ONE of East Lancashire's only gay support charities is folding due to a lack of support and funding.

Blackburn-based Lancashire Friend will hold its final meeting on Wednesday, 15 years after it was first set up as the East Lancashire Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (ELLGAS), in Burnley.

The charity offers a range of confidential services by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people, transvestites and their friends, families and partners.

Chairperson Nick Brierley said it was a "very sad" decision to make, but an unavoidable one.

Nick said: "We are a purely voluntary group, and it's been getting more and more difficult because we are making more demands on people's time and resources.

"The majority of our volunteers work full time," said Nick, who works as treasurer at University of Central Lancashire and has been chairperson for two-and-a-half years and a member for eight.

"I decided to resign to concentrate on other things, and we haven't been able to get anyone else to volunteer.

"The other main reason is the constant struggle to get funding."

Lancashire Friend is funded by Blackburn with Darwen Primary Care Trust, which owns the Jarman Centre in James Street, where Lancashire Friend is based.

Nick, 30, said: "It's a real shame and very sad that we are closing, as it will definitely leave a gap in terms of services and help for gay people.

"We have between 600 and 1,000 calls a year to our phoneline service asking for advice or just a chat."

As well as the phoneline, Lancashire Friend offers free counselling, a befriending service, and distributes condom packs.

The final meeting, which will also be the anual general meeting, will start at 7.30pm on Wednsday, with doors opening at 7.15pm at the Jarman Centre and all are welcome.

Nick added: "Although it is a sad occasion, we also want to celebrate everything Lancashire Friend has achieved."

ELLGAS was formed on October 10 1992, when a group of people from the North West held a meeting in a Burnley nightclub to talk about how to improve the lives of gay and lesbian people in the area.

ELLGAS was set up, based in Marsden Street in Burnley. In 1997 the group opened a second branch in Blackburn.

In 2002, the group changed its name and was relaunched as Lancashire Friend, but the Burnley office was closed due to funding problems.