Outline Surrey marks major milestone supporting local gay and LGBT community

Woking-based charity delivers local community support for those struggling with their sexuality and gender identity

For many people across Woking and right across Surrey, coming to terms with their sexuality and gender identity can sometimes present a challenge.

When you add in the difficulties posed by a global pandemic and the often stressful limitations caused by a national lockdown, it’s no surprise that more and more people need advice, support and someone to listen.

This year, Outline Surrey marks 20 years as a registered charity helping thousands of local people with their questions around sexuality, gender identity, health, safety and wellbeing and has ambitious plans for the future. It also reflects on the impact of the coronavirus lockdown has had on the local LGBT community and the spike in demand for its help.

Delivering a suite of innovative support services, it remains a key support service for people of all ages.

“The transformation in attitudes towards the LGBT community since we were established two decades ago has been remarkable,” said Outline Surrey chair Darren Garland-Bonner. “The movement towards equality has made great strides and there have been many milestones along the way, including the introduction of civil partnerships, and, more recently, gay marriage.

“However, for all the progress, there are still thousands of people struggling with their sexuality and are worried and confused by the questions or feelings they have. They need help, they need someone to listen to and they’re desperately seeking someone who will understand. That’s where we fit in.”

Set up in June 2000 – a year which Tony Blair’s government was still in power and the Millennium Dome and Bridge were big news at the time – Outline Surrey has been working hard and on the ground to meet local people’s individual needs.

“For two decades, and with a small dedicated team of volunteers, we’ve been delivering direct support to people across Surrey to support them with their sexuality and gender identity, including but not limited to the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans community, primarily through a dedicated helpline, website and support groups,” Darren said.

“What’s striking is that despite all the social progress, the number of people struggling and needing our support continues to grow. In many ways, little has changed. Many of their worries and fears remain the same, and they desperately need help and advice and a friendly ear that really understands their issues. Some people feel they’ve nobody to turn too and some even consider taking their own lives.”

Outline Surrey said the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown had exacerbated the problems experienced by many. “It’s one thing trying to deal with internal questions, it’s another to have to endure them with family, friends or flatmates who don’t and often won’t understand for days, weeks and months on end. In many ways, it’s exacerbated the problem and made many people feel more even lonely, isolated and misunderstood.”

Though the organisation normally runs its services with a friendly team of volunteers in a dedicated office at Export House kindly gifted by Woking Borough Council, it too had to transform its service provision to keep everyone connected.

“We’ve all been working remotely and working in shifts to ensure that people can reach us whenever they need to,” Darren said. “That said, the volume of phone calls is continuing to rise, which reflects a growing demand for people who just want to talk and put their phone and laptop aside.”

As more people were forced to self-isolate, work from home, home school and keep others safe, Outline Surrey has been busily keeping its tech up to speed to cope with demand. Aside from 24/7 online support, it has recently introduced a new SMS chat service, building on its successful WhatsApp contact provision, upgrading its profile on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, while also supporting regular email conversations.

“During lockdown, more people have been contacting us online and by text and searching the range of resources we have on our website. Ease, accessibility, privacy and confidentiality are key for everyone who wants to get in touch and we’re delighted to give every person who wants our help every option to reach us,” said Darren.

The organisation has also been forging new links with other support organisations across Surrey focusing on mental health, well-being and suicide awareness, including NHS services. It has also developed new links with the Community Foundation for Surrey, which works to provide positive solutions for local people, and has recently secured a much-needed grant to support its work.

It is always on the lookout for volunteers, and donations, to keep the vibrancy of its service alive.

“Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organisation and we’re always looking for help and I’d encourage anyone who wants to get involved to get in touch with us directly and to reach out to us at any time,” Darren said.

Officially registered as an independent charity in June 2000, its services were previously provided by NHS Surrey in the mid-1990s. The NHS also continues to support the group and its local work programme, in addition to Woking Borough Council.

There are many ways and new initiatives in which you can support and donate to Outline Surrey, all of which are available on its website www.outlinesurrey.org.uk and to access its wide range of support services. It will always welcome your help and financial support too.

If you’re worried, concerned, or just want to have a chat with someone who will understand, you can also call the dedicated helpline on 01483 727667 or text 07451 289261 to get in touch. You can also email helpline@outlinesurrey.org.uk or Charlie@outlinesurrey.org.uk.