Islington LGBT charity London Friend wins Queen’s Award

The London Friend group at Pride 2015 (Picture: London Friend)

The London Friend group at Pride 2015 (Picture: London Friend) - Credit: Archant

It has provided emotional support for thousands of people when they had nowhere else to turn, now the UK’s first LGBT charity has been recognised for its vital work by the Queen.

Nabirye Aminah, Immaculate Nalinnya, Rashid Sekandi. Picture: Lisa Bretherick

Nabirye Aminah, Immaculate Nalinnya, Rashid Sekandi. Picture: Lisa Bretherick - Credit: Archant

London Friend was established on the back of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1972 – five years after the decriminilisation of male homosexuality.

Its emergence stemmed from a realisation that work needed to be done away from the political campaigning, to provide a place where people coming out could go for help and to socialise.

For more than 40 years London Friend has continued to grow and it now offers numerous services. It has also spawned the only UK LGBT drug and alcohol charity, Antidote.

“When it launched, people had started to publically identify as LGBT,” said Monty Moncrieff, CEO since 2012. “It offered a place for people to socialise and meet one another.

Dugan Cummings (longest-serving volunteer) and Monty Moncrieff (CEO) at the Buckingham Palace Garden

Dugan Cummings (longest-serving volunteer) and Monty Moncrieff (CEO) at the Buckingham Palace Garden Party - Credit: Archant


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“We’ve always tried to reflect the issues [within the community]. In the ‘80s we did a lot of work in response to HIV, then it moved onto drug and alcohol problems and now we do a lot with mental health.”

After starting in a flat in Earls Court, the charity soon moved to Caledonian Road, where it now supports more than 2,000 people a year and trains 800 professionals.

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In April the charity won the GSK Impact Award for its excellent work in improving health and wellbeing within the community, and now it has scooped another.

Monty was joined by the charity’s longest-serving volunteer Dugan Cummings at Buckingham Palace last month to pick up the Queen’s Award – the highest honour given to charities.

Volunteers Edward Harris, Stephen Murray. Picture: Lisa Bretherick

Volunteers Edward Harris, Stephen Murray. Picture: Lisa Bretherick - Credit: Archant

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Monty. “It recognises the incredible dedication of our volunteer team. The LGBT sector simply wouldn’t exist without the thousands of volunteers who give their time.”

The praise for the volunteers was echoed by their coordinator Rita McLoughlin, who praised their work across the range of services.

She said: “Last year our volunteers did just under 16,000 hours collectively, so we’re very proud.

“There’s quite a few different issues now. We have a lot of asylum seekers coming through and we have 21 volunteer counsellors who each have up to 3 clients in a week.

“Forty years ago the counselling used to be about sexuality and coming out but today it’s about everything.

“We deal with a lot of older men and women with families coming out, which is really hard and confusing for them.

“We have people from overseas who may have come from somewhere where it not acceptable to be gay. It might not be illegal, but it’s not acceptable, and they come to us to find their feet in a safe space when they can build their confidence.”

Among the services provided now are creative writing sessions, a group for members of the community with disabilities and Say it Loud, for asylum seekers seeking help with their sexuality.

Volunteer Liam Boardman, 33, said: “It’s great to hear the work is being appreciated not just by London Friend and its users but also by the wider society. I think a lot of people can get isolated and it’s good they can come here and get support.

“People come into the café sometimes just for a chat. If someone’s looking a bit lonely I’ll go and talk to them, whether they want to come for two hours or ten minutes that’s fine.”

Awards from the Queen are great, but the real satisfaction comes from improving and in some cases saving the lives of the people London Friend serves.

An example of one email from a user said: “I’ve woken up today with a huge amount of joy after attending yesterday’s Antidote, and over the past few months I feel much stronger than I have ever done.

“I owe so much to everyone, without your service, which feels unique and special for me, I couldn’t break the cycle.”

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