Jenny Fallover from GWN met with Annie Southerst, trustee at Opening Doors London, to understand what Opening Doors London does and how members can help.

Annie originally trained as a physiotherapist in the late 1960s before moving into mental health. She left the NHS in her early fifties to become a full time foster carer for children and young people that had very difficult beginnings. She then worked for the Albert Kennedy Trust for two years  as their operations manager and left to provide a home for a series of LGBT young people. Annie is now retired but volunteers for Opening Doors London and the LGBT Switchboard. She is civilly partnered to Belinda – her partner of 21 years and lives in Stoke Newington with their two miniature dachshunds. She has a daughter who is based in London who is in a same sex relationship and is a grandmother to a boy and a girl.

When was Opening Doors London founded and why?

Opening doors was set up twelve years ago as a group for gay men in Camden. It was primarily a social group for isolated and lonely senior gay men as part of Age UK Camden. Now there are over forty five social groups a month, running on a regular basis in most of the London boroughs.

Last year ODL became a charity in their own right. This has enabled ODL to leverage better funding opportunities and also the opportunity to work within other London boroughs.

Initiatives that are currently running are a befriending service and social activities such as monthly get togethers for lunches, walking, gaming or dancing. The groups are set up by ODL but run by volunteers.

Another key initiative is training and advocacy. ODL offers a training package targeted at social and health care agencies to help them understand the needs of older LGBT people.

What role do you play within Opening Doors London?

I have been a trustee and ambassador for four years,and part of a small team that is building relationships with the private sector. One of the challenges we face is to diversify our funding streams and increase our list of regular donors that will help on a month to month basis.

How can GWN members Help Opening Doors?

Members and supporters can volunteer in many roles, including help with the many social opportunities, the befriending service and admin roles. They can be ambassadors of the charity to help raise awareness of the great work the charity does for older LGBT people in London. Offers to host events and support fundraising activities are very welcome.

Annie Southerst

Trustee, Opening Doors London