2023 Volunteer Awards: Highly Commended Nominations

Volunteers’ Week reminds us all to take the time to say thank you to the LGBTQIA+ volunteers who dedicate their time volunteering for the LGBTQIA+ sector. This is why we wanted to hold a LGBTQIA+ Volunteer Awards. We were overwhelmed by nominations to our Volunteer Awards and while not everyone can win a prize, these nominations come highly commended!

Celebrate Trans Joy (run by Gendered Intelligence’s GIANTS) – Community Engagement

“I would like to nominate the Celebrate Trans Joy team that I work with! (run by Gendered Intelligences’ Activist Network of Trans Spokespersons). I think the Celebrate Trans Joy team have put in so much dedication and work for a project that is so vital in the current climate at the moment. It’s no surprise to anyone that the trans and non-binary community are having a hard time right now and the folks at CTJ are doing the work to help spread some trans Joy and positivity during this extremely difficult time. They have helped to cheer the community up and just offer some light in a really dark time.”

elop – Operations and Community Engagement

“The silent champions of elop: let me tell you about our Board of Trustees. Charity success comes from a place of inside out, top to bottom and all around. elop has driven forward for 28 years, courageously led by our Chief Executive Officer (CEO), supported by our staff, backed by our volunteer teams and championed by our Board of Trustees.

It can and has been a challenge to get the right people around the table, many people wanting to support small charities come from a place of wanting to offer time and ideas, but often come from a corporate environment with big ideas for transformation that aren’t translatable in a community setting. Working in a cohesive and complementary way is something that our Board have aspired to achieve and for some time now, we have accomplished.

Steadfast at the helm is our long-standing Chair, who is also a founding member of elop and a consistent force of nature for almost 30 years. Around the table we have an amazing ‘Pride’ (elop created term for a collective group) of Trustees that hail from the corporate world, as well as the voluntary and arts sectors. They have supported elop through a range of challenges, most recently the covid pandemic and cost of living crisis. As a mental health charity, we are acutely aware of the impact of these environmental stressors on our staff as well as our wider community mental health and wellbeing, so this is a standing item at Board meetings. Consequently, the Board supported a temporary financial uplift to staff salaries to support with the rapidly changing cost of life.

Additionally, they respect the experience of our CEO and trust in her vision for elop and so have supported restructuring to best continue to meet the needs of our LGBT+ communities. Collectively they hold us accountable to the quality of services they believe our communities deserve and financially aim to ensure that we continue to be around to deliver our services long into the future.”

Community Engagement

“Let me tell you about elop’s counselling service. Since our inception 28+ years ago, elop has been providing low-cost, affordable counselling services provided for LGBT+ people, offered by LGBT+ people, delivered by a team of volunteer counsellors. This is still our core service and has grown to become the largest LGBT+ counselling service in London and beyond. At our largest a year ago, we had a team of 44 counsellors, supporting 132 people. Requests for support have continued to grow year on year and during 23-23, we supported 837 people in the counselling service alone and ended the year with 153 people on our waiting list for support.

Most people hear about our counselling service through word of mouth or previous experience, so we know we’re getting something right and in our 28 years, we have never lost a client to suicide.

As a community, we have a wide range of intersecting identities and experiences and those using our service are reflective of that. However, whilst many of our communities are happy, content, well-adjusted achievers, many of those who use our service are or have struggled with life and exemplify the experience of health inequalities demonstrated in LGBT+ research.

Our counsellors work within a safe, holding, identify affirming framework to support those using the service to better understand and process the barriers, challenges and adversities they have experienced. The counsellors and clients are supported by our service management and clinical supervisors to keep clients safe and work towards existing as their authentic selves with confidence.

Our counsellors are supported to better understand their own experiences and identity as an LGBT+ person, which allows them to be fully present with clients and offer relatedness and the golden standard in therapy, unconditional positive regard. There is no judgement on client experiences, no othering or dismissal or pathologizing of their identity and clients feel safe knowing that their counsellor is an LGBT+ community member with their own experience of marginalisation and discrimination. This supports clients to better understand any internalised LGBTphobia or shame and work at a deeper level than they would in mainstream services. elop counsellors are at the fore of this so we are eternally grateful for their time and commitment to our clients.”

Stonewall Housing – Fundraising

“Stonewall Housing is the leading national charity supporting LGBTQ+ people of all ages who live in the UK and are experiencing homelessness or living in an unsafe environment. This year we are nominating our volunteer collective; the House of Stonewall (HOS).
HOS is a collective of Ambassadors and Champions who are determined to support our work. Our ambassadors, the founding members of the House of Stonewall, are LGBTQ+ people who have experienced homelessness and previously accessed our services. Our Champions are fierce supporters who join the House of Stonewall because they truly believe in our mission. Our Champions are phenomenal individuals from across the UK who join the House of Stonewall because they truly believe in our mission.
This year we are thrilled to nominate the HOS team for their ongoing support and ambition. We would like to highlight the incredible work of three individuals who are part of HOS.  Em Hunter started up ‘The Big Queer Poetry Show’, a fundraiser which took over Peckham levels with a sold-out crowd raising funds for us. The event attracted an incredible amount of success and a total of £7,085 was raised for Stonewall Housing. Em told us; “… Having worked in the housing sector for a while, I am proud to use my platform to support a charity that addresses the intersectional needs of LGBTQ+ people facing homelessness.”

Alongside the work of Em Hunter, Alex D’Sa started a new campaign called ‘Connecting the Letters’. In honour of LGBTQ+ History month this campaign was set up with the notion of sending love letters to the LGBTQ+ community. The campaign was called #ConnectingTheLetters in order to solidify that every single letter in the LGBT+ spectrum is equally important and belongs together. A percentage of the profits made from the campaign was contributed directly to us.

Finally, Kevin Humphreys who has been a dedicated volunteer at Stonewall Housing for many years took charge of our ‘Service User Feedback’ volunteer project. Kevin reached out to his co-workers and managed to bring a larger group of volunteers together to help Stonewall Housing complete very important surveys within our client base. This was a huge help for us and alleviated our caseworkers of additional responsibilities.

These are just three examples of how dedicated and wonderful our House of Stonewall collective is. Through sheer passion and care they have forged a tight-knit community and have simultaneously raised money to combat homelessness.”

Tonic Housing – Community Engagement

Tonic Housing opened the UK’s first LGBT+ Retirement Community in London in 2021. Following a loan from the Greater London Authority we were able to purchase 19 apartments in a building in Vauxhall. Our goal is to provide an LGBT+ affirmative community where older LGBT+ people can feel safe and celebrated and where they have control over what happens. Residents work with staff in deciding what activities take place in the communal areas. One of the first suggestions was to open the bar within the building. Tonic has been able to do this thanks to a small team of four volunteers, who we call Community Hosts. Dan, Finny, Garth and Lou work with the staff, Sherine and Bob, to open the bar every Thursday. Since the weekly bar started in January 2023 Tonic residents have a safe space to socialise, talk about issues within the building, plan events and invite their friends and family.

The bar has stimulated the community spirit and given prospective residents an opportunity to get to know the other members of the community where they will be living. The small team of Community Hosts has ensured we can operate the bar safely and also deliver activities at the same time. We have been able to host quizzes and art workshops as well as a research workshop with Brunel University where everyone shared their life experiences. It also gives press and media a space to talk to residents, who are very keen to share the benefits of living in such a ground-breaking scheme. Residents have expressed their appreciation of the Community Hosts. They love having younger people to talk to and are thankful that the volunteers give up their free time so that the bar can operate every week. The impact of the Community Hosts cannot be overstated.

Their commitment means we can rely on them and their enthusiasm means the Thursday bar night is a highlight of the week, which is so important since many residents have spent years living in isolation. One resident who attended the bar for the first time after their arrival was in tears, happy tears, because they were not expecting to find such a strong sense of community. Tonic Housing has ambitions to expand the team of Community Hosts and deliver more events and activities, which will be vital as the retirement community is expected to reach full capacity in 2023.

Mermaids: Helpline Volunteer Team – Community Engagement

“This Volunteers’ Week we want to say a special thank you to our incredible Helpline and webchat volunteers. Our helpline and web chat service offers much-needed emotional support to gender-diverse young people and their families. Through our Helpline Service, volunteers provide a vital contact point for support and a listening ear for those that are in distress. This can be anything from a ten-minute call with a professional to an hour-long web chat supporting a young person struggling at that moment.

Our helpline volunteers gave an amazing 1,562 hours of their time in the last year. Their volunteering enabled Mermaids to support 10,522 individuals through our helpline services in the last year. This included 2,980 trans young people, 4,275 parents, (31 carers) and 1,245 professionals. These calls, web chats and emails provide support on a number of different topics with the most prevalent being gender dysphoria, making sense of feelings and emotions, questions about gender identity, depression, anxiety and stress.

Mermaids has experienced some difficulties in the last year due to negative media and social media cover, which led to a very high rise in negative and abusive contacts to the helpline via calls, web chat and email. This sustained negativity, along with internal challenges, impacted the emotional well-being of all staff and volunteers on the team. Despite the difficulties, our volunteers still wanted to support and give their time which shows their unwavering commitment and caring nature.

We currently have 26 Helpline volunteers who give their time year on year to make sure families receive the support they very much need. They continue to offer that time around all their other commitments, including full-time jobs outside of their volunteer roles. Our longest-standing volunteers have been with us for over 5 years! We want to say a special thank you and nominate this volunteer team for a Consortium award for their absolute resilience, passion and energy during what has been a really challenging year. The commitment these volunteers have shown is outstanding and we cannot thank them enough.

Feedback from service users to the helpline team:
“You’ve really given me some hope for the future and I’m very grateful”
“”Thank you, so much. You have helped me more than I could ever express with words.”
“Your service is life-saving, thank you.”
“Honestly Mermaids has really helped me to feel less alone with the stuff I’m going through”.

Switchboard LGBTQ+ Helpline – Operations

“We would like to nominate our Application and Training team. They have gone above and beyond during the pandemic and have kept our applications and training processes running during it all. They have quickly transferred all of our processes online, creating a brand new training course to teach new trainees.

While dealing with the impact of the pandemic in their personal and professional lives, they have still given Switchboard hundreds of hours of their time. During 2020 and 2021 they reviewed and marked over 200 applications. They held over 100 interviews across 7 different sessions across the year, where up to 70 different volunteers gave 3 hours of their time each session. In total, that means our volunteers gave around 210 hours of their collective time just to these sessions, on top of being listening volunteers on our helpline.

They also ran 6 training courses with nearly 70 people attending across them. These courses can be some of their biggest challenges, as well as achievements, as each course takes 36 hours to deliver and requires two to three volunteers to teach them. Which means 18 volunteers delivered 216 hours of training sessions.

Throughout it all they have continued to support our trainees and upskill themselves to make sure they are providing the best support possible, with many taking on the role of being personal trainers to new trainees on top of everything else.

We had over 80 trainees complete their training and become volunteers across 2020 and 2021, increasing our yearly capacity by nearly 6,000 hours across that time to listen to our service users. This meant we had the capacity to take around 8,000 more calls and chats across nearly 2,000 shifts per year. As such, the impact of the Application and Training team is absolutely undeniable, both within our organisation, as well as beyond, increasing our ability to support the community throughout the pandemic.

Since then they have only increased their work and in 2022 they have reviewed and marked nearly 400 applications, held over 150 interviews, delivered 6 training courses with over 60 attendees and had 16 trainees complete their training, and they’re showing no signs of stopping.

Their endless tenacity, incredible selflessness, strong work ethic and passion for Switchboard and the LGBTQIA+ community are why the Switchboard Applications and Training team deserve to win this honour.”

Birmingham LGBT Centre – Community Engagement

Birmingham LGBT Centre has a dedicated team of volunteers who support our sexual health services in numerous ways. They show their support and commitment by helping our front line staff and volunteer in several roles. Our Meet and Greet volunteers welcome people who attend our walk in STI testing service, our community groups and one to one services. Our Sexual Health volunteers support staff with community outreach at several venues and events across the West Midlands, by speaking with members of the public who attend events and socialise in Birmingham’s Gay Village area. This raises the profile of our sexual health service, and also proactively encourages STI testing to our diverse LGBT+ community members.

We have volunteers supporting the administration of our busy Sexual Health services too. They attend our centre on regular days of the week. Staff have received support from volunteers when delivering training and facilitating community groups/workshops. Our volunteer led peer mentoring and befriending service has been able to support people who are socially isolated or worried about coming out to parents and friends and to explore their feelings of self acceptance, when they might be hearing homophobic or transphobic comments from family and friends or having experienced a hate crime. Our mentors and befrienders can offer support our asylum seeking members of our community too, they welcome and help them adjust to a new life in the UK and can signpost to other support groups and services they may not know about and can help them expand their social networks.

All volunteers are required to submit a written application, provide references, attend our core training program and complete a DBS check before they are offered specific training for their volunteering role. Our team of volunteers have given over 1200 volunteering hours over the last 12 months and are a valued asset to our organisation. We are proud and honoured to have such a diverse, skilled and dedicated team of people who show up and bolster our services and further the reach of Birmingham LGBT across the West Midlands. We thank you for reading our nominations and hope that our superb volunteering team get recognition for their consistent commitment and hard work.

Brighton & Hove LGBT Switchboard Helpline – Community Engagement

The helpline volunteers have made a significant impact on the LGBT community in Brighton & Hove and Sussex, demonstrating an exceptional commitment to service.

The team has consistently demonstrated outstanding teamwork and collaboration, going above and beyond to ensure the success of their project. Despite an increase in call volume by 300% in the last year and an increase in shifts from 4 to 9 per week, the team has continued to perform at an exceptionally high level, demonstrating remarkable dedication and work ethic.

Moreover, this team has shown exceptional empathy and compassion. They truly care about the individuals and communities they serve and have worked tirelessly to ensure that they are making a positive difference in people’s lives. This is especially noteworthy given that service users are presenting with increasingly complex needs.

Their work has made a tangible difference in the lives of many individuals within the LGBT community, providing a sense of community, support, and advocacy. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic and the increasing complexity of service users’ needs, this volunteer team has risen to the occasion and continued to provide exceptional support and service.

But what truly sets this team apart is their support for each other. They have fostered a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration, ensuring that everyone feels valued and supported in their roles. This supportive environment has allowed the team to thrive and work together towards a common goal, making a significant impact on the LGBT community in Brighton & Hove and Sussex, and beyond.

Their hard work, creativity, and compassion are truly exceptional, and they have made a lasting impact on their community. I have no doubt that they will continue to inspire others and make a positive difference in the world.

Free2B – Community Engagement

“We have a current team of six fabulous volunteer youth workers who help us to deliver our weekly junior and senior youth clubs and our online wellbeing groups.

This bunch of wonderful volunteers give up their Friday evenings to support the delivery of our youth clubs, including designing and leading activities to engage our members. To support the youth curriculum, they lead activities covering complex topics such as consent, drugs and alcohol, healthy eating, personal safety and relationships, as well as a range of mindfulness activities to support wellbeing including arts and crafts, alongside fun team building sessions such as the classic spaghetti tower, newspaper bridges and Taskmaster challenges!

Each volunteer brings their own set of skills and experiences enriching the youth club sessions and they are true role models for our youth members.”

London Friend – Community Engagement

The London Friend Counselling Service is managed by 28 Volunteer Trainee counsellors. The Service provides one to one counselling to the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer + Community in London and the surrounding areas. Mental health problems such as depression, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal thoughts are more common among people who are LGBTIQ+. Half of LGBT people (52 per cent) experienced depression in the last year. Research shows LGBT people face widespread discrimination in healthcare settings. One in seven LGBT people (14 per cent) avoid seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination from staff.

Our volunteer Counsellors work with members of our community to address these issues. Our Volunteers give their time free of charge and are supported by Supervisors, who oversee their work. The London Friend Counselling Service offers 12 week contracts and explores issues such as Suicidal ideation, Depression, Anxiety and clients with complex needs, such as Mental Health diagnoses and those with Drug and Alcohol issues. We have seen an increase in Asylum seekers and Trans clients, at least in part due to negative attitudes in society. Our Counselling Service offers referral to other parts of the organisation and to other organisations, in order to support our clients. We feel our Counsellors are doing an amazing job in supporting our clients.

TransActual UK – Community Engagement

With only one part-time member of staff, TransActual’s volunteers are crucial to the success of the organisation. The social media team and our feature articles commissioning editor ensure that we’re able to raise the voices of trans people, share information about trans people’s lived realities, and empower trans people and our allies to step up and make a change. TransActual’s social media and e-mail volunteers respond to queries and signpost people to the information that they need – making sure trans people and our allies are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to help them navigate some tricky situations. TransActual now have a social media presence across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Mastodon, enabling us to reach more people than ever before. Without our volunteers, this simply would not be possible.

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