Brighton & Hove LGBTQ+ Switchboard wins top UK health award 

Graham Robson March 14, 2023

Brighton & Hove LGBT Switchboard has won a major national award for its work to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people in the Sussex community.

Following a rigorous selection and assessment process, LGBT Switchboard was chosen from more than 400 charities across the UK as one of the 10 winners of the 2023 GSK IMPACT Awards, which are delivered in partnership with leading health and care charity The King’s Fund. Now in their 26th year, the awards are a mark of excellence in the charity sector, designed to recognise the outstanding work of small and medium-sized charities working to improve people’s health and wellbeing in the UK. This year winners will receive £40,000 in unrestricted funding as well as expert support and leadership development provided by The King’s Fund.

It is estimated there are between 27,000 and 36,000 LGBTQ+ people in Brighton & Hove and national research shows that members of the LGBTQ+ community may avoid accessing health care services for fear of discrimination from staff. They are also less likely to report domestic abuse, with victims almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide; and older LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience isolation.

Originally a volunteer-run helpline started in 1975, LGBT Switchboard has expanded to deliver a range of services to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people throughout their lives. The Award judges were impressed with the charity’s strong community focus, describing itself as being ‘by and for’ the community, and its deep understanding of the needs of LGBTQ+ people in the area.

The award win comes at a time when many local charities find themselves working in a uniquely challenging environment.  The long-term consequences of Covid and the current cost of living crisis are having a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of many local communities, public services are under additional pressure, and charity finances have been hit hard.

Despite this, LGBT Switchboard has continued to innovate and expand its core services to target the needs of the community it serves. This has included services for older LGBTQ+ people such as the Dementia Support project which helps LGBTQ+ people living with or affected by dementia who have had difficulties accessing mainstream services. Last year 300 people were supported by the project across Sussex, and it also provides training to health and social care staff on the needs of LGBTQ+ communities.

There is evidence that older LGBTQ+ people are more likely to live alone and not have traditional family ties. When they experience a bereavement they are more likely to be excluded from discussions by family and health professionals. To offer support to this community, LGBT Switchboard established Grief Encounters, a project that provides a monthly bereavement support group called Grief Meets where LGBTQ+ people can share their experiences.

As well as delivering services for people, Switchboard also seeks to give the LGBTQ+ community a voice in influencing national policy and changing how local services are delivered. They collect data on the health disparities affecting this community and advise the local council and NHS on how they could take action to address these issues. For example, the charity worked with the local authority to reduce discrimination in care homes by ensuring LGBTQ+ inclusion was embedded in new care home contracts.

Last year, Switchboard’s helpline responded to 3,000 calls. As the charity’s longest standing service, the helpline recognises and validates the sexual orientation or gender identity of the user and offers information, signposting to other services, or simply a safe space for a conversation.

LGBTQ+ Emergency Night Shelter

This year Switchboard launched a new domestic abuse service, which provides holistic support to LGBTQ+ people experiencing domestic violence from a partner or family member – support that is often harder to access when a person is LGBTQ+. Switchboard now also provide an emergency night shelter, in partnership with Stonewall Housing and the Outside Project.

Katie Pinnock, Director of UK Charitable Partnerships at GSK, said: “LGBT Switchboard is a small charity with impressive reach, excellent local reputation and a very strong community focus. The voice of the people it supports is evident in everything it does, from the development of targeted services to meet the needs of older LGBTQ+ people living with dementia or coping with a bereavement, to using its deep understanding of the needs of the community to create change and influence how health and care services are delivered.”

Jacob Bayliss

Commenting on the award, Jacob Bayliss, CEO of LGBT Switchboard, said:“We are absolutely delighted that our work has been recognised by organisations like GSK and The Kings Fund. This prestigious award means a huge amount to our staff and volunteers who make magic that cannot be counted or quantified, but is the very reason we have the impact that we do.

“The past year at Switchboard has been extraordinary, with a 170% increase in traffic to our helpline and similar increases in demand for many of our projects and services. 1,000 LGBTQ individuals made new connections through our social meet ups and group activities, 1,300 people attended our inclusion training workshops, and we’ve distributed hundreds of care packages to people in crisis.

“Despite the challenges and inequalities we face, working with and for LGBTQ people across Sussex is a privilege and a joy. Our communities are vibrant, resourceful and engaged; you make our worlds richer with your presence.”

Developing leaders in the charity sector is a key aim of the GSK IMPACT Awards programme and all winners are invited to build on their success and take part in a tailored leadership development programme run by The King’s Fund.

For more info on Brighton & Hove LGBTQ+ Switchboard, CLICK HERE