Saturday, 29 March 2014

Proud of #BeingBrook

At least a year in the making it seems rather unbelievable that #BeingBrook - Brook's staff training and networking event for all staff at the Palace Hotel, Manchester is over. Planned within an inch of its life I cannot do justice to it here. As the contributors provide reports and actions I will publish anything which may be interesting or useful here, along with links to photos, videos and other records of the Event.

It is our 50th birthday year. We have merged 17 organisations touching every single team across the UK and Jersey in one way or another. #BeingBrook was a chance to draw a line in the sand after our major change programme has finished, aswell as say thank you for the tenacity, resilience and professionalism of Brook people who worked tirelessly to ensure young people continue to receive excellent services throughout.

It was also a chance for everyone to put names to faces, to share, to learn, to teach and to inspire each other; a chance for teams to input their thinking and creativity into big strategic issues, aswell as receive important training and updates. #BeingBrook was about rewarding, recognising and celebrating Brook people and their talents and to ultimately improve our work with young people.

I know what talking to 450 people feels like, but never had it felt quite like this. As I stood at the podium to talk to 450 'Brookies' my breath was suspended for a few seconds and it was hard to take in the moment, photograph it in my mind and speak. In my welcome speech I reminded us all of Brook's journey over the last 50 years and just how far society has changed - the legal framework for free contraception and services and for equality is in place (same sex marriages of course became legal today, at last). We are still nowhere near there with sex and relationships education law, policy or delivery. That remains a really big challenge. The next 50 years has to be about improving education so everyone, whatever their identity, can grow with confidence and trust. Only then will we achieve our mission of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm.

In my welcome I was able to a) acknowledge that despite best efforts we hadn't always got everything right through the change programme b) to apologise where we had got it wrong c) to assure staff that whilst some pain was inevitable it was never our intention to upset and d) thank everyone for sticking with us, focusing on young people throughout and ensuring services were not disrupted, whilst all the time helping Brook continue to develop and improve.

There were four training zones on day 1 a) safeguarding b) digital services c) health and well being and d) organisational values. Then young people from our participation group and Naomi, head of participation and volunteering took to the stage to talk about their work across the organisation. We saw first hand the difference volunteering makes to young lives. Time after time the young people talked about how the opportunities Brook provides are helping build their confidence - stood talking to 450 people was some evidence of that. We were told in no uncertain terms by Rebecca that young people are vital on staff interview panels because it helps cut through the bullshit. 'We can see if they really like young people. If you don't look at me through the whole interview and then say you like young people I won't believe you'. Good call. They were quite simply remarkable and completely deserved their standing ovation.

Our Chair and some trustees - including our newly appointed young trustees - Claire Taverner and Charlotte Warner joined us for the evening where dinner was served in the Grand Room. It always amazes me how people can cater so well for so many people. After the meal people headed to bed, to the bar or to dance. I was delighted that despite the late night networking that went on, most people were ready to start at 9am on day 2. Day 2 we worked in professional groupings. I facilitated the receptionists group and had a great time learning about the similarities and differences in approaches and on occasion being provocative. I considered it CEO privilege.

There were many magical moments over the two days - seeing people connect, meeting people, connecting people and watching lightbulb moments. The energy was palpable. Initial feedback has been really quite extraordinary. One person reflected what many others voiced to me; 'I have never been in a room with so many like minded people. Not once in my career have I ever felt part of something or so valued. I have learnt so much by talking to different people, about where we are going and I am excited to be part of that'.

As we were leaving when everything had gone seamlessly, one of my colleagues said 'I don't know any other organisation who would have taken on the organisation of an event like that themselves.' I suspect he is right. And our #BeingBrook planning and organising team, the Brookmakers, our National Consultation Forum and everyone who helped coordinate and deliver the event deserve the most enormous gratitude. The delivery team were as good, if not better, than any agency I have ever used. The Palace Hotel, Manchester were brilliant. If you have a big event, I recommend them. And thank you also to our sponsors - CM Print, Virgin Media, Esteem, HRA Pharma, Durex and Consilient Health without whose ongoing support #BeingBrook would not have been possible. Finally, thank you to Jon Dunn, commissioner of our services in Manchester for joining us to say a few words before dinner.

I know everyone who organised and facilitated the Event left exhausted. As did many of the teams as they travelled back home. Check the #BeingBrook timeline for evidence of inspiration, enthusiasm and exhaustion in equal measures.

I never forget what a privilege it is to be CEO of such an important organisation as Brook. I felt that privilege and pride intensely this week. An inspiring bunch to spend 24 hours with. If you get the chance I recommend it. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

The UK Sexual Health Awards 2014

Simon Blake at the UK Sexual Health Awards 2014
Me opening the ceremony @ #SHUK2014!
The UK Sexual Health Awards 2014 took place at the glittering 8 Northumberland venue last Friday 14 March. The third time the Awards have taken place, they were bigger and better than ever - thank you to all who attended, and to the Brook and FPA staff who worked so hard to make the Events the stunning success that they were. I have lost count of the number of people who have congratulated me and the team on the Awards and all the organising team, the judges and the venue staff really deserve a lot of credit. I am already looking forward to the 2015 Awards.

I urge you all to read through the list of winners: a totally inspirational lot.

I hope you like the photo at the top of this post - it and all other official photos from the Awards can be viewed and freely downloaded from our Flickr page.

Brook Ambassador Zoe Margolis
In between enjoying a delicious meal, laughing at brilliant host Jenny Eclair's jokes, chattering away with old friends and new faces, congratulating all our brilliant winners and finalists, admiring the beautiful d├ęcor, and applauding until my hands ached we did some tweeting. You can read a Storify that tells the story of my #SHUK2014 here.

Below are the two speeches from the winners of the Lifetime Achievement Awards from this year's ceremony: Dilys Cossey OBE, and Dr David Paintin. Dilys delivered her moving and scintillating speech herself, while sadly David was too ill to attend the Awards - I was honoured to deliver his speech in his stead.

As Brook celebrates its 50th birthday year, it is wonderful to hear from two people who were there at our founding in 1964. Dilys and David gave sharp and poignant reminders of exactly why Brook was established, of how much the world has changed (in terms of sexual health as well as gender equality, acceptance of gay people, social mores and much, much else) in half a century, and of what still remains to be done. Both speeches moved many of those watching to tears, and gave us goosebumps - especially when David spoke of the behind the scenes work required to pass the Abortion Act in 1967, and when Dilys called for abortion to be decriminalised.

Speech by Dilys Cossey OBE, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award

Dilys Cossey OBE delivering her acceptance speech
It is a great pleasure and honour to accept this award and to receive it with my long-term colleague David Paintin. I have known David for half a century – we started off together in the Abortion Law Reform Association in 1964. It has been a huge privilege to be a member of the team working for so long in this field with committed colleagues – with people like David and Ann Furedi. There was never any doubt about the value of what one was doing.

It is a particular pleasure because it comes from friends and colleagues in FPA and Brook known over many years. I have always valued Simon Blake’s attentiveness and courtesy to a Brook ‘oldie’. And Audrey Simpson and I go back a long way in FPA and Brook. I would like to congratulate both of them: Audrey on her persistence in tackling the thorny issue of the precise legal status of abortion in Northern Ireland, and Simon for his imaginative and confident leadership of Brook and piloting change in choppy waters.

I would also like to say thanks to Ann: she and I had unforgettable years working together in the Birth Control Trust fighting the forces of darkness.

It is good to see here tonight a few familiar faces: Alison Hadley, Harriet Gill, Mary Crawford, Jackie Boath and Jane Hughes. These are the people who have made Brook work so well at the grassroots.

This year Brook is 50. Next year is the FPA’s 85th birthday and in four years time Bpas will be 50. So, as everyone is getting older, just as I am, Simon granted me a special dispensation to say a few words. I thought it would be appropriate to make some observations about how times have changed.

In sexual health terms the 1950s, when I was growing up, were the Dark Ages. Contraception was not part of NHS provision – it was patchily available for married women through FPA and some local authority clinics; abortion was illegal (Mike Leigh’s film Vera Drake is an excellent illustration of the situation); male same-sex relationships were illegal; divorce was difficult and expensive; there were two choices for single young women who got pregnant: a shotgun marriage or giving up your baby for adoption. Many resorted to backstreet abortion. Some gay men committed suicide. Looking back sex, other than in heterosexual marriage, was closely connected with guilt, fear and shame.

Set against that background, my experience in 1961 just before I got married of visiting the FPA clinic in Walworth, South London, later a Brook clinic, is unsurprising. Alas, I did not sport a sparkling engagement ring on the third finger of my left hand, and the volunteer receptionist was suspicious, to say the least, thinking I was up to no good. So, she grilled me not only on my personal details, but those of my intended, and of the date, time and place of our nuptials and our future address. Reluctantly I was allowed in and joined other women sitting minus knickers, suspender belts and stockings. I finally got my diaphragm and cream, after a couple of brisk questions from the doctor about enjoying sex and when I was going to have a family. I subsequently learned that care had been taken to check whether I actually did get married.
(l-r) Jenny Eclair, Dilys Cossey, and Ann Furedi

But things were beginning to change. The sexual Zeitgeist is captured in the opening lines of Philip Larkin’s poem, “Annus Mirabilis”:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

 The 1960s were a period of substantial social and sexual reform – mainly in the 1966-70 Labour government under Harold Wilson - and set the legal framework still broadly in place today for abortion and same-sex relationships. I was witness to Brook’s birth at the FPA 1964 AGM, and over the years it has grown into a sturdy adult. In the 1970s contraception became available free-of-charge on the NHS – and by some miracle remains so. But the sands constantly shift: in the 1980s HIV AIDS was a huge challenge, as were Mrs Gillick’s legal action against the Department of Health and the anti-abortion lobby’s bitter opposition to legalisation of embryo research. Section 28 was a long, long struggle. Financial cuts and structural changes in the NHS continue to threaten provision. And the issue of sex and personal relationships in education remains unresolved.

Although society and its attitudes have changed profoundly in the last half-century – I think this is an instance where the phrase ‘Things ain’t what they used to be’ is positive, not negative – there will, in my view, never be a time when one can relax. That is why Brook, FPA, Bpas and Education for Choice are so important because they are the main guardians of the legacy. I like the message in the ‘XES: We Can’t Go Backwards’ campaign and Brook’s 2019 aim on sex, sexual equality and sexual health.

At the same time there is, in my opinion, a duty to push boundaries for what we believe in. My personal view is that we should be talking about broadening the terms of reference of discussion on sexuality to include the concept of sexual rights as well as sexual health, and on the abortion front about the decriminalisation of abortion - I think that this is something Wendy Savage will be talking about at the Abortion Rights AGM at the end of March.

Many battles are won, but the war continues. And, looking around, I am encouraged to see so many young people and from such a range of different interests. I am confident that together you are a formidable group. Thank you again for my award. Good luck – may the force go with you!



Speech by Dr David Paintin, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award

I am very honoured that Brook and the FPA have chosen me to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. There have been great advances in sexual and sexual rights during my lifetime. In 1930, the year I was born, women were expected to become wives whose role was to support their husband, become his sexual partner and the mother of his children — he earned the family income and she was his housekeeper. Marriage was costly for women— in 1930, 356 died from the complications of unsafe induced abortion and a further 2,126 died in childbirth. When I qualified as a doctor in 1954, pregnancy was much safer but the status of women had hardly changed. Their sexual behaviour was regulated by the stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children; safe abortion was available only at considerable cost from a “Harley Street” gynaecologist. Few family doctors would advise on contraception and family planning clinics were strictly for women who were married or were about to be married. Embarrassed men obtained condoms from barbers, chemists’ shops or by mail order for delivery in plain brown parcels. Even when used carefully, the barrier methods were relatively ineffective — failure rates are estimated to have been from 5 to 15% per year.

There have been great advances since then. Oral contraception and IUCDs became available in the 1960s — making love could now be enjoyed without risking an unplanned pregnancy. This tuned in with an increasing awareness that women should have equality at work, and the right to run their own social and sexual lives. There was growing acceptance of premarital sex and long-term relationships that resulted in children. But unwanted pregnancy remained a problem — the sexual response is instinctive, powerful and difficult to control — it is challenging to be “responsible”, especially when young and inexperienced. This is still true in 2014. But help is at hand —contraceptive methods have improved dramatically — hormone -releasing IUCDs and subcutaneous implants that are acceptable to most women, last for several years and are almost 100% effective.

Up to the early 1970s, women were still dying from unsafe abortion — about 29 each year from 1960 to 1964. David Steel’s Abortion Act of 1967 put the back-street abortionists out of business. Now, women with unwanted pregnancies had only to convince two abortion providing doctors that having a child at this time would threaten her or her children’s physical or mental health and could take her actual or foreseeable circumstances into account. The annual numbers of legal abortions increased dramatically. Deaths from unsafe abortion fell, ceasing altogether in 1975 —the need for unsafe abortion had gone. The NHS could not meet the demand for terminations and some private gynaecologists charged disproportionately large fees. This was remedied by members of the Abortion Law Reform Association when, in 1968, they founded the not-for-profit organisations, Bpas in Birmingham and PAS in London. From 1981, now joined by Marie Stopes International, these charities were allowed by the Department of Health to provide free abortion through contracts with the NHS. Abortion services improved nationwide — in 2012, the NHS provided 97% of all the abortions for women living in England & Wales, 35% by NHS staff and 62% through contracts with Bpas and MSI (PAS had merged with Bpas in 1998).

The beautiful venue, 8 Northumberland
Community family planning services expanded rapidly. The need of young people to have a service of their own was recognised by Helen Brook —she opened her first centre in 1964. In 1973, Parliament voted for contraception to be provided by the NHS, free of charge and irrespective of marital status or gender. Offering help with contraception has become a routine part of post-abortion and post-natal care. The Margaret Pyke Centre, founded in 1969 by Lady Medawar, has pioneered specialist training for health professionals. Contraception and legal abortion are now part of the basic education of doctors and nurses.

A network of dedicated people initiated and developed these improvements in reproductive health. The Abortion Law Reform Association —ALRA— founded in 1936, was at the centre and Professor Dugald Baird, Regius Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Aberdeen, the most medically influential of the pre-war members. My conviction that abortion should be legal and accessible was the result of joining his unit as a trainee gynaecologist in 1956. At that time induced abortion in Scotland was controlled by common law; Dugald Baird had been advised that, acting in good faith to preserve the health of the woman, he was able to provide abortion for social reasons. He convinced me that unwanted pregnancies should be terminated safely by a doctor. He understood that many women had very limited control over the sexual demands of their partners, found diaphragms and condoms difficult to use and that unwanted pregnancies were inevitable. For him, health was as declared by the WHO in 1948, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”— a woman’s health was clearly in danger if her present social circumstances made her pregnancy unwanted. It was after spending an afternoon with Dugald Baird in the autumn of 1966 that David Steel finally decided the wording of the crucial clause in his Abortion Bill.    
                                                           
I joined ALRA in 1963 when I moved to London as a lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. ALRA had just been reinvigorated by Diane Munday, Madeleine Simms, Vera Houghton and Dilys Cossey. It was Vera Houghton, the chair, who recruited me in 1965 as one of the medical advisors during the parliamentary debates that resulted in the Abortion Act of 1967 — my support for abortion provision and fertility control continued from then until now. I was free to speak and support legal abortion in writing, in public meetings and interviews on radio and television, because I had no private practice — my clinical work was entirely within the NHS. Over the years, I have been a member of many committees and advisory groups. These include the Birth Control Trust, PAS, Bpas, Brook Advisory Centres, the Department of Health and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. With the support of Richard Beard and Connie Smith, I provided an NHS abortion service for Paddington and North Kensington — ably continued by Kate Patterson after my retirement — a Paintin Unit for early medical abortion was opened at St Mary’s in 2005. I made legal abortion part of the teaching of medical students at St Mary’s, and was a regular speaker on the Margaret Pyke family planning courses and at medical meetings all over the country.                 
                                                                                       
Ann Furedi, Bpas
As soon as abortion became legal, the ALRA team realised it was necessary to defend the Act from restrictive amendments, and to make contraception more accessible. The Birth Control Campaign, led by Alastair Service and Dilys Cossey, successfully lobbied Parliament in 1973 to make free contraception available through the NHS to all persons irrespective of gender or marital status. The Birth Control Trust was formed in 1972 by Vera Houghton, Alastair Service and Madeleine Simms — I was a committee member and a trustee. Caroline Woodroffe was the first chair and was followed by Vera Houghton when Caroline replaced Lady Brook as chief executive of Brook Advisory Centres. I took over from Vera in 1981 and remained in post until 1998, but the achievements of BCT were due to initiative and energy of Dilys Cossey, with a major contribution from Ann Furedi in the 1990s. Our objects were to help women to find abortion services and to inform politicians and journalists whenever fertility control was in the news. We organised meetings for health professionals, journalists and for parliamentarians in committee rooms at Westminster, and published a series of booklets. The BCT draft contract for abortion services in the early 1990s became the outline for contracts between the not-for-profit organisations and the NHS, and was the forerunner of the RCOG Guideline: The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion. We supported the introduction of many services, such as clip sterilisation, emergency contraception and medical abortion. The Co-ordinating Committee in Defence of the 1967 Abortion Act (CO-ORD) was an ALRA/BCC/BCT initiative and brought together the many pro-choice pressure groups during the procession of restrictive private member’s bills in the 1970s and 80s. Doctors for Women’s Choice (DWCA) was begun by Judy Bury who saw the need for a group of doctors willing to support legal abortion, and to take part in radio phone-ins and television discussions. Wendy Savage has kept the membership together for many years and, through her vigorous and sustained initiatives, has made DWCA an influential public voice.

Many others have had important roles, particularly, Lord Houghton (Douglas Houghton), Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory, Wendy Savage, John Guillebaud, Ian Jones, and the professors trained or inspired by Dugald Baird — Sir Alec Turnbull, Sir Malcolm MacNaughton, David Baird and Alan Templeton. I was only one of the many behind the improvements in reproductive health and sexual rights.

David Paintin, 8 March 2014

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Cornwall adopts the Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool *whoop whoop*

8 years ago I was invited to talk at a conference and workshop programme in Australia as an expert on young people and sexual health.  What a treat for a Cornish lad who never really knew what he wanted to do at school, let alone have hopes of being an expert in anything.

I was working at NCB and three days before going to Australia I had been appointed as CEO of Brook Central. I had spent the past year doing a series of Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood seminars as part of the Research in Practice series. Through that series I had become increasingly worried and unsettled by the lack of confidence many professionals had about the range of 'healthy and normal' sexual development and sexual behaviours, and those we should be concerned about. The result was professionals in different disciplines making a mixed bag of referrals (or not) without any consistent standards across Local Authorities meaning some young people got excellent support and others were not. 

The trip to Australia was fascinating in all sorts of ways and I learnt a lot. Given my experience with the RIP seminars, I was most excited Family Planning Queensland had developed the most fantastic Safeguarding Traffic Light Tool which helps professionals working with children and young people to identify, assess and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours. It uses a ‘traffic light’ system, of Green, Amber and Red to increase professional’s confidence in understanding healthy and unhealthy behaviours: I knew it would be a useful tool to bring back to the UK.

Fast forward almost 8 years and imagine my delight to be the key note speaker yesterday at a conference in Cornwall (my home land) to launch the adoption of Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool by Cornwall County Council as the safeguarding assessment tool the children's workforce will be using with regard sexual behaviours.  This is a partnership endeavour between Brook and the Reducing Teenage Pregnancy Team, in particular, the coordinator, Lex Gainsbury, with the support of the Cornwall Safeguarding Children's Board and Cornwall Health and Well Being Board.  The launch marked the beginning of 70 professional training sessions to train the workforce in using the tool.

I am really excited at this pioneering approach to adopting the tool.  Director of Public Health, Felicity Owen and Lead Member for CYP Services, Councillor Andrew Wallis were clear this should be about improving consistency of education, support, assessment and referral by increasing professional confidence in understanding and assessing healthy and unhealthy behaviours. I look forward to hearing the learning and hope other Local Authorities will follow this visionary path set by Cornwall

You can find out more about the tool at www.brook.org.uk/traffic-lights. If you want to discuss how we can support you to adopt the tool please contact georgia.johnston2@brook.org.uk

I want to acknowledge the kindness of Family Planning Queensland for giving permission for us to develop and adopt the Tool for the UK context, to everybody involved in the developing, piloting and evaluation of the UK tool and the Department for Education for funding its development. I also want to congratulate the vision and foresight all of the partners and the Brook team in Cornwall for adopting this tool.

As the backdrop to the tool I presented about the importance of a positive overall culture is required if we are really going to safeguard young people's sexual health and promote positive health and well being. That culture must be one where we have expectations for them and value their developing sexuality and people across a spectrum of gender and sexual identities.  Good Personal, Social and Health Education is absolutely vital to this, and that is why, in partnership with PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum we published new Supplementary Advice to the Secretary of States Statutory Sex and Relationship Education Guidance last week - you can download the SRE Advice here www.brook.org.uk/supplementaryadvice


An absolutely inspiring day. The final cherry on the cake for me yesterday: being on home ground Mum and Dad came and saw me speak for the first time ever. They were cute, looked after royally by Kerry in particular and having seen the team in action are now fully fledged Brook groupies. Most importantly, I can now say hand on heart we have had a proper conversation about sex.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Let's have a look on the bright side of life

On Friday I had a fascinating and important meeting with Rosie Ferguson and Jim Minton from London Youth and Jane Slowey from the Foyer Federation talking about an asset based approach to service provision for young people.  That meeting, and the publication of Generation Citizen by the National Citizen Service, got me thinking again about the way young people and their lives are often framed negatively; by the general public as well as organisations who support them and some parts of the media. Take a look at the way young people and their lives are represented in the press or on twitter any single day of the week. You would be forgiven for thinking everyone under 25 is in, or having trouble. 

Whilst life for many children and young people is relatively straightforward, of course things are tough - and sometimes exceptionally tough - for some. Many young people have experiences that all of us would like to see a thing of the past in 21st Century Britain. Too often implicitly or explicitly we fail to also look closely at young people's resilience and tenacity in the light of those challenges and at the contribution young people make to society through volunteering and social action.

To value the young people we must notice, celebrate and be excited about their contributions. It is of course right and important to focus on difficult experiences and challenges and to ensure those who experience inequalities and disadvantage get the help they need, but a focus on 'the problems' is not without its own set of problems and we must be aware of and mitigate against. The way debates and discussions are currently framed can send a message to young people that we perceive them, rather than their experiences as problematic and it can prevent us from learning about the multitude of ways young people navigate difficulty and challenge with significant success. It also ignores the huge potential of young people as well as the practical strategies they use that can be shared with others. Finally it perpetuates a culture that ignores the remarkable strengths and resilience young people consistently display.

At a recent conference about young people and the Internet one of the main sessions focused almost entirely about the 'problems of the internet'. 'Sexting' featured highly amongst the list of concerns.  Of coure the Internet brings with it some problems but an exclusive focus on problems contrasts dramatically with many young people's reality of the Internet and social media.

In recent months I have asked a lot of young people about 'sexting' and 'selfies'. It seems to me there may be a growing gulf between the moral panic and the everyday reality of using social media and the Internet for many young people. When I talk about 'sexting' the single biggest thing young people say is we must trust them, provide good education and ensure they know where they can get help if they need it. Mostly they say they either feel or want help to feel in control and can navigate their path through with the right support. 

Through these conversations I have learnt much about the practical ways young people respond to the challenge and opportunity of the Internet  - recently for example I have learnt from young people how snapchat is used and how they were pleased a friend was punished because they deemed he had 'broken the rules' and they sought help. Many are also clear about the law and about their 'digital footprint' and if they are not clear, they know they need to, and want to learn about it. 

Back at the conference I asked the panel what we are doing to learn from those young people who tell us they enjoy using the internet and social media without pitfalls or from those who are navigating their way through the pitfalls successfully alongside research that captures experiences of cyber bullying and harassment. The same question applies in many different areas of relationships, sexual health and safety online.

Yes we must hear and learn from young people's bad experiences and provide robust and appropriate support for those who experience difficulty or challenge. Without underestimating how much we can learn when it all goes wrong and the immense hurt and pain of those involved, we must also do more to learn from the hundreds of thousands of young people who navigate the Internet, social media and their relationships and sexual lives successfully . 

Think about how much more we can do, for example, to learn from those young people who really understand the concept of privacy and apply it to their daily lives; those who use snapchat without fear of others sharing their images without their consent; those who refuse to be constrained by gender and sexual stereotypes and manage any backlash with confidence; from those who use contraception and condoms well; from those who found Personal, Social and Health Education was good enough; from young people who are happy with their first (and subsequent) sexual experiences; or from young people who LGBT and confident in their gender or sexual identity?

If we don't ask the questions which help us learn from success and happiness we won't learn valuable lessons about personal and community strategies from countless young people who manage their lives - the good bits and the bad bits - with resilience, creativity and capacity for growth. 

We continue to get better at learning from the positive at Brook, but we still have some way to go, but as with everything, knowing you need to get better at something is an important first step. 

Follow us on twitter @simonablake @besexpositive @brookcharity

Friday, 28 February 2014

Proud to launch Supplementary Advice to the DfEE statutory Sex and Relationship Education Guidance (0116/2000)

Today I am proud that Brook in partnership with PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum has launched Supplementary Advice to update Government's Statutory Sex and Relationship Education Guidance published in 2000. All of us committed to ensuring children and young people's entitlement to good education about sex and relationships as part of PSHE whatever school they are in, wherever they are in the country.

The link to the SRE Supplementary Advice is here www.brook.org.uk/supplementaryadvice 

The Times Educational Supplement has published an article about the Supplementary Advice which is here.

Much of what is in the statutory 2000 guidance remains good, yet there have been advances in technology which brings the potential for real excitement and easy access to knowledge and information, as well as new challenges - the easy spread of images and easy access to pornography.  We also now know more about issues like Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and the importance of young people developing a positive and active understanding of consent and pleasure, and the development of key skills to navigate and develop positive healthy relationships whatever their gender and sexual identities.

The three organisations have taken advice and input from teachers and other experts to help shape this Supplementary Advice. We have worked hard to incorporate the range of different perspectives and I am immensely proud there is now Supplementary Advice for schools that has such senior support from a wide range of colleagues including Lord Nash, Schools Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, Teaching Unions, NSPCC, Faculty Sexual and Reproductive Health, British Association of Sexual Health and HIV, Girlguiding UK, ParentZone, Stonewall, CEOP and Public Health England (you can see the support at the back of their Advice).

David Cameron himself has also said he welcomes the work of expert organisations supporting schools in this area in response to particular public health concerns about violence and his personal interest in online pornography. But let's be clear this does not replace the ongoing need for statutory Personal, Social and Health Education or strong national and local leadership. It should, in my view, move on from the protracted and intransigent debate that was developing about Government's failure to update their statutory guidance and the implicit and explicit finger pointing that it was because of the out of date guidance that SRE is 'still not good enough' to use Ofsted's words.

Whatever your view about whether government should update their guidance or not, they have chosen not to and it is important we provide schools with the support they need NOW whilst continuing to campaign for more leadership and support for positive, empowering sex and relationships education. Government repeatedly confirm PSHE is an important part of the curriculum for young people that schools must ensure children receive their entitlement to and I am pleased Joe Hayman, CEO of PSHE Association and collaborator on this Advice is going to chair a government advisory group on PSHE.

Of course, it is true much more needs to be done to accelerate progress in PSHE. This Supplementary Advice is one piece of the jigsaw. David Cameron and Lord Nash have both welcomed this Supplementary Advice and we have got to the starting line. All of our jobs now as expert agencies, teachers, Unions and schools is to make sure we don't mistake the task of producing the Supplementary Advice for the real task - improving SRE in schools.  All of us at Brook and our colleagues at the PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum look forward to working with you to develop SRE for the 21st Century.

Thanks to everyone - too numerous to name here - for support, insight, challenge and perspectives and to Sarah Townsend (@STEcopywriting) and Ashley Goldstein (@weaseldance) for their important contributions.  I would personally welcome any feedback about the Supplementary Advice at communications@brook.org.uk so we can know whether it has hit the spot and what else we can do to support teachers to get on with the real job  - delivering excellent SRE for young people.

Happy weekend - follow us on twitter @simonablake @besexpositive @brookcharity and please do use the hashtag SREAdvice

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Sex Appeal 3 - Melange a Trois - some thank yous

Saturday 15th February saw a stunning line up of comedians take part in Sex Appeal 3. For the third year running, Brook Ambassador, Zoe Margolis organised a brilliant comedy fundraiser in aid of Brook with a line up to match any 'best of the fest' show I have ever been to. The inimitable and unbeatable Al Murray hosted the show as his alter ego The Pub Landlord.

The trouble with thank you's is that you will inevitably miss someone off the list, but here goes. Thank you Zoe Margolis for organising Sex Appeal 3 and her complete commitment to improving sex and relationships education for young people. 

Thank you to Ava Vidal who gave comedic insight into the relationship between mother and son; to Bec Hill who wooed us with her modern pulling techniques; to Chris Coltrane who challenged the audience to think differently on bisexuality - after all you don't question someone so intently if they go out with someone with different coloured eyes, why different genitals; to David Mills who has ensured that everytime someone says gravity in our house it gets repeated in an American accent until the other screams for cover; to Kate Smurthwaite for being an all year round pro choice pro sex education campaigner and for ensuring our drive to and from the Brighton marathon the next day was filled with discussion about menstruation and pain; to Robin Ince who reminded the audience you must always have a different nose picking finger from your bum picking one; to Shappi Khorsandi for making most people squirm with talk of labour wards and cunnilingus; to Shazia Mirza for introducing a new word into my life - 'ramadanification' and to Vikki Stone for sharing her Brian Cox tune. Probably fair to say I guess you had to be there so if you weren't make a mental note not to miss out next year. 

Every single person left with a big smile on their faces exactly as intended and I have had excellent feedback from so many people who were there, so thank you to all the comedians of them for making us laugh and for supporting our goal of ensuring young people get the sex and relationships education they want and deserve.  Thank you very much to Love Honey for sponsoring Sex Appeal and to the Love Honey team who braved it in the mini bus from Bath and provided all the contributors with a box of goodies. Thank you CM Print for continued support for Brook and Sex Appeal; to Joy, Ginny and all the Brook and Be Sex Positive team Richard, Leah, Sally, Josina, Holly and Brogan who volunteered on the night; to the stage crew Kirsty and James, and the Bloomsbury Theatre tech team.

And finally of course thank you to Al Murray - the Pub Landlord - for hosting Sex Appeal 1, 2 and 3 and being simply brilliant each time.  This year, a special thank you to Al for giving me the added personal pleasure of watching first my partner then one of my good friends squirm at different points in the evening with a little bit of audience participation. I watched from a distance with a satisfied smile and thought sometimes things have to be left to chance - I couldn't have briefed it better had I tried!


We asked all of the comedians to tell us why they are involved and want to support our work including our work to improve sex and relationships education.  Here is what they said;

Al Murray - sex ed is incredibly important - you can't exactly make informed choices if you're not informed can you? Also two of my favourite things are sex and education

Ava Vidal - i was a teen mum and am pleased to perform at Sex Appeal to help raise Brook's profile so they can continue doing the excellent work they do

Bec Hill - it's important that every person grows up learning as much about sex as possible, so they are equipped with the knowledge to make the right decisions for themselves and those they share it with

Chris Coltrane - sex is brilliant. But enough of my boasting: Brook do such amazing work, giving young people the resources that everyone deserves to make sure they're sexual healthy. I'm proud to be supporting them

David Mills - regarding sex education - I'm all for it. And not just for young people, I'm for Continuing Sex Education'. If you still rely on the same moves you learned as a teenager it's time to go back to school.  I'm all for skills sharing

Kate Smurthwaite - there is only one subject taught in schools where significant numbers of parents, teachers and politicians regularly insist that keeping children in ignorance is good for them. But ignorant children quickly grow up to become ignorant adults. The human body has an amazing capacity to experience physical pleasure. Every young person should be taught about sex in a calm and mature way that emphasises consent and safe sex and celebrates sexual diversity

Robin Ince -  as a teen of the 80s I remember the terror, moral panic and misunderstanding surrounding the discovery of AIDS. For young people (indeed all people) it is important to be properly informed and advised, which is why I support Brook by saying some jokes

Shappi Khorsandi - as a big fan of sex and a supporter of young people, I think Brook does an incredibly important job and so I am glad to be part of Sex Appeal and support Brook's work

Shazia Mirza - I am doing Sex Appeal, because I might get a few tips for myself and I also used to be a science teachers so used to teach sex education all the time.  All my ex-pupils will be disappointed if I don't do this gig

Vikki Stone - Teaching young people to make informed choices about the emotional and physiological minefield that is 'sex' is as important as teaching them maths or science

If you were at Sex Appeal 3 and enjoyed it and want to get involved with Brook, or missed this and want to find out more or get involved with Brook visit www.brook.org.uk/get-involved - we are always keen to welcome more people into the Brook family to come alongside us and campaign for young people's sexual rights including the right to good sex and relationships education. We have activities for everyone - join me and a team of Brookies walking a 100k in September or sign up and become a member from your arm chair - its just £10 per year and we would love you to join us in our 50th year. 

Thanks again to everybody for making this happen. 

I very much look forward to Sex Appeal 4. 


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Remember what it feels like to be young

This week I was disproportionately cross when I saw a friend diss young people on twitter for being loud on the bus. I get even more cross with twitter spats so I text him privately to express my dismay that he was being such a stereotypical idiot about young people. 

He doesn't work in the youth sector, has no professional interest and is quite direct. I was told in no uncertain terms to take my liberal views elsewhere, he had had enough. Both laughing at his juvenile insult and exasperated at his lack of self awareness, I decided to tap into the dad in him -  'imagine you heard somebody say that about your boys'. They are great lads, but they, like most of us are sometimes loud . 

And so we had a sensible conversation, he conceded and deleted his 'all young people are awful' tweet. If only culture change was that easy. I have the privilege of being in an organisation that trusts young people, believes in them and wants to support them on their journey through adolescence and into adulthood.  One of my new years resolutions was to spend more time seeing Brook's work in action this year, and i have got off to a good start.  

Over the last few weeks I have been shadowing some of our teams across the country. The young people I have been in consultations with are actively taking responsibility for their choices and their health, they are moral agents working things out for themselves, sometimes they (like adults) get it wrong and sometimes they get hurt by others. Every single one of them deserves the trust and support of adults.  It is a privilege to be on reception, in a classroom or in the consultation room watching a young person get the help they need and be put at ease by staff who respect and treasure them. 

Our comments book generally tell the story of a funny attitude towards young people in wider society. They praise the service because;  'they were nice to me', 'i didn't feel judged', 'they listened', 'they answered my questions', 'they made me feel comfortable'. Brook staff are technically brilliant at what they do - with different expertise in spades across the different professions. 

But the thing that unites them all is they trust young people and value their developing sexuality. Lots of youth organisations Brook works closely with share that trust and belief in young people. Our job as a sector is to create a societal culture that values young people, so they can flourish. All of us across generations will get the  benefit of their energy, their humour and their ambition to change the world. It's a win win.

I asked my friend, lets call him Paul (not his real name, he consented to me telling the story as long as I didn't name him), to take a couple of minutes to remember what it felt like to be young. Try it, smile to yourself and then commit or recommit to encourage others to believe in and  trust young people so we can truly help them fly. 

Follow us on twitter @simonablake @brookcharity @besexpositive