We are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful cohort of volunteers who bring their unique perspectives and experiences to our organisation. For Volunteer Week 2020, we thought we'd introduce you to a few of them: 

Catriona, 36

Tell us about yourself:

My little yorkshire terrier, Tinkerbell (pictured here after a severe, pre-lockdown haircut) loves coming with me to visit my befriendee because she gets a lot of attention and Ritz biscuits. Sometimes I cycle her over in the basket of my bike and sometimes we go on the tube but, either way, she's a bit of a scene stealer, even at the ripe old age of 14. It makes me so happy to see the joy she brings to my befriendee.

What made you want to become an ODL volunteer?

I signed up to volunteer with ODL when my Uncle-Frank died at the age of 94. We were close and I missed having a much older person with a completely different outlook and experience of life to talk to and bounce off. I'm an actor and a writer so I love stories and enjoy listening to the tales of other people's lives, finding out what makes them tick.
What is one thing you have learnt volunteering with ODL that you didn’t anticipate?

I never thought it would be possible to meet someone who liked musicals (and singing the songs from musicals out-loud) as much as I do, but ODL has facilitated a match made in musical-heaven.

Christian, 30

Tell us about yourself:

My name's Christian, I'm a filmmaker and Creative Researcher based in London. I like to explore LGBTQ+ topics in my films and I'm particularly interested in the representation of older LGBTQ+ people. For the last two years I have been working on a series of films exploring older LGBTQ+ domestic abuse for the Dewis Choice Project. They are an organisation based in Aberystwyth University and their area of research, support and advocacy is older domestic abuse.An interesting fact about me is that I once accidentally delivered baby.

What made you want to become an ODL volunteer?

After my Nan passed away in 2016, I felt that I had a real loss of an older person in my life. I was told by a friend about Opening Doors London's befriending scheme and felt that it was a perfect service not only for me who wanted to connect with someone who was older, but to connect with an older LGBTQ+ person who may be dealing with issues around isolation.

What is one thing you have learnt volunteering with ODL that you didn’t anticipate?

I have gained such invaluable insight into what life is like as an older LGBTQ+ person through my befriendee, but I think the main thing I have learnt is how often older people are ignored or made to feel invisible, especially when they identify as LGBTQ+. Older people are often desexualised which in turn means their sexual identities aren't acknowledged. More often than not their sexual identities are very important facets that build up their personalities and interests.

Phillipa, 71

Tell us about yourself:

My name’s Phillipa and I’ve been volunteering with ODL for a while now. I run the Homerton Art group and helped out with the Southwark meet up group amongst other things. I also put on two consecutive LGBT History Month art shows and cabarets which raised money for ODL as well. For the 2019 show I did portraits of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera amongst others to mark the Stonewall Riots anniversary that year. It has now been developed into an ongoing project that’s going to be published by JKP ‘Gender Pioneers’ in 2021.

What made you want to become an ODL volunteer?

I think I volunteered with ODL to try to give back to our LGBTQ+ community and also because it is a good charity. I wanted to keep busy and meet up with other like-minded new friends.

What is one thing you have learnt volunteering with ODL that you didn’t anticipate?

Everybody I’ve met at ODL has been so nice. It’s an invaluable service to our community, and I hope it can continue after the pandemic in one form or another.

Simone, 34

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Simone. I have been a befriender with ODL since 2016.

I am originally from Italy and I moved to London ten years ago to pursue a career in film and TV. I have worked in the editing department of several TV series for the last few years and I’ve recently moved up to editing a couple of episodes of a TV drama. One step closer to the fully fledged full-time editor role I’d like to picture myself into.

What made you want to become an ODL volunteer?

A few years ago I started considering volunteering as a way to meet new people and make new experiences. I was at London Pride, spotted the ODL bus and immediately started to entertain the idea that that would have been the right organisation to approach. I was lucky to have a friend who worked for Age UK at the time and who was able to point me in the right direction. A couple of emails, a friendly interview… cut to a few years later… and here I am, an ODL volunteer with a long-running super-rewarding befriending match.

I feel like today we are living in a privileged position compared to the past (while being fully aware that there is still so much more to do) and giving back a bit of my time to the community and to the people that paved our way through years of difficulties and fights seems like a natural thing to do.

What is one thing you have learnt volunteering with ODL that you didn’t anticipate?

I have enjoyed immensely all the hours spent chatting with my befriendee, I have learned a lot about the LGBTQ history of this country and, being Italian, a huge deal about the UK in general (which probably made my naturalisation process and my citizenship exam way easier!). I am sure my visits produce a positive effect on my befriendee’s life, decreasing the sense of isolation, reducing his loneliness, but I cannot stress enough how much I gain simultaneously from this experience.

John, 82

Tell us about yourself:

I am a 82 year old male and have known that I was Gay from the age of 13 years.

I was born in London and upset plans by arriving 6 weeks early. (My friends say they I started as I intended to go on in live. Upsetting people not playing the game)

In the war years, we collected any scrap metal to sell for pocket money, I stayed in London for the war years in a foster home.

In 1945 I went home to my mother and Grandfather.

I was an engineer apprentice and hold a full City and Guilds in Machine Shop Engineering.

Joined Scouting as an Adult of 20 and was a trouble shooter for the local District, and a trainer. I was just to become an A.D.C. for Rovering when scouting changed and stopped Rovers and started Venture Scouting. Started the first Venture Scout unit in the District.

At 21 joined EMI in the Antenor Division and worked on T. V. Mast so that T.V. would cover the country. (Some of the mast were 1000 feet high and spent a lot of time in Scotland. It took about 45 min. to get to the top of the mast by walking up)

In 1980 EMI sold the division off and so unemployed for 3 years and worked at Charing Cross Hospital as a volunteer. Visiting home for the hospital where they had patents, working in the gift shop and driving patents to and from hospital and home.

During my early adult years and scouting I have always been interested in training others.

In 1986 the Employment Services put me on a course with a training company and I did join that company.

From then on I ran training courses for the unemployed, again as with EMI I put together quotations for new contracts and put together new Training Programmes

I was a fellow of the training institute and also a member of the Pacific institute of Seattle USA and delivered their training programmes in London.

During my time as being Gay I have been beaten up twice and arrested once.

I looked after my family with my mother passing away in 2009.

Since then I have been a member of Ealing University of the third age, being vice chair and chair for 5 years.

I do have problems with my health, mainly being born with only one kidney and it not working very well now.