The Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, the second-longest continually-running gay switchboard in the UK, is changing its opening hours for the next few months. The switchboard has announced this temporary measure to give them enough time to train a recent influx of new volunteers.
Established in 1975, Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (BLAGS) is the second-longest continually-running gay advice line in the UK, opening just a few months after London and Birmingham, the latter of which is now closed. At its height BLAGS was receiving up to 20 calls a night from people wanting information on the local gay scene, advice on safe sex or just someone to talk to. Since the dawn of the internet the number of calls to the Switchboard has diminished as has the number of volunteers available to take calls, but those volunteers left still feel that – especially with so many other switchboards around the country closing down – it is important that this 36-year old service remains open. “If we only help one person a night, or even one person a week, that’s enough,” said a spokesperson for BLAGS. “People who are dealing with issues around their sexuality often just need someone unbiased to talk to, and we intend to be there for them.”
The Switchboard will be available from March 30, 2011 on Wednesday and Thursday evenings only, from 8pm until 10pm. Once the new batch of volunteers, a number of whom have joined the Switchboard after an appeal was made on Bristol’s gay radio show Shout Out, are fully trained and ready to take calls on their own Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard intends to re-instate their regular opening schedule. Volunteers anticipate that the Switchboard will be back to full capacity before the end of May.
“The Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is not closing down, but we still need to find more volunteers to help keep the lines open,” the spokesperson added.
“We feel that it would be a great shame to lose this vital, free and confidential service without doing our absolute best to bring in new people and to train them to make sure that they feel confident enough to handle what can often be very difficult, demanding or sensitive calls.”
If anyone is interested in volunteering for the Switchboard they can contact BLAGS at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0117 922 1328 (24 hour answerphone).