2016 GSK IMPACT Awards: London Friend

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Part of GSK IMPACT Awards

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  • Posted:Thursday 12 May 2016

A London-based charity working to improve the health and wellbeing of adult lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

LGBT people suffer higher incidence of mental health problems and self harm, low self esteem and confidence. London Friend provides counselling, social support groups, drug and alcohol support and training for health professionals.

What the judges said:

London Friend has led the way in identifying ‘chemsex’ as a health issue and developing solutions. It is one of the oldest LGBT charities in the UK which has continued to evolve over time, responding to the changing needs of its community and services users.


We know that LGBT people experience some health inequalities, particularly around mental health, sexual health, drugs and alcohol. Common mental health issues are more prevalent within their communities – depression, anxiety, stress, for example – and that might be as a result of having to deal with prejudice or having to deal with discrimination. Sometimes it can be difficult for them to access mainstream support because they may have negatives experiences of accessing those services in the past. Some people feel it’s safer for them to come to targeted LGBT services. They feel more that their needs might be met.

I’m a trans man. I had what I would politely call a troubled childhood. So I’ve self-medicated really since I was ten years old. I was shot to bits when I came out, I was shot to bits. I got in such a mess.

London Friend is a charity that works to promote the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We’re one of the oldest organisations working with LGBT people in the UK. We started in 1972.
London Friend have been absolutely at the forefront of tackling the emerging challenges of drug and alcohol related problems in LGBT communities.

In the late 2000s, we say three different drugs starting to emerge – methadone, GBL and crystal meth amphetamine. The behaviours that were happening around the drugs were often connected to sex. This became known as Ken Sex, so we felt that we needed to start talking to sexual health clinics, to policy makers about this trend that we were seeing.

The London Friend are a small charity operating at the grassroots level, but they’re also good at making the links to larger providers and to national policy makers. That’s what’s enabled them to highlight the phenomenon of Ken Sex.

The “Out of your Mind” report came about from a grant from the Department of Health. We pulled together a sort of an assessment of how drug and alcohol treatment was working for LGBT people. Within that, we included toolkits and guidance for commissioners, for providers of services and for frontline drug and alcohol workers to improve their competence around working with LGBT people.

Anti-Dope offers informal and structured support to clients who have got drug and alcohol issues. We’re a harm reduction service as opposed to an abstinence service.

So most people’s use is on a weekend and so we were looking at a different type of intervention to put together.

So we came up with SWAT which stands for Structured Weekend Anti-Dope Programme. Through the programme, we will look at self-esteem, dealing with stress, we’ll look at drug relapse prevention, managing difficult situations, triggers, cravings.

London Friend has always been volunteer-led and we have over 100 volunteers who run the services.
So people can come with any story, any background, any problem, and we’ll listen to them and transport them.

Our volunteers are trained to a high standard. They do advanced drug and alcohol training, how to work with people, sexual health. So without the volunteers, we just would be… there would be no service.

Other LGBT organisations use our space to deliver their own services, for example, we host a group called the “Say it Loud” Club, working with LGBT asylum seekers and refugees who have fled persecution in Africa. We also host services that are supporting parents and families of LGBT people, trans people, a group writing letters to LGBT people in prisons.

Everybody’s really friendly here. I have been welcomed from day one. They’ve welcomed me, they’ve made me feel at home.

They start seeing people coming through the door when life’s falling apart really. Somehow they manage to help us put it back together, you know, they’re just genius.

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