Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

“We grew up in a different time”: Zest’s Over-50s LGBTQ+ group

A group for older LGBTQIA+ people in Sheffield hopes to reach those who might be closeted or isolated, offering connection and support.

A hand-drawn chalk rainbow on a dark background

Chalk rainbow

Alex Jackman

What people don’t realise is that people in my generation and older, we grew up in a different time.

Alex* is telling me about what it’s like to be an older person who is LGBTQ+.

I was five years old before same-sex relationships were legalised for over-21s, and it wasn’t until 1998 for over 18s. And we grew up with the stigma, we grew up with Section 28, with all that hate that the government spewed about HIV and AIDS.

Age UK estimates that there are 1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 55 or over in Britain today. According to the Office for National Statistics, around 1.4% of people aged 50-64 and 0.7% of those 65 and over identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that “older LGBT people are especially vulnerable to loneliness as they are more likely to be single, live alone, and have lower levels of contact with relatives. They are also less likely to engage with local services, with recent findings showing that over four-fifths of older LGBT people do not trust professionals to understand their culture or lifestyle.”

Alex spent most of his life unable to come out.

My father wouldn’t have accepted it. People around in society wouldn’t have accepted it. [In] some of the jobs I had, it wouldn’t be accepted.

I saw the sniggering and the silly comments during my working life.


In his 20-year career in healthcare, he had talked about equality, diversity and inclusion, but it was only during the Covid pandemic that he had time to reassess his own sexual identity and started to come out. And although he is still only out to a select number of people, he knew that he had to take action.

This happened only a few years after Alex received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, which had led to him looking for local support options. He also got involved with events and groups and helps to make the world more accessible for people with dementia.

It was through work focused on people with dementia that he met Sarah Longfield. Sarah works as a Dementia Officer at Zest in Upperthorpe, a community building with a library, café, gym and swimming pool.

Between them, they came up with a plan for an Over-50s LGBTQ+ Group open to anybody who feels they want support and community with other older LGBTQ+ people.

An impressive brick building against a blue sky, with a flight of steps in the foreground.

Main entrance to Weston Park Museum

Adrian Richardson

It’s early days, Sarah tells me, but “we’ve got a couple of really good members. It’s so important to have this safe space where people can come and they can chat about whatever they want. It doesn’t have to be anything particular. It’s just a nice, safe space where they can come and be themselves.”

The group meets on the second Thursday of each month at Weston Park Museum. Both Alex and Sarah have clearly given a lot of thought to how to make the group as accessible and welcoming as possible.

They meet in a room rather than in the cafe, so it’s quiet and private, and there’s no indication on the door that it is for LGBTQ+ people. People from other organisations attend, so signposting to additional support is available. If somebody is nervous about attending, Alex and Sarah are happy to meet them outside and have a chat first.

They do not assume they already have all the answers, because they know that what works for those who already attend may not be ideal for others.

Because we’re so new and we’re just getting off the ground, our future could be anything.

Sarah Longfield

Alex and Sarah want people to get in touch so that they can help to shape the future of the group. For instance, they meet at Weston Park Museum because they know it is an accessible building and they have a good relationship with the team there, but they are open to meeting elsewhere or doing other things together.

In the future people might say, ‘Can we go to the Millennium Gallery?’ Yeah. Or ‘Can we go to Graves Gallery?’ Yeah. Or ‘Can we go for a walk?’ We can do anything! That’s the great thing.


Alex’s initial idea for the group was for it to be for people with dementia who are LGBTQ+, but it has now expanded to all over-50s. However, as it’s essentially part of Zest’s work with people with dementia, it’s set up to be accessible and dementia friendly.

"The rooms are a quiet space if people have issues with sound,” Sarah explains. “There are people there that understand disability and understand dementia."

Ultimately, Alex, Sarah and the group want to be a welcoming and friendly space for any LGBTQ+ older people, including anybody who might be questioning their sexuality or gender identity. You can turn up to have a chat (or a rant), find out how to get support with housing or health, or just spend time with people who have lived through similar times and may have similar experiences.

*Alex chose to use a pseudonym for this article

Learn more

The Zest Older People’s LGBTQ+ Group meets in Weston Park Museum, 1-3pm on the second Thursday of the month. To find out more, contact Sarah by email on or call 07543 796 782.

More Equality & Social Justice

Can Sheffield end new HIV transmissions by 2030?

In anticipation of next week’s Festival of Debate panel, Rei Takver speaks with Sheffield doctor and HIV specialist Dr Claire Dewsnap about what the city still needs to do to tackle the virus.

More Equality & Social Justice