Pre-Leeds Pride ball raises £20,000 for LGBT loneliness support group

More than £20,000 has been raised at a charity ball for an organisation supporting older LGBT people facing issues of loneliness and isolation. Chris Burn reports.

Friends of Dorothy founder Craig Burton with the Countess and Earl of Harewood

While Leeds Pride this weekend will see tens of thousands of people out on the city’s streets celebrating the region’s LGBT community, life is often very far from a party for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

There have been recent substantial increases in hate crimes like assault and harassment targeted against LGBT people doubling in the past five years according to research by The Guardian of police figures.

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But one often-overlooked difficulty facing LGBT people is loneliness in older age – something which a Leeds-based support group has been established to tackle.

The Friends of Dorothy Group was set up by Leeds business leader Craig Burton. He explains: “Like many older people, LGBT people face challenges of isolations and loneliness often compounded by issues specific

to the LGBT community; they are 50 per cent more likely to be living alone than other people of their age, some are still estranged from their families and most have never had families.”

The group holds regular ‘Ruby Slipper Cafe’ events for older LGBT people to come together for lunch and a chat, and a befriending network which make sure someone is always at the end of the phone or available to visit someone in need.

To help fund their work, a Ruby Slipper Ball was held at the Queens Hotel in Leeds last weekend, attended by 300 people including dignitaries such as Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Eileen Taylor, the Earl and Countess of Harewood and celebrities, including Emmerdale actress Michelle Hardwick who plays the soap’s party girl, Vanessa Woodfield.

The event included performances by the Viaduct Show Bar Showgirls, a Dolly Parton tribute act and singer Kennedy Caitlin.

Members of Friends of Dorothy, some in their 80s, were special guests at the ball and some will be taking part in the Leeds Pride 2019 parade this weekend.

Organisers are still totalling the amount raised but more than £20,000 is thought to have been collected.

Burton says: “I’m thrilled the event was such a success. I couldn’t believe how quickly it sold out and how much money we raised.

“We had a huge range of people there showing their support for the older LGBT community in Leeds which was incredibly heart-warming.”

It comes ahead of this Sunday’s Leeds Pride Parade, which is expected to be the biggest ever after attracting 40,000 people last year.

The event will get under way from Millennium Square from 2pm.

The 2018 Leeds Pride weekend was estimated to have been worth over £4m to the local economy as 55,000 people took part over the two days.

Sponsors this year include Leeds-based supermarket giant Asda, which has decorated its head office in the city centre with rainbow flags and decorations and will be lighting up its building over the weekend.

Alexandra McEwan Hannant, director of Leeds Pride, says: “It’s wonderful to have the support of the Leeds based company and we look forward to working with them for years to come.

“It means so much to the people of Leeds that a local company such as Asda are here to support the LGBT+ community, their family and friends.”

Hayley Tatum, senior vice president of people at Asda, says: “The summer of Pride is a key part of this as it provides an opportunity for everyone to celebrate how far we have come on LGBT+ rights but also to reflect and think about how far we still have to go as a society. Pride offers a fantastic opportunity for the LGBT+ community to come together, with their allies, to march in support of a world that allows people to love and express themselves without fear.”