In the run-up to Waltham Forest Pride celebrations, this is the perfect time to bring the incredible East London-based ELOP into focus. ELOP provides invaluable social, emotional and support services to LGBT communities in London. In fact, they run the largest LGBT community-based counselling service in the city. We were thrilled to talk to Sarah, chair and founding member, about the vital work undertaken by her team.

ELOP is a holistic gay and lesbian centre which offers information, advice, advocacy, counselling and support services, along with other social activities and events to North and East London’s LGBT communities. They also offer training and consultancy for fellow professionals and those seeking to enhance their understanding of issues facing LGBT communities. The team deliver a counselling service to over 120 per week. Although they provide a Pan London service, the organisation is firmly rooted in East London, and strive to ensure ELOP’s services are relevant to the diversity of people in East London. This means developing targeted support groups and wellbeing services for LGBT people of all age ranges, domestic or sexual violence survivors, those with disabilities and health needs, mental health problems, and asylum seekers.

Upon our request, Sarah told us the story of how ELOP came to being. Established in 1995, the organisation first took shape as a grassroots community-led counselling service. At the time, there was a community counselling service in existence but it was mainly focused around gay men and wasn’t meeting the needs of the whole LGBT community. A group of local people came together to find a solution, and here we are 26 years later! All of the services grew from people asking for additional support. The counselling service has been the core of the organisation, and everything else has been built on top of the therapeutic foundation.

ELOP is currently comprised of a staff team of nine and a volunteer team of about 75. A big chunk of the volunteer team, around 44, are counsellors. There are also a small group of trustees and then the volunteers who are involved in the wellbeing service. ELOP run a range of social support groups and a befriending service, with a lot of volunteers involved in delivering those different groups. Alongside the team there are often social work students or psychology students based within the team for a period of time.

Changes within East London have directly shaped the services provided by ELOP. As the needs of the community have changed, ELOP has evolved to meet those needs. In the last 15 years, there has been an increasing need for support for LGBT asylum seekers. The East End has always been a place of migration and in that way, the service users are representative of the local community. Alongside services for asylum seekers, a need for relationship counselling has also developed. Changes in legislation have changed the way LGBT people make their families. There are legal implications that come alongside marriage and civil partnerships, and until recently there have been limited LGBT relationship role models.

Sarah emphasised to us that as an organisation, ELOP believes that community is really important: ‘It gives people a sense of belonging and quite often people feel outside in mainstream society, maybe because they're living in families or within communities that aren't accepting who they are.’ There is often a real need and sense of longing for inclusion with a community, which is why ELOP also run events to celebrate and increase the visibility of East London LGBT residents. The organisation is partly about providing services and partly about eradicating discrimination, through events and training. The mental health of the LGBT community is poorer than their heterosexual counterparts because of a lack of acceptance in society. Without homophobia and transphobia then the community could achieve better mental health, and ELOP wouldn’t need to exist.

The organisation work very closely with other LGBT charities. There isn't another comparable LGBT charity in East London, although similar service providers exist in other parts of London. There are also London based LGBT services that focus on specific issues such as housing, hate crime or working with transgender people. The LGBT charities all work quite closely together, in network of sorts, together because, in Sarah’s words: ‘none of us can do this on our own’. 

ELOP also collaborate with different kinds of organisations that require LGBT input, in both East London and London as a whole. The ELOP team often embed themselves within other organisations to advocate and take the voice of LGBT community into other spaces. The team feel that it is important to recognise that people aren’t just LGBT, they have intersectionality. Being LGBT is just part of a persons identity. ELOP operates a holistic approach and believes that one area of health and well-being, whether this be mental, psychological, emotional, physical, social or even community, can not really be fully achieved or maintained without the opportunity for all the concerns of our ‘whole self’ to be addressed.  By having a range of services ELOP is able to refer those using one service onto another service for additional support, information or advice as appropriate.

If you, or someone you know, would like to access the services offered by ELOP then email or call 0208 509 3898. One of the team will be able you explore which service is the best fit for you.  There are also many ways that you can support ELOP, from fundraising, donating and volunteering. There are a range of volunteer opportunities available for those with  lived experience being members of the LGBT community. Fundraising, either as an individual or as part of a business, is always greatly appreciated, as are direct donations. One of the most effective ways to spread the word about the magic of ELOP is to follow and engage on social media. You can find ELOP on the following platforms:

Instagram @elop_lgbt

Twitter @ELOP_LGBT

Facebook @elop.LGBT