Cara-Friend - sharing premises and knowledge; delivering joint services

By sharing premises organisations can begin to share knowledge, deliver joint services and decrease duplication. Cara-Friend, The Rainbow Project and LASI (now HERE NI) tell their story of improving services by sharing premises. 

Organisational details and services

Cara-Friend is an organisation dedicated to supporting, empowering, educating, and offering friendship to everyone in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, and to advocating on their behalf. As well it works with relevant public authorities on policy decisions. It offers telephone helplines, counselling, advice, safe social space, personal development and peer support through the Gay Helpline, Lesbian Line, and Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland.

The organisation provides five services:

GLYNI-Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland:

  • regional youth service for 14 to 25 year olds
  • safe alcohol and drug free social space in venues across NI
  • training and support in coming out, mental, sexual and physical health
  • legal information and advocacy on the rights of LGBT people
  • information on the LGBT social scene and community support groups
  • self development and peer support training

Gay Helpline:

  • a listening ear and information service
  • support for individuals to share their concerns and seek information on a wide range of issues from coming out; mental, sexual and physical health; legal information on the rights of LGBT people; and information on the LGBT social scene and community support groups

Lesbian Line:

  • a listening ear and information service for lesbian and bisexual women
  • support for individuals to share their concerns and seek information on a wide range of issues from coming out; mental, sexual and physical health; legal information on the rights of LGBT people; and information on the LGBT social scene and community support groups

Family Ties:

  • practical advice, guidance and support to parents coming to terms with the fact that their child is LGBT and who may need support for their own issues around this, or for parents who perhaps suspect themselves that their child is LGBT and do not know what to do

Education in Schools Project:

  • LGBT awareness training to school pupils, teachers, governors and parents
  • resource materials, curriculum guides and classroom lessons, as well as lobbying the relevant public authorities on curriculum matters and Section 75 equality duties and works closely with the Minister for Education

Collaboration project 1: shared premises

In 2009 the Director of Cara-Friend realised that the building in which the organisation was located did not fully meet the needs of disabled service users.  As a result the Director spoke to colleagues in the LGBT sector and, along with the Directors of The Rainbow Project and Lesbian Advocacy Services Initiative (LASI), identified the Memorial Building in Waring Street, Belfast, as a suitable new location. 

“Three organisations moved to this building in 2009, it has been a huge success.”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

One of the positive outcomes of the organisations sharing premises was that they reviewed their administration and services and stopped duplication. It became apparent that the previous arrangement of operating from different buildings had led to a situation where each organisation was not fully aware of the services and support the others provided.

“We stopped duplicating; we examined what areas we worked in and decided if we could co-operate in some and be open if we were competing in some.  If we couldn’t co-operate we would try to see who was best placed to provide a service.”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

This has developed further. The Directors of Cara-Friend, The Rainbow Project (TRP) and LASI now meet on a monthly basis to discuss services and opportunities. In the past month the management boards of Cara-Friend and TRP have also met as both organisations are currently planning their next three year strategies and are interested in how they can link into their strategies and business plans. 

Collaboration project 2: Family Ties

Family Ties is a joint project undertaken by Cara-Friend and The Rainbow Project. This project was established because some young people were reporting to Cara-Friend’s GLYNI service that they did not feel supported by their parents. The two main reasons that young people felt this were that either their parents could not accept their sexual orientation or their parents accepted their sexual orientation but worried about the consequences of this for their child. Both organisations felt that there was a gap in services with regard to supporting parents on how to support their child. As a result the Family Ties parents support service was launched in April 2008 when Cara-Friend and The Rainbow Project launched a guide for parents who have lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender children. The guide was officially launched at an event opened by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, and with keynote speakers including the Human Rights Chief Commissioner and senior representatives from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). This booklet has been financed and published in co-operation with the Eastern Health and Social Services Board and the Southern Health and Social Services Board. A peer support service for parents now meets monthly.

“Young people were saying to us that they felt supported here but when they went home they didn’t feel supported by their parents.”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend 

Collaboration project 3: Education in Schools

Through working with young people, Cara-Friend discovered that many are being bullied in school as a result of their sexual orientation.

“Some are getting bullied both mentally and physically on a daily basis.”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

Cara-Friend had conducted research into bullying in schools of young LGBT people and realised that there was a gap in services in this area, and that teachers needed training and resources.  The Director of Cara-Friend realised the potential of working with TRP to establish a service to address this issue. Both had their areas of expertise, Cara-Friend has experience in working with young people and the Rainbow Project has more experience in lobbying.

“We thought how do we get these two strengths together to make a focused campaign in schools?”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

“Parents, pupils, teachers, tutors are all singing its praises, the LGBT sector; even the Minister for Education (John O’Dowd) is singing its praises.”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

Collaboration project 4: mental health support proposal for lesbian and bisexual women

One of Cara-Friend’s projects is to provide counselling for women through Lesbian Line as this is not provided anywhere else in Northern Ireland. Cara-Friend has no direct funding for this service and has to allocate unrestricted funding to support it. The Director of the organisation realised the potential of working with LASI in regard to developing this support service and contacted the Director of LASI to see if they could work in partnership with this aim.

“Our organisation is about service delivery, theirs was about advocacy and policy. We perhaps used to look at each other as competition, but by working together we have the strength and joint expertise to apply for proper funding for this essential service.”
Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

Cara-Friend and LASI are the only two organisations in Northern Ireland working in this area. Instead of competing for funding they have jointly put in a bid to a major government agency to fund a part-time counsellor and part-time mental health development officer for lesbian and bisexual women. The organisations are waiting on a response from the agency but are optimistic that such a partnership service will be well received. Regardless of the success or failure of this bid, the two organisations have established a successful partnership whereby they will explore areas of joint working.

 What went well?

The Director of Cara-Friend stated that the main thing that went well was the decision to share premises. It prevented the duplication of services, opened up the opportunity to work in partnership and to address gaps in services, leading to the successful ongoing delivery of Family Ties project, the Education in Schools project, the new mental health support proposal for lesbian and bisexual women and to the present situation where all three organisations can work together where possible and use their respective strengths to support each other where joint working is not possible.



Every effort is made to ensure that the contents of this document are accurate, but the advice given should not be relied on as a definitive legal statement.

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