Charity’s party aims to close the gap for LGBT people with learning difficulties

Hayley Burwood, chairperson of Opening Doors. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Hayley Burwood, chairperson of Opening Doors. Photo: Geraldine Scott - Credit: Geraldine Scott

An organisation run by people with learning difficulties, for people with learning disabilities, is holding a party for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people after users told them there was a gap in services.

The Castle pub.

The Castle pub. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Opening Doors, based in Bull Close, in the north of Norwich, started in 1994 and since has expanded to help people all over the county, with a strong focus on a user-led policy.

And chairwoman Hayley Burwood said she first became aware of the issue after members were polled on what they wanted help with.

'There was a gap between what people were asking for, and what was being provided,' said Miss Burwood, 39, who lives in Norwich and has learning difficulties herself.

'And people were worried about their sexuality. So to start it off we thought we would have a party and find out how to help.'

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'It will be a safe space, there will be lots of support about. And it's for people to come in and find out what they would like to do in the future, so we can go away and make sure we provide that.'

Miss Burwood said some people with learning difficulties were not allowed to have relationships, and there were a variety of problems you could face if you had learning difficulties and were also LGBT.

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'They probably face discrimination, they may have been a victim of hate crime, or they might not be accepted by their family.

'For people with learning difficulties quite often all issues of sexuality are ignored, they might not be allowed to have relationships at all regardless of sexuality.

'So for some people it might not have even been something they considers about questioning until maybe they've seen it on TV.'

As well as traditional party activities such as music provided by Future Radio, food and dancing, mother-of-one Miss Burwood said she also hoped to have an advice stand where people could go for help - all held against the backdrop of LGBT history month in February.

'Coming to us can make you feel safe, and we're always looking for new members' she said.

'Opening Doors gives people with learning difficulties a voice, it makes them feel confident about themselves.'

Miss Burwood has also had support for the event from Norwich Pride. Julie Bremner, from the group, said: 'Being inclusive and accessible to all are core values for us, so we are delighted to hear about's Hayley's Rainbow Party. We can't wait to see Hayley and her friends on the Pride Parade on Saturday, July 29 too.'

• The Rainbow Party will be held at the Castle, Spitalfields, Norwich on February 27, from 6pm to 8pm. Entry is free but those wanting to come should RSVP by emailing or calling 01603 631433.


As well as music and dancing, there will also be poetry read at the Rainbow Party, some by Miss Burwood who is a keen poet. She wrote a poem to describe the Rainbow Party to those who may be interested.

'Let's have a party to show where we are, for people to have fun, getting advice and having a laugh.

People with learning disabilities can be free, to be who they are and to gain stability.

Feel free to express whatever your gender, we will be here to support and to be a befriender.

Socialise with a safe place to meet, we are looking forwarded to see and to greet.

In everyday cases it's your right to choose, no one should stand in the way or try to abuse.

Take pride to be who you are inside and out, be allowed a relationship or experiment when in doubt.

Friendship, new opportunities, take heart, where you would be supported right from the start.

Finding out where to go next, and what people want and what suits them best.

Speak up freely and not be afraid, an information stand for you has been made.'

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