Friday, 25 May 2007

First class service all round

I was recently in Manchester for a Black Health Agency Board meeting. I took the opportunity to visit our services in Manchester. The speed of Virgin trains leaves me feeling decidedly sick for the first half an hour after arriving so to right myself, I walked in the rain to the Centre which is 15 minutes from the station. When I arrived, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what Chief Executives are supposed to look like. Vanity fears aside, I met some staff who I have not met before, and others who I recognise, but still struggle desperately to remember the names of. Their determination to make the centre a welcoming and comfortable place for young people and to keep on getting better and better at what they do is simply remarkable. (And the new building is lovely too!)

I also visited Stockton to meet some of the team who have just established our new services there. They are already starting to fly – they are getting out and about in the schools and youth settings as part of their outreach. 17 young people attended one of the clinic sessions in the last couple of weeks, and whilst some of the other sessions are slower to start, I am sure it won’t take long before those who are visiting the service tell others, who tell others, who…

Then when I got on the train and looked at my seat reservation, I realised I was in first class – two single tickets, including one first class ticket had been cheaper than a return… Probably a very good job I won’t be getting used to it - the size of the seats make it harder to use a laptop comfortably anyway.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Making time to listen

One of the high points of last week: the manager of Ask Brook is taking the lead for young people’s participation at Brook’s central office. She is tasked with ensuring young people are at the beginning, middle and end of everything we do. Next week a young woman who is part of the Education 2 Employment scheme will begin six weeks’ work experience with us. At our team meeting we reminded each other of the opportunities and challenges this affords us. In essence the message was ‘this means we will have to change the way all of us work. We will all need to make time and prepared to listen and help and receive feedback about the way we do things’. The feeling amongst the team is excited trepidation and a desire to make it a good experience. What a privilege to lead a team that are really willing to change the way they work ensure we meet the needs of those we are here to support. We intend to have young people from our local communities on work experience with us all the time. Watch this space - there will be many lessons for sure.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Let's talk condoms

It’s National Condom Week 2007. We know that to bring about the dramatic decline we need to see in rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) we must encourage much greater use of condoms, alongside other forms of contraception that protect against pregnancy.

In 20 years we have seen dramatic changes in public attitudes towards condoms, but there is a long way to go.

This week see how many times you can talk about condoms, see if you can slip them into conversations wherever you are and whoever you’re with. Have one hour each day when whatever you are asked you reply condoms, play word association games starting with condoms, have serious conversations with your children and friends about condoms & safer sex. Just get everyone talking about them. Be a condom champion.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Emergency contraception - myths and misinformation

About a decade ago I went with a friend to a health centre for emergency contraception. Let’s call my friend Susie. Susie went bright red as she was asked loudly at reception why she was there – “the morning after pill” she tried to whisper and was asked to repeat louder. She was so red and hot, I thought she may explode. We were told to sit down and wait. I tried reassuring Susie who felt embarrassed and ashamed, “accidents happen, no, you are not a slag. No, no-one heard you”. Imagine her horror when the receptionist bellows “where’s the one who needs the morning after pill?” And then, dropping her voice to normal levels to say, “room one”.

Fast forward ten years – A woman like you, a woman like me - a report published yesterday by Schering Health Care Limited, is an interesting read. It is a tale of myths, misinformation and embarrassment about emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is most often used by women aged 25-29 who are in a long term relationship, and yet the report reveals the incorrect perception that it is most likely to be used by teenagers, students and single women. It also shows that many women still lack basic knowledge about where to get emergency contraception, how it will affect them and how it works.

I wish I had been surprised by the findings. So what can we do so things change in the next ten years?

- Stop talking about the morning after pill and start talking about emergency contraception
- Accept mistakes happen and that taking emergency contraception is much more responsible and gives greater peace of mind than crossing your fingers
- If or when you use it, tell someone – don’t keep it a guilty secret
- Think about your workplace, school or college – what can be done to promote the truth about emergency contraception….which is that it is responsible, safe and easy to use it and that it is used daily by women just like YOU.

With these changes the next time someone like Susie needs emergency contraception there should be no stigma; no shame or embarrassment, just a recognition that she is taking responsibility for her sexual health.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Brook meets the young farmers

Last weekend Brook had a stand at the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs annual convention in Torquay. Five people from across the Brook Network gave out condoms and talked with delegates about sex, sexually transmitted infections and sexual health on two of the three big ‘disco’ nights. We also ran a quiz about sexual health which included the question “what is the most important thing for you to know about sexual health?” Among the responses: “be careful it can kill you”; “it’s good fun”; “always use a condom”; and “practice often but be safe”.

Both Brook and Young Farmers staff observed how much more confident people were coming to our stand on the second night to ask for condoms or advice. We know that changing cultures and attitudes towards condoms requires community interventions. We need to promote dialogue with young people and make the issue visible.

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and are now busy identifying other opportunities like this through which we can help make condoms a mandatory requirement for young people on a big night out.