Originally set up in 1971 with the intention of being the counselling arm of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, "Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress" was far more widely known as 'FRIEND'. By 1977, its national organiser stopped being on the CHE board by right, and its newsletter stopped calling FRIEND "the befriending arm of the CHE".
Also in 1977, the London arm became a company limited by guarantee, Friend Counselling (London). As 'London Friend', it ended up operating from Caledonian Road N1, and was the venue used by the London Bisexual Group from around 1990 to its end around 2004 or 2005ish. Its website is here.
As other groups sprang up, a network was created as National Friend, becoming a company in 1987. The book's author, Macolm Macourt, is described as its company secretary and a lecturer at Newcastle upon Tyne polytechnic. He was also involved with Project SIGMA that looked at the sex lives of gay and bisexual men from the start of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the UK. Read more
See the article on the history of bisexual phonelines in the UK for more details, but from its start in 1987 until 1995, when I think it became unviable to repair, the London Bisexual Helpline used a call-diverter box.
Here are the instructions on how to use it that people doing shifts were given… Read more
Originally published in BCN 54: Mar 2002 with additional footnotes added in June 2020.
January  saw the 15th anniversary of the start of the Edinburgh bisexual helpline (RIP). It almost saw the end of the London one.
After over 13 years of letting it use a phone line in his West London flat, Ian Saxton moved to somewhere in Berkshire. The new people were due to move into his old flat the following weekend.
While I am of course incredibly grateful to him for his help over past years – especially when the helpline operated by connecting two phone lines together with an expensive but appallingly unreliable box of tricks that he had to keep kicking – I would also really rather have liked to have had more than two days notice of the move. Oh well.
For almost seven years, we've been operating with a single line. Most times of the week, callers to the helpline get through to an answerphone. Its message tells them to go away… and call back when we're open. At those times, we use a service BT now call 'Smart Divert' — we were one of the first to use it in the UK! — which enables us to divert calls to the helpline's number to (almost) anywhere else in the world, from anywhere in the world.
So volunteers can do shifts anywhere that's convenient and callers don't know the difference. We pay the cost of diverting the call 'from' the flat to wherever the shift is being done plus a quarterly fee for the privilege of letting BT charge twice for one call, but that's less than the previous cost of having two lines. And as the line is only open at evenings and weekends, the diversion call costs are minimal.
Now, with Ian gone, we were in trouble. Especially as I had to remove the helpline's answerphone while he was still there, so for one week callers 'outside hours' only got a ringing tone.
Something had to be done… but what, exactly? Read more
One of the sessions at BiCon 2003 was "Number unobtainable – what next for bisexual phonelines?"
This is an expanded version of that session, now with added bisexual phoneline.. that I forgot about until after first publishing it, ahem.
At that point, there had been
five six 'bisexual phonelines' in the UK and none of them were operating any more. Read more