By Siȃn Finn, our Volunteer & Peer Mentor Coordinator
Since lockdown, most people have been having to socially isolate and distance themselves because of Covid-19. We are all now in the position of knowing first-hand what it is like not to have physical access to our support networks. What about those that were already socially isolated and were distant from other, because of age, ill health, disabilities, domestic violence, the economically disadvantaged, refugees and asylum seekers, some members of our LGBT community and non-paid carers? Many of our minority groups are socially isolated all the time, and will be once lockdown is over. My work in the charity sector as a volunteer and employee has been around empowering minority groups to socially engage and feel included in society, for them to feel valued and know their rights.
My role as the Volunteer and Peer Mentor Coordinator at Birmingham LGBT Centre is a dream come true. This is an opportunity for me to consolidate all my experience and skills to recruit and train volunteers from the LGBT community as well as allies, to bolster and enhance our services, widening our reach in the community and beyond. Having been in post for five months, I have been very privileged to have met incredibly passionate people who are very motivated and committed to making a positive difference to the lives of others.
Just before lockdown, we delivered our first peer mentor training of the year. It was very frustrating to think that we were just at the stage of matching volunteers to our participating mentees when this happened. Getting people inspired and empowered to make positive life choices is massively rewarding. Birmingham LGBT Centre is still running support services, and we are still open and here for the community, albeit from a social distance. Whilst we are all revaluating how we run services online, we are aware that more people may be feeling further isolated if living with others who are not aware of their true gender identity or sexuality. Living with abusive partners or family members could be potentially life threatening.
It is important our LGBT community members don’t feel alone and we would like to offer a volunteer-led befriending phone service for those of you that do. This is not a support service or chat line, but the opportunity to talk to a friendly LGBT person or ally in an informal and safe environment, at a time when online video calls may be norm for current times, but not be right for everyone. That human contact over the phone could just be the thing that puts a smile on the face of another, helping them get through these unforgettable socially distancing times that we currently find ourselves in. Leeds Beckett University found that older people who engaged in telephone befriending services reported feeling more confident, and an increased sense of self respect that led to participation in meaningful relationships: http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/314/1/Final%20article_Telephone%20support%20for%20older%20people_HSCC_2010.pdf