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In 2018 two significant reports were published, one by the National LGBT Survey and the other by Stonewall. These demonstrate that LGBTQ+ communities experience disproportionate levels of loneliness, social isolation, mental health issues, domestic abuse, suicide, homelessness, physical health issues, poverty, food poverty, hate crime and discrimination. These problems are even more pronounced and prevalent where LGBTQ+ people are also a minority within a minority such as BAME, Queer Transgender and Intersex people of colour (QTIPOC) and/or in Trans and Non-Binary communities. By 2020 it was clear that homophobic and transphobic attacks were also increasing; in some groups fourfold. COVID has exacerbated these problems. The Albert Kennedy Trust has just reported a 190 percent increase in LGBTQ+ youth homelessness in the last 12 months where children have been rejected, subject to domestic violence or harassment due to religious or cultural issues within the family. Some of these young people are in our city.
Now more than ever
Some might argue that seeking to establish the Ledward Centre at a time when grants and charity income are facing such harsh economic headwinds is foolish. Yet the need for the Centre is so clear that it is an ambition we must achieve. The worse the overall economic situation; the greater the need. We cannot afford to do without the Centre and the support it will bring to our community.
Under one roof
There are also sound economic reasons to push ahead. Many LGBTQ+ groups in the city lease buildings or hire rooms for their activities. Rent is a significant item of expenditure for these groups. All voluntary organisations are experiencing difficulty with funding but by working together we can maximise our financial effectiveness. Choosing to use the facilities that the Ledward Centre offers will reduce outlay on rent or hire for individual groups. It will also reduce utility charges. There is another benefit. It gives these groups the ability to streamline volunteer commitments by sharing volunteer resources. Both cost base and volunteer needs are streamlined in one permanent home.
Welcoming to everyone
But the Ledward Centre is not just about saving money for LGBTQ+ groups so that they have more to spend on front-line services and activities. It is also about meeting the needs of their own service users and reaching the wider LGBTQ+ community; providing a safe, welcoming space where no one is excluded because of lack of money nor are made to feel embarrassment at having to ask for help. A community which works together and learns about each other’s different cultures and needs.
Affordable to all
Many of you will have watched news reports of families using foodbanks or will have seen Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide meals for children. One thing which consistently strikes me about these reports is the shame so many people feel at having to ask for help. At the Ledward Centre we are determined that no one will feel ashamed just because they need to enjoy that basic human right of a meal.
The Café will be the beating heart of the Ledward Centre. We envisage it being used by supper or lunch clubs, groups and by individuals who drop in. As such it is likely to be a significant income stream for the Centre. We are, however, determined that no one will feel that they are excluded because of lack of money. FareShare Sussex will provide surplus food, and we will be operating a “pay what you feel you can” system. What does that mean? There will be a suggested price on the menu but it is up to the individual to choose to pay what they can afford. Some might pay less, some more and some nothing at all. Others might include donations or pay forward or might volunteer to help out in return for their meal. But no one will need to approach a volunteer and face the embarrassment of asking for a meal. All of this will be done by the individual themselves privately on an app on an iPad we give to them when they pay their bill. No one else will know.
You might fear that this is open to abuse and that some who can pay will have a free meal. I would rather feed two people for nothing who do not need it than allow one vulnerable member of our community to go hungry. In any event, if our café volunteer hosts are effective, we will be engaging with all our guests. Past experience is that pay what you can afford models result in a better income to the café than insistence on just paying the menu price.
Fairness in everything we do
We are going to make sure that this idea is used throughout the Centre’s activities, including classes, events and room hire. You pay what you can afford. It will apply too for those who want to become members of the Centre. It is really important that all members feel equal and that our membership really is representative of our community. That cannot happen if we exclude some based upon their income. Many of our prospective members will, of course, be able to give a bit more for their annual membership. Some may not be able to afford anything. But no one will be excluded from membership. Every member will have full voting rights and the ability to stand for office regardless of how much they pay. What is more, we will make sure that everyone can aspire to be a Trustee or Director by establishing a training and mentoring scheme assisted by an existing Trustee for those wishing to stand for election.
We want to make the Ledward Centre a shining example of an inclusive community working together where no one need feel ashamed of needing help nor embarrassed about making a donation. There is nothing more natural than wanting to enjoy a meal out with friends or family. With the Ledward Centre everybody will be able to do just that.
Photos supplied by Libertipix