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Switchboard CEO warns of ‘echoes’ of the 1980s as LGBT+ helpline turns 50

"We are in some difficult times but Switchboard will be here supporting our community, showing up, and creating space," Stephanie Fuller has told Attitude

By Alastair James

Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller (L)
Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller (L) (Image: Switchboard)

The CEO of the Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline has said that the charity is seeing the “echoes” of the 1980s in the coversations it is having with service users.

On Tuesday (4 March) Switchboard turned 50, with the charity taking it’s first calls on 4 March 1974. To celebrate the occasion volunteers past and present gathered at the BT Tower in London.

As well as a peformance from LGBTQ+ icon Tom Robinson and other speeches, Stephanie Fuller, Switchboard’s CEO, spoke about where the charity is and the challenges it is facing.

Speaking to Attitude afterward, the CEO touched on these further as well as the introduction of a free 0800 number last year, calls from trans and non-binary people as well as older LGBTQ+ people.

Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller
Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller (R) (Image: Switchboard)

How are things at Switchboard?

In terms of the service, a lot is going on. There’s a real need for our service at the moment. We’re seeing a lot more conversations getting more difficult, frankly. They’re more loaded. You can feel that people are ringing with real anxieties about things that are happening in the world right now and how that’s impacting the LGBTQ+ community, in particular the trans and non-binary communities. In the 50th year, you would like to think we could talk about progress and everything being great, but a lot of what we’re talking about now echoes what we experienced in the 80s.

How is demand compared to how well you’re equipped to deal with it at the moment?

Demand remains high. We have grown our volunteer numbers, we have 250 now. We’ve changed our training model so we can onboard people more often. By the end of this year, we should be at 350, and next year we expect to be in the region of 500. That’s what we’re going to need to be able to support the people that need our service.

Switchboard’s new branding to mark 50 years (Image: Switchboard)

It’s been a year since the introduction of a free 0800 number. What impact has that had?

It’s definitely had the desired impact, which I suppose is good, but it feels wrong to say it’s good because we’d rather they didn’t need to call. It’s hard to say whether there are more calls necessarily, I think it is. The 0800 number created more awareness of the service. We’ve seen an increase in people reaching out, and it’s brought more people to the organisation to volunteer, which is good. But certainly the impact, I would say, is obviously financial – it’s costing around £30,000 a year – but it means people are using the service. That is what we aimed to achieve. That’s not a bad thing.

Brianna Ghey was murdered less than a week before we last spoke. At the time you said it was really hard to notice trends when it comes to trans and non-binary calls. Have things changed?

It’s definitely got worse. When the verdict came in, we had conversations around that as well. People wanted to talk about it. In recent times, we’ve had the government’s party conference, and the rhetoric created calls to Switchboard from trans and non-binary people. Not just from them, but from their families. People were worried about the safety of their trans and non-binary friends and family. We’ve seen a big increase in that area. I’d hoped that was going to get better, but it hasn’t.

Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller
Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller (Image: Switchboard)

At the 50-year mark, what are the major challenges facing Switchboard?

We’ve got a big recruitment piece going on to get more people into the organisation, which is part of the reason why we changed the way you can train to make it easier. The sheer volume of contacts is the honest answer – around 60,000 contacts a year, and we’re probably answering around 20,000 of them at the moment. The big challenge is to get more people to be available more often and have more people on at critical times particularly during the working day. That’s when people often reach out.

Similarly, we’re 50 years old. All the people who fought for our rights 50 years ago in their twenties, they’re now in their seventies. We’re getting a lot more calls from older, isolated queer people that are going back into the ‘care closet’. These are new conversations and Switchboard is again charting that journey with those people.

What’s giving you hope at the moment?

I’m optimistic about pretty much everything. If Switchboard tells us anything it’s that this community is really strong and looks out for its own. We are in some difficult times but Switchboard will be here supporting our community, showing up, and creating space so that people can have conversations that are important to them. I know this community won’t let that fail.

You can donate to the helpline here. If you need help you can call Switchboard on 0800 0119 100. You can also email You can chat to someone over web chat here as well.