London Friend, the UK's oldest LGBTQ+ charity
50 years of community support and services
50 years of community support and services
London Friend is the UK's oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans charity, established 50 years ago in 1972. It supports the health and mental wellbeing of the LGBT community in and around London, through counselling, training and social and support groups.
To mark their 50th anniversary, the charity has published a website detailing a timeline of their five decades. In this blog, we look back to the 1970s to see how the charity developed in its first decade.
London Friend stems from a meeting held in April 1971 when the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) saw a need for an advice and counselling service which would support and befriend gay people. 120 people attended CHE's first pan-London meeting where a working party was set up. This later took the name Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress (FRIEND), the beginnings of the London Friend charity.
Not long after, it moved to its first premises at The Centre, a community counselling project in Marylebone.
By 1972, Friend was hard at work, operating a telephone line, staffed by volunteers and open for calls on evenings from Monday to Friday. Just a few months later, there were fifty volunteers nationwide, supported by twelve professional therapists. The London operation at the Centre was open seven nights a week, plus there were Friend branches in Manchester, Liverpool and Cambridge, with more in Cardiff and Leeds about to open.
In February 1975, London Friend was awarded an Urban Aid grant. This is thought to be the first government grant ever to be awarded to a gay-led organisation and was considered so controversial that the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, personally steered the grant through. The announcement was reported on the front page of Gay News.
The grant was jointly awarded by the British Home Office and Islington Council. London Friend received nearly £40,000, paid over five years.
The grant meant that London Friend were able to move to shop front premises in Islington, and enabled the charity to employ their first paid worker, Roland Jeffery, who was taken on as a full-time paid administrator.
Other smaller - but nonetheless important! - expenditures for things such as equipment, transport, and advertising were covered by the grant.
In October 1976, London Friend started making their building available as the regular meeting place for the Transvestite/Transsexual Group, (TV/TS group). London Friend's 1979 Annual Report described this development as 'part of Friend's concern for sexual minorities who are largely not understood and for whom there are few facilities available.'
The group held meetings every Saturday and Sunday (and eventually Friday) evening, which were described as 'very informal affairs: just a friendly social gathering, although there is always someone to help, counsel, or advise.'
This mixture of socialising and support characterised the Group's activities over the years, with boat trips, annual dinner and dances and a pen-pal service on offer as well as helplines, befriending and a self-published booklet for the partners and families of transvestites.
In 1979, London Friend held three fundraising ‘GOOD FRIENDS DISCOS’ at the Angel & Crown, an Islington pub on consecutive Saturday nights in September and October.
They were organised in support of a 'premises appeal' that was launched at a point when London Friend's funding from Islington Council was under threat and their lease was up for renegotiation. The events raised £70 in total, with between 45 and 80 people attending each night. The discos were also chances for London Friend members and service users to socialise and make connections, as well as increase community awareness of the organisation's work.
From these origins in the 1970s, London Friend's work has continued through several decades. It navigated the beginning of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, increasing racial equality and inclusion from the 1990s to more societal acceptance and equal marriage in the 2010s.
During these times, London Friend has adapted to meet changing needs and remain relevant for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2011, London Friend took over the management of the Antidote LGBTQ+ drug and alcohol project, a service which includes programmes to address the needs around chemsex affecting gay and bisexual men that have emerged over recent years.
In 2022 London Friend celebrated its 50th birthday with a year of heritage activities. You can explore the charity's history through timelines, people and images on their website.
For five decades, it has supported the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community mostly through the efforts of its volunteers, supported by its dedicated team of staff. London Friend is needed as much now as ever and looks forward to continuing for another 50 years.