On this Mental Awareness Week we celebrate our new Telefriending Service in West Yorkshire Here Mike Goldberg, Befriending Support Officer, talks about importance of our Befriending Service that has just expanded to West Yorkshire this Mental Health Awareness Week, which is focusing on loneliness. Loneliness plaques our community at the best of times, but with the onset of Covid in 2020 many of our members experienced this for the first time. In the London area where Opening Doors was actively running social groups ranging from coffee mornings to lunches and gathering of all kinds, we had no choice but to close these events and move some of them online. In the LGBTQ+ community where its common place for people to have little or no connection to family and few have a good community of friends, these meet up events were vital. And so, the experience of loneliness required us at Opening Doors to ramp up the work we had started in creating a Telefriending service to enable volunteers to talk to our members on the phone and try to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s a shared experience amongst the older members of the LGBTQ+ community to have feelings of isolation and loneliness throughout their lives. The lack of acceptance in the wider community partly from Governmental homophobia in the form of Clause 28 together with the effects of HIV in the 80’ and 90’, whereby friendship groups were ravaged by the disease, and many found themselves with no one to socialise with. Families who made their relations outcasts, members who did not have children or partners, in the end became isolated from all forms of social contact as they grew older. This is not just the experience of people in smaller conurbations but common to all, living in a large city or an isolated village. In the recent partnership between Opening Doors and Out Together, who are based in West Yorkshire, the above is also true. West Yorkshire is a large area but with little access to social settings for many people who do not live in a city or town, therefore access to a Telefriending service is vital. To be able to speak to a volunteer from the LGBTQ+ community who understands what it is be from a minority and not be accepted for who you are but to be shunned, isolated, and not understood because of your sexuality. Members can speak to a volunteer about any subject at all and can feel free to discuss and verbalise topics that they may not have been able to express at any point in their lives. As we all know you can feel lonely in a large gathering or sitting with friends and family. Being Isolated comes from many factors, social, economic and or health. Not being physically able to leave your home encages you in isolation. Social services, such as they are, are inadequate to provide any human contact. With most professionals who make home visits very limited in the time they can offer the client. This is why Telefriending works. A meaningful relationship with a like-minded volunteer. Someone to confide in, to laugh with, to chat about one’s life and loves with. To be honest with, and most importantly, someone who will not judge you, but will listen and be there for you every week at the end of the phone. If you know someone who would benefit from a weekly chat with a volunteer befriender, please refer them here. If you yourself would like to refer yourself you can here. Alternatively if you’d like more information first and to have a chat with the Befriending Team please call: 020 7183 6260.