Setting up Ricochet

When I arrived in Bridport three years ago, there was no support group for parents of gay children in Dorset; or further west in Devon and Cornwall; or further east in Hampshire. The only group in the whole peninsula was the long established Bristol Families & Friends. Finding Families Together London had been such a relief when I learnt that both my children were gay and I knew there must be parents near my new home who would be feeling as I had once. 
I wasn’t sure where to begin in starting a group from scratch. What should I call it? Where would it be based? Would I have to pay to advertise? Would I be inundated with enquiries?  Or would I struggle to track down anyone who could possibly be interested? If people did come, would I be any help to them?
I got lots of friendly advice from the Intercom Trust in Exeter – and from FFLAG, of course. And, having spent almost two years attending sessions at Families Together London, I knew what success ought to look like.
The order of play went something like this:
Come up with a name. 
Buy a mobile phone and record a message welcoming callers to the helpline. Keep phone close by, all the time. Expect broken sleep.
Design website, using a free and easy design site called Weebly.  Get site hosted.
Plan monthly meetings, on a Saturday afternoon so that people who work can come along.
Find a venue. I wanted somewhere central, inexpensive, anonymous, unconnected with the gay world. Some of the old community fire-stations offer rooms for free so that’s what we’ve gone for now. For the first two years we hired a room.
Write a press release announcing the launch of the group. Expect to write a press release once a month thereafter to advertise the date of the next meeting.
Expect to put your hand in your own pocket to pay for it all. I calculated that in my first year I spent about £500 on venue hire, mobile phone rental, printing, website hosting and so on. It sounds more bearable if you think it’s less than £10 a week. Some groups ask for a contribution from parents who come along. 
Four couples came to Ricochet’s first meeting. They had read about the launch of the group in the Dorset Echo and had rung the helpline to find out more. They felt confused, isolated, and daunted. One mother couldn’t speak. More than one clutched tissues. I found I didn’t really have to say anything. The main thing was to listen. Talking to each other that first afternoon made an immediate difference. Many who came to those early sessions still come two years on to help make newcomers welcome and reassure them that things do indeed get better. People come from across the region and we have even had enquiries from the Channel Islands.
Our group is still small. Some months we may be as few as three sharing our stories over a cup of tea or coffee. Our biggest session was last July when a lesbian couple and their third child joined us to talk about gay parenting. This summer, we plan to invite two men who have adopted successfully and some of us will be going to Bourne Free, Bournemouth’s pride festival to publicise Ricochet and to hand out leaflets. 
It would be wonderful if there were a network of accessible groups to reach everyone across the country. It takes courage to set up your own group but the rewards are fantastic. It is a great way to make new friends and to spread the word that being gay is just another version of normal.


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