A place to be me – how Orbit’s independent living schemes are supporting LGBTQ+ customers

This LGBTQ+ History Month, Francis Burrows Director of Support and Service Development at Orbit offers an essential reminder about the importance of making sure that older members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and supported in their later years.

“Orbit has 5,000 independent living and supported living properties across the Midlands, East London and the South East of England providing a home for more than 7,000 customers aged over 55,” says Francis.

“It’s our job to ensure that every single one of those customers feels happy and comfortable in their homes. This includes creating an inclusive environment where people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans can feel safe and accepted for who they are.

“Unfortunately for many of these customers, the reality is that they have lived through much less enlightened times and have faced a huge amount of stigma and shame, growing up when homosexuality was a criminal act and in the era of Section 28 which banned schools and Local Authorities from “promoting” homosexuality until it was finally repealed in 2003.

“A 2010 survey commissioned by the LGBTQ campaigning organisation Stonewall, compared the experiences of heterosexual and lesbian, gay and bisexual people over the age of 55 across the country and found that lesbian, gay and bi people are more likely to be single and to live alone and less likely to have children or see family members. It’s therefore incumbent on us that when they leave the safety and security of their home environments for one of our schemes, that we welcome and integrate them into our communities.

“So how do we do that? For me it’s about opening up conversations. We might assume that it’s wrong to ask about LGBTQ+ or that simply treating “everyone the same” is the answer. But how can we provide person centred, individualised and empowering services without knowing the person?

“We’ve been doing lots of work within our schemes to help employees to ask the right questions in the right way to really understand our customers and give regard to difference and personal choices in a positive way – what’s important to them, who are the important people in their lives, what are their aspirations.

“It’s important too that we open up the conversation and reach out to the rest of the residents within the scheme and the wider community. We’ve run webinars and invited in local Pride organisations to offer coffee mornings and myth busting sessions to help nurture a culture of respect and understanding.

“We’ve also signed up to the HouseProud Pledge - a scheme developed by HouseProud and the University of Surrey in association with residents, staff members and social housing sector leaders to address the issues raised by the findings of ‘No Place Like Home?’, the largest study ever undertaken to understand LGBTQ+ experiences of social housing.

“We’ve still got more work to do, but we’re absolutely committed to ensuring that our independent living schemes are truly thriving communities, where our customers feel like they can be their true selves within an environment of respect and understanding.”