Hi, I’m Stephanie, the Chief Executive Officer of national LGBTQIA+ helpline, Switchboard.
Switchboard is one of the UK’s longest-running charities serving the LGBTQIA+ community. As a national helpline, we serve an average of 17,000 callers a year across phone, instant messaging and email.
Switchboard was established in 1974 to provide vital signposting and information to LGBTQIA+ communities, we are a service open to all. Switchboard volunteers talk to people who wish to discuss issues ranging from sexuality, gender identity, mental and sexual health, isolation and more. Whether this is a personal challenge or one facing a friend or family member, we provide a confidential, non-directive and non-judgmental service. The milestones of the LGBTQIA+ communities can be traced in the calls Switchboard has taken over the decades – we’ve been here since the first days of the AIDS crisis and we’re still here now, fifty years on. We’re currently seeing increasingly negative sentiment towards the trans community, which is also laddering up into the wider LGBTQIA+ communities. We hear this first hand through our service every day.
I joined Switchboard in February 2021, during the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was a challenging time for all. Historically, Switchboard was run completely by volunteers, however, in recent years we’ve assembled a small team. My role as CEO exists to manage some of the operational aspects of the organisation, allowing our brilliant volunteers to focus on listening and being there for our community. I am supported by a great board of trustees and a fabulous staff team which has enabled us to make real progress as we approach our 50th year of existence.
Harnessing the power of purposeful campaigns
Pride month is incredibly important for our community. Often, for people who aren’t out or visible, this is a time for them to hopefully gain confidence by seeing our community out and proud, and understanding that perhaps this could be their reality too, despite how difficult their situation might feel in that moment.
Unilever has added our logo and helpline number to several of their biggest brands and packs available in Superdrug stores, which are available all year round. It puts our brand – and most importantly our contact number – in people’s homes across the UK, on products they see daily and use all year round, not just during pride month. This year at Pride London, the Unilever proUd network marched with our logo and helpline details on their float and t-shirts. Through our partnership, we’re able to reach audiences that we would never be able to reach on our own.
The biggest value in campaigns such as this is awareness. Seeing trusted brands alongside our own lends confidence to people who may need to call us, or know someone who could benefit from us. We’ve also found deeper ways to share and partner, such as Switchboard delivering learning sessions with senior leaders and employee networks at Unilever and Superdrug on LGBTQI+ history and the issues faced by our community. In fact, some Unilever and Superdrug staff have actually become Switchboard volunteers through this partnership, which is amazing!
For any other brands wanting to connect to an LGBTQIA+ charity for a purposeful campaign, I’d say to think beyond pride month; ask the charity what they need and be prepared to get 100% behind that.
As a community we have great allies; and more than we’ve ever seen before! However, ally is not a passive word. We need action!
Being an ally isn’t always merely standing beside, at the moment it is about standing in front of our communities too.