Older Lesbian Network (OLN)

I've been interacting a lot more with older lesbians - having taken a particular interest in older LGBT housing in the UK recently. Whilst that project has had to go on the backburner as our project partner has pulled out; it hasn't dulled my interest in this area at all.

The 1 October is National Older People's Day and so I found myself reaching out to some of the social groups available around London for Older LBQ women. I found the Older Lesbian Network (although they just go by the abbreviation of OLN as their group is quite diverse and they don't like to self-define too much).

I made contact through the website and was contacted by Ann who invited me along to one of their meetings. She offered to meet me at Russell Square tube station as the venue is a little hidden for first visit. It gave me a chance to chat on the way and find out a little more before I arrived.

The venue is accessible, and is a lovely community centre. It has a buzzer entry system so is quite secure too. You just need help finding it the first time!

Given I am 33 and the meetings were for the over 40s I felt quite honoured, although also a little nervous that upon arrival I would be ousted for being too young.

I had nothing at all to worry about - what I experienced was one of the most friendly, diverse and accepting groups of women I have come across in London for a long time. In fact, no-one questioned my age at all, and when I introduced myself as from a website writing an article; I still was treated as a member of the group and welcomed.

The group meets on the second Saturday each month between 1pm and 5pm. Each attendee brings along some food which all goes on the table. There is a small entrance fee that covers the hall hire, resources and things like tea and coffee - I say tea, there was pretty much every kind of herbal and fruit tea I have ever heard of in addition to the standard tea & coffee).

This group is self-organised and is pretty impressive with some women travelling in from Southampton and near Birmingham. The timing of the event is planned to allow travel from further afield. On arrival you sit, chat and eat and drink. Then around 2.30pm there are a number of activities which are organised by members of the group - anyone can offer to host an activity or talk. The weekend that I attended featured painting, clay and also a drama/improvisation workshop. You just join the group you feel like.

I started off with the painting and moved across to clay once I'd built up the courage to have a go. For many it was the first time they had tried clay since school. Everyone had fun, and no-one judged anyone for their ability - it was just a social activity and a chance to experience something in a group. It led to conversations and laughs; and I made my wife Katie a little trinket pot (I'm not a natural as you can see!)

Acrylics painting at OLNWorking with clay at OLN

Towards the end of the meeting is the formal part. The group's post is opened and read out in case there are anything of interest. There is an agenda and it is minuted. The roles are shared out through volunteers and there is even a Christmas party planning sub-committee. Whilst this sounds quite formal, it was a very enoyable time. The whole group come together in a circle, it was hilarious with plenty of laughs and it is a chance for the group to share social activities, information and catch up.

I didn't feel old, and I didn't feel young. I didn't feel judged and I didn't feel out of place. In fact I had a really quite lovely afternoon. I was even invited back another month.

If you are looking for somewhere to volunteer and help out; and you like the idea of socialising on a monthly basis with a group of intelligent, interesting, driven and quite humorous women then I recommend a visit. If you can help with opening up, moving the tables around and setting out the activities I have no doubt that you would be welcomed with open arms as I was.

Whilst I have a good 10-15 years before I'm technically old enough to join this group, I know it is there and it is quite reassuring to know that if I don't want to go out clubbing or on the scene, and I want to meet other women in a more social and relaxed environment, that the OLN is there as an option for me and other LBQ women across the UK.