A helpline which has been providing support and advice to Oxford's gay and lesbian community for 25 years has become the first gay group to win the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

Oxford Friend Lesbian and Gay Helpline was singled out for providing an outstanding level of help. Treasurer of the group and Vale of White Horse district councillor, Harry Dickinson, 61, said the staff of 12 had been surprised and immensely honoured to learn they had received the accolade.

He added: "The Queen's Awards were only started in 2002, as part of the Jubilee celebrations, so to become the first lesbian and gay group to be recognised is a huge privilege."

Mr Dickinson helped to set up Oxford Friend in 1979. Based in Oxford, it provides confidential advice, counselling and information relating to lesbian, gay and bisexual issues.

The helpline runs three nights a week and is staffed by volunteers who offer support both by phone and in one-to-one counselling sessions.

Mr Dickinson added: "We have introduced a website and also an email counselling service, which is now bringing in a varied number of requests from people in their late teens and early 20s, who are very used to using the Internet.

"We also have a great sense of cohesion and commitment in the group."

Oxford Friend receives a grant from Oxford City Council, but relies heavily on donations.

Last year, it received 180 calls and more than 5,000 hits on its website.

Volunteers work closely with mental health charity Oxfordshire Mental Health Matters and with the Terrence Higgins Trust, and have provided diversity training for Thames Valley Police.

Government minister Ed Miliband said: "These groups show us how much can be achieved when people join together to make a difference."