriending calls is the only social contact they have, and the services are crucial to keep them out of complete isolation. As one member said, ‘Rest of the week, there is nothing going on, so it is the only day I have a laugh, and I look forward to it every week.’
Another member, David, who is 86, said: ‘I've been housebound for three years. I've not had any companionship at all. Max, my befriender, came into my life and changed my life for the better… very much for the better.’
ODL's support has been invaluable: 65 per cent of members reported feeling less isolated and with improved health and wellbeing, thanks to the support received from Opening Doors London. If you would like to know more, please visit www.openingdoorslondon.org.uk
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 47 January 2022 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 47 here.