WHEN it was created in 1979 as the Colchester Gay Switchboard, Outhouse East was groundbreaking.

And today it remains so - as one of the only organisations offering dedicated support services for the LGBTQ+ community in the east of England.

Times, and people’s attitudes, have changed, but the charity continues to support the marginalised in Colchester and across Essex.

In fact, service manager Jacqui Russell says demand during the coronavirus pandemic has been higher than ever.

She said: “We are lucky in Colchester to have a charity like this. There is nothing else similar outside of London.

“Lockdown has given people more time to think about what is going on in their lives.

“We have had a lot of people come forward for support around coming out or those who are looking for counselling services.

“Things have changed, but there is a definite generational divide amongst people.

“A lot young people you talk to have an understanding of the terms around being gay or transgender and they are far more aware than other generations. The reason we are here is to provide a safe space for people.”

Due to the spiralling demand, the charity has just secured £73,000 National Lottery funding.

This cash will allow it to employ a dedicated support worker as a first point of contact for anyone in need.


They’re also expanding their counselling services to reach more people than ever before after using technologies such as Zoom to keep offering help during the crisis.

The team helps hundreds of members of the LGBTQ+ community every year and were instrumental in the creation of Colchester Pride, which would have celebrated its fifth edition this year.

The group has come a long way since its origins as a phone line in a kitchen and has its own premises in East Hill, which underwent a refurbishment last year.

Jacqui said: “We have a purple door and the Pride flag flying outside.

“If we at Outhouse East can’t be out and proud, then how can we expect people to be?

“We need the centre to be a safe space for people so they are comfortable coming to see us. Often getting people through the door is the hardest part.

"Even if people don’t want to engage with the staff, we still provide a safe space for them to come and meet people."


As well as their outreach work with schools and businesses, Outhouse East also works extremely closely with police.

Despite attitudes towards homosexuality and transgender people changing much over the past 40 years, hate crime is still prevalent.

This is something the charity is working hard to combat, by engaging with school pupils and the general public, but it also has to deal with the aftermaths of incidents.

Jacqui said: “We work closely with Essex Police’s Hate Crime Unit and we quickly make contact with anyone who might have been targeted to see if they need support.

“Things go through peaks and troughs, but when it is getting to the Pride time of year, we often see there is an outpouring of hate against the LGBTQ+ community.

“People understandably do not want to talk about their sexuality and in reality we should not need to, but sadly these incidents show us why the charity and things like Pride are needed. There will always be some people who cannot accept the LGBTQ+ community unfortunately.”

She added: “Ideally we would not be needed as a charity, but I cannot ever see us disappearing. Not in my lifetime at least.”

Visit outhouseeast.org.uk.