Friday, 30 December 2011

Goodbye 2011: Hello 2012

It hardly seems conceivable, or indeed bearable that a year ago today I was frantically piecing together my fancy dress outfit for NYE. Whilst most things around us are changing rapidly, some things remain - true to form I have left it until the last minute to get my costume ready again. Ushering in the new year it is important to reflect on the successes and the disappointments of the year gone by as well as look to the opportunities and challenges of the year ahead.

Some of Brook's key successes this year have been;

Making the transition to become one unified organisation in April - the energy, commitment and determination of managers and trustees from the 16 organisations that made up the Brook Network was awesome through the review that led to a decision to change our constitution. This was critical to ensuring a smooth transition.

Any organisational change of this size requires all of us involved to look at things differently and to change our world views. And through this transitional year I have appreciated enormously the support and challenge of colleagues - trustees, managers and staff - to keep us on track and make sure that different perspectives are understood. And amongst all the internal change, business as usual has continued, continuing to secure and contracts and funding so we can provide education and services across the country to those young people who need them most.

If I was to have the last 8 months again, there would be many things I would do the same, and there would of course be things I would do differently. But what I still know to be true is that Brook people remain determinedly focused on young people - developing creative and innovative responses to their needs in the face of major internal and external change. And I appreciate this commitment and professionalism enormously.

This year we launched a formal collaboration with FPA over the year, and this partnership has allowed us to focus our resources effectively, reducing duplication and maximising our expertise. I look forward to continuing this exciting collaboration in 2012 which includes the first ever UK Sexual Health Awards on March 15th 2012 - find out more at

At the same time we have been a loud and vociferous voice in support of relationships and sex education - as part of our Sex: Positive campaign developed by our young volunteers, we launched the 21st Century SRE campaign which has already got over 2200 supporters including boyband JLS. If you haven't already you can sign up at As someone who disagrees vehemently with me about the importance of RSE said in a recent [heated] phone call, 'like what you and your organisation stand for or not I have to say your views have really been loud and clear this year.'

It was fantastic again this year to see the sustained reduction in teenage pregnancy rates when the data was published for the final year of the previous government's strategy. Evidence that we do know what works, and that if you get all the elements right including support for parents, SRE in schools, access to contraception and effective youth provision then teenage pregnancy rates can and will fall.

And given that a central plank of success in reducing teenage prenancy is good education it is so disappointing that progress on getting Relationships and Sex Education a normal everyday part of school life has slowed. The politicisation and polarisation of ideas and views about RSE have been disappointing. We know the consensus in support of RSE remains - most young people, parents and professionals support RSE, and we must ensure that we trust that consensue when some media are deliberately misleading and shrill in their approach. I was unhappy that the government launched the PSHE Education consultation with a closed mind about whether any changes are needed in legislation to improve RSE, particularly when we thought we had been so close to securing a statutory entitlement for all children and young people.

Similarly the politicisation and polemic about abortion, particularly counselling for women considering or seeking an abortion was of great concern this year. Brook of course supports any measure to improve the quality of counselling and support women facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy face, we wait with interest to see the government proposals about counselling for women facing a pregnancy choice. But lets be very clear the rhetoric that independent abortion providers have a vested interest in 'pushing women towards abortion above all other pregnancy choices' is offensive to women's ability to make decisions and choices and quite simply untrue. I fully respect people's right to feel morally opposed to abortion. However I cannot respect any drive to limit women's choices and access to services or to influence their decision about abortion with misinformation. We know from evidence from around the world that where abortion access is denied or limited it does not stop abortion, it pushes the procedure underground, making it stigmatised and unsafe. We need only look to Northern Ireland to see how difficult antiquated laws make it for women who want to have an abortion.

As we look to 2012 we know what works and we know there is an economic case for investing in education and services that can see an immediate, and often in year, return on investment. And we know the shifting responsibility for Public Health to Local Authorities could provide new opportunities to think holistically about young people, health and well being.

But there will be challenges: history shows us that when money is tight spend often moves from prevention and early intervention to 'treatment' or unavoidable costs. As a commissioner or a finance director if you are not responsible for the 'treatment' costs and the primary job is to balance the book how do we ensure investment is maintained in the best interest of young people's sexual health? The shift of responsibility for Public Health to Local Authorities will also inevitably be challenging through the transition, and some of the sexual health expertise will undoubtedly be lost.

Sir Stephen Bubb has just sent through his top tips for ACEVO members for 2012 - they were

Look after yourself
Get your personal leadership plan nailed
Stay positive in the face of adversity

Messages that all of us, whatever our role and wherever we work, in the public, private or voluntary sector will do well to take heed of. As a colleague said last week, 2012 won't be easy for young people and sexual health. So let it be the year we look after ourselves and remain committed to our personal and professional development, stay positive in the face of challenge and consistently speak out in support of young people's sexual health and sexual rights. With ever increasing pressures on finances, major change in the health system, a small number of loud voices who oppose young people's sexual rights, and the increased determination of local priorities it will be the confidence that comes with over 45 years experience at Brook that will enable us to keep young people's sexual health on the agenda.

I am proud that i can say with complete and utter confidence that our teams across the country will strive day in day out to deliver the best quality services and education for young people; to be a loud and confident voice in support of young people's sexual rights and advocates and champions for the change we want to see.

Goodbye and thank you 2011, hello and welcome 2012. Right time to get that fancy dress sorted.

You can read more about the difference Brook makes and at

Follow Brook on twitter @brookcharity; @besexpositive or follow me @simonablake

Friday, 23 December 2011

Brook's annual review 2010/11

I am exceptionally proud of the difference Brook makes to the lives of young people day in day out. In 2010/11 we had direct contact with 301,000 young people through clinical and support services, education and Ask Brook. That is up from 261, 000 young people in 2009/10. Staff at Brook work tirelessly to make our mission of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm a reality. This annual review is a peep into how Brook's dedicated and exceptional staff teams across the country are delivering fantastic education, clinical and support services and achieving social change.

You can read about the difference we make in our online annual review and impact statement at


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'look after rabbits', SRE and sexual exploitation

Since I last blogged here I have a new addition in my family; a blue staffordshire bull terrier puppy who is quite simply adorable. It is the first time I have had a dog as an adult. This experience is connecting me to how much I learnt about care, responsibility and love from having animals as a child - from my first 'look after rabbit' brought home in the school holidays; the night we found my first cat knocked over at the side of the road; and the mornings I really didn't want to get up to do the horses and relied heavily on mum and dad to help me out.

Over the last few weeks there has been lots of exciting campaigning work at Brook - we launched the Say Yes to 21st Century SRE campaign - if you haven't signed our petition please do so at - we will be submitting this as part of our response to the government's PSHE review consultation. It was an interesting experience doing the media work for the campaign. For the first time ever in 15 years of being involved in this work and doing media around it, the overwhelming majority of journalists, listeners and those who phoned in to join the discussion were absolutely supportive of 21st Century SRE and couldn't believe that we are still in a position where SRE is patchy and largely down to the discretion or enthusiasm of individual schools. Sunday Morning Live was one exception to this, but the less said about that here the better. Unfortunately polemic debate in this area still appeals to a few and some political debates on this issue seem far removed from reality, but it is important to remind ourselves the majority of young people, parents and professionals agree SRE is important. And whilst our small campaigning team have been working hard to create the campaign, day in day out across Brook all our teams are working hard to create the social change we need to enable young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm.

Last Monday I spent some time on reception at Brook in Manchester learning more about exactly what happens when a young person walks through the door in Manchester. The skills of the people in putting the young people at ease and ensuring they got what they wanted were quite remarkable. So too was the thought that goes into making the waiting room reflect our values, and using the waiting time as an educational moment whilst the young people wait to be seen. Even tying in the education with a Halloween theme. Whilst on reception I also learnt that some glow in the dark condoms need to be near a light to glow.

On Monday this week I met with the Office of the Children's Commissioner who are doing an inquiry into sexual exploitation (find out more at their website), and on Tuesday spoke at a conference for Public Health Trainees alongside a colleague from NSPCC. I was struck yet again at both of those meetings that if we are going to really deal with exploitation and abuse we have to get to grips with and change our peculiar culture towards young people, sex and sexuality. Unless all young people learn about and understand consent and have the skills and confidence to assert themselves in relationships, to really take control of their lives and their choices then we will never be able to get on top of and deal effectively with sexual abuse and exploitation in all its forms. Even though abuse and exploitation is still a horrid taboo for many, sometimes when people do address it it seems too easy to go straight to the abuse and exploitation end of the spectrum and not connect it to our wider culture about sex and relationships.

Of course getting SRE consistently right across all schools in the country, starting at primary age will not be a universal panacea but it is a first step in demonstrating we are a country that has a grown up and mature approach to young people and their developing sense of themselves and their sexuality and an opportunity to help all children understand safe and unsafe touching and ensure they know they can and must ask for help if they are being hurt. All professionals working with young people must know about and recognise the signs of exploitation. At Brook in Blackburn they run a training course for professionals TEASE - Telling Everyone About Sexual Exploitation - vital if we are going to break the taboo.

Yesterday I was also privileged in my role as Compact Voice Chair to be part of the Annual Compact Awards. Partnership working across the public and voluntary sector is even more important now with less money to ensure the best outcomes for communities. Some really innovative and impressive approaches. Whilst there I got the chance to thank John Plummer from Third Sector who as part of a recent interview with me described my role at Compact Voice talking about partnership and my day job at Brook dealing with chlamydia as both lacking glamour. Luckily I find both interesting, vital, rewarding and challenging, if not glamorous!

I also went to the launch of Diversity Role Models a new charity set up by the wonderful Suran Dickson. Hosted by John Bercow in Speakers House which he has 'opened up' to support important issues speakers included the Home Secretary Teresa May and Roger Crouch - Stonewall's Hero of the Year, and father of Dominic Crouch who killed himself last year aged 15 after being bullied. The premise underpinning Diversity Role Models is simple and its simplicity is its genius; taking straight and gay role models into school and talking about bullying and equality and creating a visibility of gay sexuality. I spoke to one of the role models about his experience of going into school and he simply described it as 'humbling and important'. He said the young people were engaged and interested, challenged and challenging. He felt it made a difference.

Sue Sharpe almost a decade ago wrote about the need for visibility of homosexuality within schools if we are to wipe out homophobia. Diversity Role Models helps provide just that and I wish them much success. You can follow them on twitter @DiversityRM and you can follow me on @simonablake - I confess I often retweet others, and less often say too much myself so @brookcharity and @besexpositive are ones to follow too.

Finally please do sign the petition for 21st Century SRE at

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Launching our Sex:Positive campaign for 21st Century SRE

Yesterday Brook launched a big new national campaign demanding that all young people should have access to relevant, useful, 21st century sex and relationships education (SRE) in school.

We commissioned a survey and have also launched a petition to demand SRE for the 21st Century. The survey found that nearly half – 47% of young people said their SRE was unsatisfactory or nonexistent. And 26% of the young people we surveyed say that they got no sex and relationships education at all.

You can read the blog about the launch on the besexpositive Tumblr page. And also sign the petition.

Follow the campaign on Twitter @besexpositive and become a fan of our Facebook page

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Let's get 21st Century Sex and Relationships Education

At Brook young people have been telling us for decades they want better sex and relationships education and today The Guardian has published an article - - following a new survey carried out by Brook, that shows that not enough has changed.

Last night I was talking to a friend who is staying with us at the moment and she asked the straightforward question, 'what is all the fuss about'. And when you try and answer it, that is the question - we have to stop talking about whether to provide it, and instead move to how to do it - consider how we ensure teachers up and down the country are well trained and supported to provide young people with the sort of sex and relationships education they want, deserve and will need if they are to navigate the path from puberty, through adolescence and into adult with confidence and joy.

I feel like I am in a bit of a timewarp when it comes to SRE - the same debates rehearsed predictably often and we want to stop that circle and move on. Young people say they want good quality SRE, parents overwhelmingly support school SRE and professionals also support SRE because they know that young people need help and support to understand their bodies, their emotions, relationships and develop the skills to manage their lives. Indeed successive Government's point to its importance. Having been involved in this work for over 15 years, I and many others who have also been on this journey want to see a step change in commitment to SRE, and ask Government to mandate and support schools to deliver. I still believe that statutory SRE across the key stages is the best route to go down, but as I have said many times before as long as every child gets their entitlement to SRE to help them be confident, happy and safe I don't actually care what mechanisms are used to achieve SRE fit for the 21st Century.

This is a once in a decade opportunity to influence policy makers and parliamentarians make the changes all the evidence tells us are needed. We want to make sure the voices of the overwhelming majority who support SRE are heard. Help get this sorted once and for all. Visit and sign our petition to UK Parliament to create SRE fit for the 21st Century. Please help us spread the word - blog it, tweet it, talk about it so Brook can work with partners to make young people, parents and professional voices heard in the PSHE Review. We will be blogging and tweeting facts from the survey throughout the week - please join in the conversation.

Please take five minutes to help us achieve 21st Century Sex and Relationships Education -

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The last few weeks

It has been almost a month since I have blogged - during which time;

The Dorries Amendment on abortion counselling was defeated and Anne Milton confirmed that government will be consulting on proposals in relation to counselling. Is it possible to disagree with the notion that women who need counselling should have quick and easy access to non-judgemental, non-directive quality provision?

I do however remain concerned that the debate about counselling provision has led to the search for a solution where there is no problem to fix. There continues to be confusion about what currently happens and what does not happen, about what counselling is and what is isn't. At Brook we are completely committed to ensuring that everyone gets the support they need to make decisions about their pregnancy, and that where required they receive counselling. However the debate and the discussion is unhelpful because it perpetuates myths and misinformation about the current state of play. This is one to watch and to make sure the voice of the pro-choice majority is heard loud and clear - abortion care should be equal to and as good as all other aspects of health care but it should not be subject to unnecessary change, additional hurdles and regulation. And lets be very clear abortion provision is regulated by CQC.

I have spent a week in Cornwall enjoying extreme rain and late September sun with lovely friends. In the middle of the week I spent a morning with staff from Brook Cornwall about what the Brook change programme means for them and exploring their hopes and learning more about the particular local context they are working in. I then went to the stunning Dartington Hall in Devon to spend the evening at the SW Region Public Health Conference at which I was delighted to learn that Gabriel Scally has been appointed as Chief of the clusters of Strategic Health Authorities in the South of England. The pre-dinner presentation on the environment and health was fascinating particularly the pilots being undertaken in Cornish workplaces to improve the relationship between health and productivity.

The Family Education Trust has published their report Unhealthy Confusion, which unsurprisingly argues that a healthy school does not need to provide sex and relationships education. I of course do not agree with this supposition at all - how can a school be a healthy school if children are not learning about relationships both to help them in their relationships within school, their emotional development and ability to seek and ask for help as well as play a pivotal role in safeguarding and protecting children from harm?

The Lib Dems conference took place in Birmingham and the Labour Party Conference has taken place in Liverpool, with just the Conservatives left next week in Manchester.
It was great to see old colleagues and friends, as well as meet new ones and particular pleased at how many local councillors are really interested in ensuring the sexual health needs of their population are met in the changing context. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for all of us interested in sexual health to make contact with local councillors to ask questions, provide information and ensure that teenage pregnancy and sexual health stays on their radar - they have a lot of plates spinning right now.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

On being young and 'youngpeopleiphobia'

I don't know whether I have a mid life moment coming on, but I tend to think a lot about age. A few weeks ago Miranda Sawyer wrote about being middle aged in the Observer. There are not many articles that I read more than once, but this one struck a chord. You can find it here

But thinking about age is not new, I have often written here about the importance of remembering what it feels like to be young - real empathy with and understanding about the realities of young people is an outstanding quality of Brook staff that I see time and time again as I visit Brook Centres.

On a day to day basis, like most people I don't feel too different than I did when I was in my mid 20s. Yet more and more I look in the mirror and am surprised to see my Dad looking back at me. There are tell tales signs that I am no longer 18; fast onset of greying hair, my increasing love of celebrating Friday with a quiet night in, rather than a night of partying that ends at dawn, I constantly check my watch if out in the week to ensure I am home before 10.30. These little things have all crept up on me without even noticing mostly.

We do however need to think and talk about age. We need to be clear what our offer is for young people in the UK. I want young people to be young. I want young people to have a chance to influence decisions that affect them, and I want young people to be treated like they are young - not in a patronising way but in a way that recognises a 15 year old should not have the same responsibilities as they likely will later in life. I know that circumstances mean that some young people - those who are carers for example - do have responsibilities and it is vital that they also are given the support to fulfil these, and the space to be young.

When I think about age a lot it is triggered by memories - in the last 48 hours I had a phone call from a friend I haven't seen for 20 years; on thursday friends I went to Ibiza with over a decade ago have gone again - I will never know on balance whether I am deeply envious or deeply relieved I said no. I know how tiring it is. Yesterday I cycled past the old site where our favourite club in Kings Cross - The Cross - used to be and smiled to myself remembering how wonky I often felt when we left. This morning I have been planning for our trip to Cornwall later this month with my group of friends who spent much of our late teens, twenties and thirties together. And as I have been planning I have reflected a bit on how our lives have changed and developed. How responsibilities and roles have shifted - as friends, partners, employees, partners, uncles and aunts.

I don't write this to be self indulgent but to reflect on what we want for our young people. At Brook we know that how young people's experiences of being loved and cared for and allowed to realise their rights impacts on how they manage their relationships and sexual choices. We also know that most young people want to be and are responsible.

There has been lots of talk of how young people are going wrong in the post riot weeks and the importance of instilling responsibility in young people. I agree with the premise of responsibility, and at the same time I worry about some of the suggested means to do so. I am a responsible active citizen. I want to contribute to making things better. But that was not instilled in me with hefty discipline or ASBOs. It was through being loved and cared for, having an extended family that introduced expectations, created boundaries and told me clearly when I had crossed the line. Through having the opportunity to take risks and (often) get hurt because I took them. It happened because I was allowed to be young - not treated as a child, but not expected to be a 'fully fledged adult' either, and it happened most of all because I had the opportunity and the encouragement to do things I wanted to do and to achieve. All young people deserve this.

Over the last few weeks I have been discussing the riots with people I count as socially liberal. The riots, or more probably the reporting of them, have sparked a deep belly anger in many of these people and specifically soured their views of young people. And some seem to have lost their skills of discernment, failing to recognise this was a small minority of young people (with adults) and that the majority of young people were not involved. I hope the post riot analysis takes us to the root causes of the problems and as a country we think carefully about what our offer is for young people. Without a firm offer for all young people that we make sure we deliver on, even without a crystal ball I predict further unrest. Worse than that, too many young people will not have the chance to be young and create a happy memory bank and learn vital skills to manage their lives now and in the future.

The government is currently consulting on its Positive for Youth initiative - find out about it and respond here -

If you, like me, think being young should be the time of your life please stand up for young people and continue challenging the negative perceptions and assumptions that underpin one of the socially acceptable prejudices of our time - 'youngpeopleiphobia'.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Stand up for women's right to choose

Brook knows from our long history of providing pregnancy choices counselling that when a young woman finds out she is pregnant she needs support from a highly skilled professional who provides a safe space where she can understand her choices fully, and enables her to make her own decisions about whether or not to continue the pregnancy without fear of judgement or reprise. That is, I believe the right of any (young) woman who wants counselling.

This counselling for women (who may or may not go on to have an abortion) is in the news because the Health and Social Care Bill is before Parliament next week. If successful an amendment to the Bill, laid down by Frank Field and Nadine Dorries, would stop those who provide abortion such as BPAS and Marie Stopes to provide that counselling. This is an unnecessary and unhelpful amendment based on the premise that those who provide abortions are driven by profit - Hmm - interesting they are non profits. And they are regulated by Care Quality Commission.

Field said on Newsnight last night that he had no evidence of 'wrong doing'. He went on to say there was no evidence of mis-selling pensions until it was investigated. As Zoe Williams writing in the Guardian today said 'then lets investigate' instead of aiming to use backstreet politics to create policy and legislation based on myth, misinformation and lies.

I won't rehearse those myths and lies here, but this amendment is dangerous. It is dangerous for a number of reasons. Firstly it is not based on science nor is there evidence of a problem that needs fixing. Secondly stopping those who provide abortions will delay and block access - this still happens too much anyway. We really don't need more delays and blocks in the system. Those distressed young women who contact Brook because they have been blocked or experienced unbearable delays bear witness to that. And it is dangerous because the motivation of some organisations who currently provide counselling and seek to provide more 'independent counselling' is to frighten and scare women away from abortion thus restricting their right to choose (see Education for Choice mystery shopping report for more information

Finally it is dangerous because abortion law and policy cannot be driven by anything other than science. That is wrong. Other attacks such as the one on the time limit can only have legs if abortion law becomes separated from science.

Those (young) women faced with a decision to make about whether to continue with her pregnancy WANTING counselling deserve the highest standard counselling which is non-judgemental, non-directive and impartial. Full stop. This amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill will not take us closer to that goal. I urge you to write to your MP NOW and tell them you oppose the proposed changes to pregnancy choices counselling. Follow this link to FPA's website and find out how

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Chlamydia screening - tell us what you think

If you are under 25, or work with people under 25 Brook needs your help! We have been commissioned by the National Chlamydia Screening Programme to seek young people's views on chlamydia screening. This is an important opportunity to ensure young people's views are heard in the next phase of development - so if you are under 25 please click on the link below and get your voices heard, and if you work with young people please can you disseminate this as far and wide as you can visit the Brook website or go straight to the survey here

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Looking in and beyond the Brook gates

Over recent weeks I have been travelling around the country visiting Brook services and meeting/seeing again the Brook staff teams working across Brook's clinical and support services, education and our advocacy and lobbying work. It is a true pleasure spending time with my colleagues who are working with young people day in day out; and from each and every session I have left energised, inspired by their creativity and passion, and with further clear ideas about what they want from their Chief Executive and their experience of the new Brook organisation.

As one person said, 'I come to work each day not quite knowing what I am going to find, and I always go home knowing that if I have helped at least one young person even just a little bit then it has been a good day'. And this sentiment was echoed often and I was particularly struck by one colleague who said 'in my work I do a lot of work with young women - lots of them are being hurt or not enjoying their relationships and through the work we do I try to help them see that is not good enough for them and they deserve me, and when someone comes back and says I've had enough, or I tried this instead today and it worked, that gives me a real buzz.'

Meanwhile in the national team in Kentish Town our cohort 3 volunteers left us last week - this cohort devised and developed the sex: positive campaign and worked hard and tirelessly to convince many stakeholders of its value. I am immensely proud of their work, and of their individual and group achievements. They brought their own buzz into the office and whilst we will miss them, of course most of all we wish them well and welcome the new volunteers working in both our Kentish Town and Oldham offices.

Whilst spending my hours on the train I am trying to both keep away from too many sandwiches, and keep on top of the policy documents and what is happening. Most notably Positive for Youth, and the PSHE Education review, both from Department for Education.

Positive for Youth is important because it sets the framework for a positive approach to working with young people. There is much to be liked about the tone and content of some of the discussion papers, and I am delighted the health and well being paper emphasises the importance of sex and relationships education and services, and highlights the Brook @besexpositive campaign ( Like many others I am keen to really understand further how this translates to action and dovetails with other initiatives.

The PSHE review was launched by DfE at the end of July and this is an important opportunity to influence the future of PSHE Education including sex and relationships education. In the scope of the document it states that sex education is statutory and that schools must have regard for the sex and relationship education guidance therefore no further changes are needed to legislation. It is absolutely true science contains some 'sex education' and that 'secondary schools must provide a programme which includes as a minimum teaching about STDs including HIV and AIDS' and it is true they must have regard to the sex and relationships education guidance. The unspoken bit here though is they must pay regard to the guidance IF they deliver SRE outside of the statutory minimum which we know so many many schools don't. And young people tell us they suffer from poor quality SRE as a result.

Brook is also concerned the review document does not include consideration of withdrawing the parental right of withdrawal. The UK is signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and there is evidence of this government listening to young people - so I fail to understand a) how we will ensure the entitlement of all children and young people and b) why when there are so many young people telling us their sex and relationships education is not good enough decade after decade, and there is a huge majority consensus from parents and professionals about the need for SRE that it continues to be played a curriculum subject that gets politicised. Only when it becomes as normal and everyday as maths and english will children and young people get the education about relationships, emotions, sexuality and sex education they want and deserve to help them navigate their way through the complexity of the 21st Century.

We will be working with FPA to prepare a full submission to the PSHE Education Review consultation.

And whilst the Positive for Youth discussion papers and the PSHE Education review are in the public domain, we also know that proposals are being considered with regard provision of pregnancy choices counselling, and whether abortion providers will be able to provide this counselling in the future. You can see Brook and FPA briefing and advice about what you can do to let your views be known here

Finally in the Westminster village, we await the Lords Select Committee report on HIV in early September which I am hopeful will provide strong support for improving the quality and quantity of SRE.

Tonight I am going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which I am looking forward to, and am taking the opportunity to visit the new integrated sexual health service recently launched in Edinburgh. To pack my shorts or my raincoat was a dilemma last night, but this morning I think it is definitely raincoat.

Have you pledged to be sex: positive? Its free, its easy and it takes two minutes, just click here

Sunday, 3 July 2011

'I will never forget how kind the Counsellor was'

Last weekend I went to a friend's birthday. The usual round of what do you do party conversations led a small group of us to talk about the abortion stories in the news recently, and Brook's role in supporting young women through their pregnancy choices.

One woman now in her 40s told me about her experience at Brook. She gave permission for me to tell her story here.

She became pregnant in her early 20s and really wasn't sure whether she wanted to keep the baby or have an abortion - her instinct said she wanted an abortion, but she needed both practical and emotional support to think. She spent time with a Brook counsellor working through her options and through that process she decided she wanted to keep the baby, even if it impacted on her relationship with her partner which she feared it would. She was helped to think through and prepare for the different scenarios, and practised how she would tell her partner and her parents about the pregnancy.

She described her experience like this; 'The counsellor was a wonderful woman who cared about what I wanted. She helped me by listening, asking questions and questioning my assumptions and later she offered practical tips about how to explain MY feelings about the situation and MY decision to keep the baby to my partner and family. She gave time for me to practise it'.

And that for me is a perfect example of how pregnancy choices counselling should be - focused on the needs and choices of the woman, providing a safe space for her to explore the choices available to her and having done so to make her decision without any bias or direction from the counsellor about what is the best option. As always when I hear these types of stories I felt proud of the work of Brook staff - this just one example, of which I hear so many, about the difference Brook has made and continues to make on a day to day basis over the decades to many individual woman's lives. Women's right to objective pregnancy choices counselling must be preserved, maintained and protected. That is an absolute fact.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

22nd June - my big day

For two reasons;

Firstly I was appointed as Chief Executive of Brook which is an absolute privilege and an honour. I am really looking forward to working with colleagues, partners and stakeholders.

And Brook held our first ever joint parliamentary reception at the House of Lords with the FPA ( Brook and FPA recently announced a formal collaboration to ensure we make the greatest difference for those we serve. I am really grateful to Brook's President Baroness Massey of Darwen and FPA's President Baroness Gould of Potternewton for hosting the reception which was a wonderful opportunity to see friends, colleagues and partners who make such a difference to sexual health.

Public Health Minister, Anne Milton spoke and confirmed that sexual health is an important issue for the Government. She also reminded us that it is always the squeaky wheels that get oiled, and that constituency MPs need to be influenced - get writing and contacting them about the importance of sexual and reproductive health.

So I urge you, the majority who support people's sexual rights to get your voice heard, in a non squeaky way to make sure the views of the majority are the wheels that are oiled. We as the majority who support sex and relationships education, who trust young people, who are pro-choice and want people to be able to enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual health need to take heed of Anne's message. It is important not to be complacent or take those rights for granted because the small, but vocal, minority are ensuring that MPs, Ministers and other decision makers are hearing their views. Just look at Hansard and the increasing number of questions for evidence.

We have to ensure our support for contraceptive and reproductive choice, sex and relationships education and positive sexual rights is heard loud and clear - from Brook's perspective that means making sure young people get evidence based, accurate and factual information, skills development in education, as well as clinical services and support.

Also speaking at our reception was Gabriel Scally, regional director of public health for the SW who urged all of us to make Director's of Public Health our allies as responsibilities for sexual health move to Local Authorities; Ian and Carol, parents involved in FPA's Speakeasy Programme told how the programme had helped make a real difference to the way they communicate with their children about relationships and sex; and Brook's Sex: Positive campaign volunteers Lucy, Chris and Gloria told the negative attitudes about young people and sex have to change (see and why we must support the sex: positive campaign. All the speeches inspired and inspiring.

The reception was a wonderful celebration of all that is good in sexual health work and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Speaking truth to power

Last week we saw the news that STI rates amongst young people had reduced. Over a decade ago when developing the sexual health and HIV strategy many of us predicted this would happen as we tested more young people and diagnosed previously undiagnosed infection. We also predicted it would initially look like rates were increasing. Great news that we are now seeing a reduction in STI rates amongst young people.

Similarly when the last TP rates were released we again saw a reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies. Both of these stats, coupled with evidence of a growing majority consensus about the importance of good quality sex and relationships education and improving access to services for young people indicate that at the end of the original TP strategy and the strategy for sexual health and HIV we are making headway in improving young people's sexual health - it is clear that we are on the right track and we must continue being driven by the evidence of what works.

But it is increasingly obvious that this progress hangs in the balance. I am having an increasing number of discussions with colleagues in the public and voluntary sector across the country who are facing cuts which they are really concerned put improvements in young people's sexual health at risk.

The math behind this one is simple - if we don't invest in education and prevention including contraceptive and sexual health services, then significantly more investment will be required to test and treat for sexually transmitted infections and for maternity and abortion services. And of course these costs will not be incurred 5 years down the line - they will often be in the same financial year.

At the same time, for whatever reason it seems the message that progress has been made, is not being heard by some. Some journalists and others are clearly reluctant to agree or report on progress, opting instead for tales of 'soaring rates'. Locally the champions for young people's sexual health are reducing in number - many are being made redundant, redeployed or with a generic/wide brief.

Like hundreds and thousands of others, I have worked too hard over the last 15 years, I don't want to see the progress in provision of support to young people decline. We know so much more about what young people want and need to be confident in their sexuality and sexual choices. We also know so much about what works. So its important that we replace some myths with facts and speak truth to power truth clearly and consistently. Here are some of the things I keep saying, and encourage you to do the same.

young people have a right to high quality sex and relationships education at home and school, and they must be able to access services

neither teenage pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted infections are soaring: data demonstrates that we are on the right track and we need to do more, not less, learning the lessons of the past decade about what works

good quality SRE and services does work in improving young people's sexual health - our evidence is there

investing in sexual health makes good economic sense - if we don't invest early then we will pay later

teenage pregnancy and sexual health continue to be important issues for this Coalition Government and this priority must be translated into local delivery.

Desiderata states we should speak 'our truth quietly and clearly'. In the context of structural change and cuts to services I shall continue to do so at every opportunity, and I know I will not be alone. If you haven't already visit and support our young people's campaign to create a sex: positive future. Its quick, free, easy and important as it will help create a positive open culture where young people can both enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual and relationship choices and sexual health.

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Friday, 10 June 2011

Slutwalk: rape and sexual assault

Tomorrow's SlutWalk in London, and the slut walk movement across the world has sparked a lot of debate in our office and having talked to our colleagues in FPA we know there are differences of opinion at FPA too. Not the stand it is making - everyone agrees that sexual assault and rape is always unacceptable and that it is always always always wrong to blame victims of sexual assault for the crime. But mirroring discussions on the street, in schools, women's groups and households across the world we are divided about the use of the term 'slut' and about the ambition of the campaign to 'reappropriate' the word.

These questions are really useful and interesting questions and ones that I hope will continue to be debated and discussed - there is no doubt the debate about language can be useful - but like so many things sometimes the process of debate and discussion can become polarised and the debate and discussion becomes the task rather than actually getting on and changing attitudes and behaviours about the core issues. So to be absolutely clear on this one, whatever you or I think about the term slut and the validity of reappropriation lets us all be very clear that that rape is always unacceptable. Attackers are responsible for rape and sexual assault, never, ever the person who is raped or assaulted.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Brook and FPA respond to the Bailey Review

Below is a joint statement from Brook and the sexual health charity FPA responding to the Bailey Review and its recommendations:

We welcome the publication of this report, ‘Letting children be children’, and its recommendations on addressing the commercialisation and sexualisation of children and young people.

Schools have an important part to play in helping children and young people build confidence and self esteem, so they can understand and critically analyse sexualised images and messages enabling them to be resilient to their impact. Therefore we believe this is a missed opportunity not to recognize the role of good quality relationship and sex education in schools, as one of the report’s key recommendations.

We welcome measures that help parents voice their concerns, but we also think more can be done to support parents to have a dialogue about these issues in the home. In our opinion it's far more beneficial for parents to have a discussion with their children about why, for example, pornography presents an unrealistic picture of sex, than to just report the fact that their child accessed it.

FPA and Brook work with thousands of young people and parents every year. Young people tell us they are often ill-equipped to deal with a highly sexualised society. Parents want to work with schools to address this hugely important issue. We urge the Government to consider the role of statutory sex and relationships education along with the other recommendations proposed in ‘Letting Children be children.'

Friday, 3 June 2011

Clueless to some: reasonable to others

I grew up in Cornwall by the sea. I am there now, overlooking the beach and talking to a few old friends who know what I do. As you would expect given the last few weeks comments ranging from 'saw you in the paper; heard you on the radio; what's that MP woman on about?/she's got a point you know; why should/n't Life be on the group?

And as I listened and talked to liberal people, it becomes more and more clear that even though the majority of people in the UK are pro-choice, want to make sure children are not 'sexualised' early and want good sex and relationships education at home and school, Nadine Dorries call for 'abstinence education for young women' has come across as reasonable to some, even though it is clear to some experts in sex and relationships education that she is clueless.

And the difficulty we have is that whilst there is no evidence that abstinence education (for girls and or boys) works, all of us would agree that we want young people - women and men - to be able to say no to sex unless they are ready to enjoy and take responsibility for it. So Dorries is linking an outcome we would all agree with (being able to say no to sex), with an input that the evidence doesn't support (abstinence education). And so for the average joe on the street, her argument can sound reasonable. And that is especially true when it is combined with fear generated from confident stories of seven year olds being taught to put condoms on a banana (who would want that IF it happened) and that sex and relationships education doesn't include saying no (where it doesn't include saying no it isn't good SRE).

So whether we like or not the majority in support of SRE need to have soundbites - a simple narrative that reassures parents, carers and others worried about sexualisation, who reads the papers and believes that people are having sex earlier and earlier and teenage pregnancy rates are rocketing (neither is true). As I understand it from the parents I have spoken to today they need to be reassured that SRE is a good thing, that it helps prepare children to move from puberty through to adolescence confidently, that the evidence shows that good quality SRE actually delays sex and equips young people to negotiate and use contraception when they choose to have sex. And that it reassures them that sex and relationships education is a sensible part of the solution to TP, STIs and sexualisation, not part of the problem.

So the task we have on our hands is a major task of education about what sex and relationships education is, and a real imperative not to be clumsy with language about these issues.

A decade ago, I visited the USA to learn more about their work to teach young people about sex (or not) and it was clear that it wasn't working then - luckily Obama finally listened to the evidence and withdrew funding. To summarise some of the things I learnt;

don't mix up abstinence with abstinence education - abstinence - not having sex is fine, good, proper and healthy. Abstinence education is not fine, good, proper or healthy because its value base is wrong and there is no evidence to support it.

recognise there is no such thing as an 'abstinence based approach to sex and relationships education' - abstinence education is different in values and approach than sex and relationships education.

good quality sex and relationships education should be called sex and relationships education, full stop. Comprehensive sex and relationships education makes it sound like there is a different sort - non comprehensive. There isn't, sex and relationships education is either good quality or it isn't. If it isn't comprehensive then it isn't good quality. When it is good quality it includes relationships, real life dilemmas, saying yes, saying no, saying maybe.

we must not allow the public to misunderstand what sex and relationships is about, what it includes, how it is delivered and to believe that it only focuses on sex.

we must ensure everyone knows that parents are/should be the first sex educator, that children want them to be; and that schools and youth services work in partnership with parents to ensure children and young people get a rounded education, as you would expect in all other walks of life - maths, food, diet, safety etc. The myth that some perpetuate that parents are undermined by education about sex and relationships is pernicious

The full report is available from from National Children's Bureau - Just Say No! to sex and relationships education; Blake and Frances (2001)

Finally, it is probably time we stopped talking about changing the order of the words from sex and relationships education, to relationships and sex education, and just do it. If we do that it seems there will be more time to actually do the work - after all, we must not mistake the process (talking about SRE/RSE) for the task (delivering SRE/RSE).

The Bailey Review on sexualisation is published on Monday - let's hope that recognises that RSE is part of the solution to help children grow up confident about relationships and sex, and that it recognises the excellent work that programmes like the FPA's Speakeasy programme helping parents get confident talking about sex and relationships do.

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15th birthday celebrations for Brook Manchester

It’s Brook Manchester’s 15th birthday this year for which we are celebrating by holding a fundraiser. It’s taking place at the MacDonald Hotel, Piccadilly, Manchester on Saturday 11 June at 7:30pm.

If you would like to come along to help celebrate the tickets are £15 (one pound for every year) and this includes entry, food, comedy, music and some excellent prizes on offer. These include football memorabilia from Everton FC, Bolton FC and Manchester City FC, original art work and tickets for a variety of events.

You can contact for tickets or ring 0161 233 2192.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Guest blog from Jules Hillier, Brook’s Interim Deputy Chief Exec

Today, I’m handing over to Jules Hillier, Brook’s Interim Deputy Chief Exec, who is guest-blogging her thoughts on the presence of Life on the Sexual Health Forum.

Jules says,

“Like many, my first response to the news that Life had been given a place on the Government’s Sexual Health Forum was a sharp intake of breath and a rush of anger. There’s so much history between the pro-choice and the anti-choice movement and much of it is bitter and personal.

Anyone who’s been on the sharp end of anti-choice campaigning tactics – the call I had when I was pregnant saying they hoped my baby died of a sex infection, having to draft ‘parcel bomb policies’ to protect staff in the 90s, the name-calling (we’re baby-killers, pornographers and child sex advocates, don’t you know), the intimidation of young people accessing services - will struggle with the idea of sharing a platform with any anti-choice organisation.

When my first flush of anger subsided, I reflected for a while to see if I could find a less emotional reaction, and I thought about Brook’s work. Here, through our education work, we aim to help young people to set, understand and respect boundaries, to develop and hold values, to negotiate relationships and to build a level of self esteem and self confidence which will enable them to navigate whatever life and relationships throw at them.

We do all this, and more, not just because we are passionate, committed and motivated to improve young people’s lives, but also because we have the evidence which tells us that this work, combined with our clinical, advice, information and counselling services will make a difference.

It would be a shame, wouldn’t it, I told myself, wagging my finger, if we weren’t able to adopt the same approach to difficult situations as adults that we aim to help young people develop through our work.

So, I took a deep breath, thought about the 260,000 young people who come to us for help and support every year, thought about the 600 talented and committed staff who work with them and thought about all the other excellent organisations in the field who make a difference to young people’s lives every day. And I realised that all that good work will continue regardless of the make up of a government forum on which Brook still has a confident, values driven, evidence based position. And from that position, we can ensure that the voices of young people are put front and centre and their needs are always paramount, just as we have always done.”

Monday, 16 May 2011

Just Love Safe - National Condom Week 2011

Another year has gone by quickly, too quickly, the arrival of National Condom Week is testament to that. Last year I wrote this;

'I am starting to measure my years in how quickly national condom week comes around - this is now the fourth NCW since I have been at Brook, and it seems inconceivable that it is a year since I was setting the challenge to answer condoms to any questions you are asked, just for a laugh, and to see people's face as you do so. Over the last four years, this challenge has been met with extreme reactions - at the one end, it has been suggested I should be punched and at the other people have emailed to say it has made them laugh and the other person bemused, and others have said it stimulated some really interesting conversation. Try it and see what response you get. I take no responsibility if you get the punch.'

And, I challenge you again this year - my fifth NCW since being at Brook - to see how many times you can talk to people about condoms during NCW. Talk about them even when it doesn't make sense to talk about them, find out and tell people facts about condoms - there are lots of them - it doesn't matter which facts, just find ways to talk about them.

This year NCW theme is about protecting yourself this summer. Supported by boy band, JLS. And Durex in conjunction with the JLS Foundation and Brook has launched a Just Love Safe survey - - do the survey and have your chance to win tickets to meet the band backstage or win an ipad.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Radio 4 Woman's Hour yesterday

I was interviewed yesterday morning on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour about abstinence/sex and relationships education and the ten minute rule motion by Nadine Dorries MP last week.

I highlighted how important it was that we listen to what young people tell us. For well over a decade young people (both boys and girls) have been saying that they want to learn more about emotions, and more about relationships and real life situations.

The evidence about what works supports their view, it’s time to stop the circular debate and for government to provide a clear mandate and ensure the mechanisms are in place so that teachers can get on with the delivery of high quality sex and relationships education.

Any debate that polarises views about SRE is unhelpful when there is a broad consensus amongst children, parents and professionals about what needs to be delivered. It’s time to recognise that abstinence education has been so discredited by the evidence that it’s hardly worthy of debate.

The link to listen to the interview again is: and the piece starts about 12 and a half minutes in.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lies, misinformation and circular debates

This week gave me another reason to believe Brook's sex: positive campaign is vital. More lies, more misinformation and more circular debate - this time about sex and relationships education.

On Wednesday a 10 minute rule Bill brought forward by Nadine Dorries which was voted to pass to second reading. The 10 minute rule Bill proposed providing girls aged 13 - 16 with lessons on abstinence. This completely disregards what children and young people have been telling us for decades - sex and relationships education needs to include more about relationships, real life dilemmas, emotions, peer pressure and influence, gender, sexuality etc etc.

I agree completely with Chris Bryant that it is ludicrous legislation and thankfully I agree with John Smeaton from SPUC who noted there is a slim chance of it going anywhere at the next stage.

But of course it did provide another liberal dusting of misinformation and myth about what teachers do in the classroom. It is disrespectful of and can frighten those doing a good job helping children and young people navigate their way through a sexualised world. Given that we know providing good quality SRE is part of the solution, not part of the problem we really don't want to undermine people's confidence.

The premise underpinning the Bill is wrong on many levels. It is wrong because it disregards the broad consensus amongst parents, children and professionals who agree that we should be providing comprehensive sex and relationships education in schools. It is wrong because it ignores completely the evidence that discredits abstinence only education and it ignores the evidence that shows comprehensive sex and relationships education helps delay first sex and ensures young people use contraception when they do choose to have sex.

And it is wrong because it feeds the myth making and fear machine that prevents real progress in this area. I have never seen or heard of 7 year olds being taught how to put a condom on a banana in the classroom. Have you? And if I did I would think it was inappropriate. Would you?

Finally it is wrong because it suggests we don't know that learning about saying yes, saying no, saying maybe, learning about consent and pressure, individual choice and autonomy and developing self respect, confidence and communication skills is a fundamental part of sex and relationships education at the secondary school.

A small minority of people may support this Bill. I, like most people, am not of their number. Are you? So to the teachers, youth workers and others doing excellent sex and relationships education thank you for the work that you do day in day out to help support our children and young people. Most sensible adults appreciate the work you do enormously.

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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why it's so important to listen to young people - latest blog from our young volunteers

One of our young volunteers has published a fantastic blog on the recent tackling teen pregnancy seminar and the ‘sexualisation’ of young people.

Follow their Sex:Positive campaign on Twitter @besexpositive and pledge your support (free) for a Sex:Positive future

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Watch this: evidence of the importance of listening to young people

A great new video from the V team at Brook about why it is so important to listen to young people as part of the sex: positive campaign. I really recommend watching it and ask you to tweet it, share it and recommend it.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

DH court ruling on late abortion data

Yesterday the Department of Health lost a court battle challenging an Information Tribunal decision from October 2009 which means that data on late abortions must be disclosed.

This is extremely disappointing and the potential for individual women, particularly young women, and doctors carrying out the procedure to be identified is deeply worrying and unethical.

The link to an article in the Telegraph (which quotes Brook) is here.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Just a kiss

It is when I hear stories about two people of the same sex getting thrown out of a pub for kissing that I realise how vital Brook's sex:positive campaign is.

Now I wasn't there, and I don't know the details but on face value, being thrown out of a pub in the 21st Century for a 'gay kiss' is quite remarkable. Perhaps even more remarkable because this was a pub in Soho in our capital city. And I am delighted there was direct action taken by hundreds on Friday night. Voicing our immediate objections about unfairness, prejudice and social injustice is vital.

And so is taking the long term view - changing our still wonky culture about sex and sexuality is key to enabling young people to grow up able to enjoy their sexuality and safe from harm. This remains one of the most important tasks we face.

Day in, day out at Brook we see young people who are ashamed, worried, embarrassed and confused about sex and sexuality. Young people who want and need adults to help them navigate their way through adolescence and into adulthood. And it makes me both angry and sad that our society is willing to judge and demonise young people: on the one hand chastising them to be more responsible and more moral, yet at the same time denying them the basic information, education, support and access to services that is vital in helping them to manage their lives both now and in the future, and enabling them to make relationship and sexual choices they can both enjoy and take responsibility for.

And that is the basic premise of the campaign - we must all do our bit to ensure that young people grow up in a sex:positive world. A world where they grow up confident in their own skin, equipped with the full range of life skills they need to take control of and responsibility for their choices and only choosing to have sex when they want to, because it is right for them. So are you doing your bit to improve the culture for young people? It doesn't need to cost money - simply speaking out in support of young people, listening to their views about issues, challenging the sensationalist journalism that reports on increasing rates of teenage pregnancies when the opposite is true, challenging the outrage that comes pouring in when skilled professionals are putting the evidence about what works into practise, providing access to information - none of these things costs money.

And if you are committed to the cause and doing your bit, have you pledged to be sex:positive yet? If not, please go to and pledge now. Its free, its easy and its important. We cannot allow another generation of young people to grow up without the education and support they need. It is morally wrong to do so and unless we take an active stand, situations like that reported at the John Snow pub will continue to happen far too frequently. Most of the time we will never hear about it but that doesn't make it any less wrong.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Recruitment of new trustees

Brook is looking for six trustees who will lead the organisation through an unprecedented time of organisational change.

At Brook we are passionate about young people’s sexual rights and as a trustee you will provide commitment and direction to advance our radical approach to young people’s sexual health.

The specific roles Brook is recruiting are:

Treasurer: to provide financial leadership to the board.

Service users (two vacancies): to ensure the perspective of actual or potential service users on the board.

Lead trustee – clinical governance: to provide leadership on clinical governance and chair the sub committee on clinical excellence.

Lead trustee – safeguarding: to provide leadership on safeguarding and protecting young people, and chair the subcommittee on safeguarding.

Trustee: parliamentary experience - to provide expertise on influencing parliamentarians across the UK.

The commitment equates to between 8 – 12 days a year and the roles are voluntary (with out of pocket expenses paid).

If you are interested in applying you can download further information here.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Scout Association - new sex and relationships programme and resource

Today the Scout Association launched a national relationships and sexual health programme, My body, my choice, and published a resource for Scout Leaders plus a handout for young people.

Local leaders will run the programme aimed at Explorer Scouts (aged between 14-18). Brook really welcomes the initiative and the introduction of this type of no nonsense material, and commend the Chief Scout Bear Grylls for being so supportive of this important area.

The resource provides guidance for leaders on how to approach sex and relationships issues, as well as activities and games to help young people to think about various issues.

The material is clear and simple and is exactly the type of information young people tell us they need to help them understand how their bodies work and to help them make informed decisions about these matters.

You can find out more about the resource here.

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Saturday, 2 April 2011

Saturday 2nd April 2011 - my big mixed week

Its been both a joyous and a sad week. And a very big and momentous week at Brook. And as a result this morning I was so tired this morning I could hardly stand up. It was the need for breakfast that finally forced me to get out of bed.

Yesterday we launched the new Brook organisation. To make this happen, on Thursday the national office board who owned the Brook licence, brand and trademarks etc, assigned all the rights to the new Brook board and the Brook Network of independently constituted charities became part of one new Brook organisation. Although Brook in Northern Ireland did not join the organisation at this stage discussions continue and all of us remain focused on and committed to meeting the sexual health needs of young people in Northern Ireland with its particular culture around sex and sexuality.

The face of the voluntary and community sector is changing, with unprecedented mergers and collaborations being developed to find creative and thoughtful responses to weather the economic environment and continue delivering services for their users as best as possible. And whilst the economic environment is important and there will be financial benefits in our new structure, Brook's change was based on our strategic requirements following the publication of our strategy over two years ago. A proactive rather than reactive move. And I am sure it is absolutely the right one.

The strategy set out an ambitious goal to double the numbers of young people we reach each year. This change in our organisational design and governance structure will enable us to better achieve this goal. And the discussions and work that got us to April 1st have been robust, challenging and enormous. I am immensely proud to have been part of the process and thank everyone - trustees, staff, consultants, lawyers, supporters for making this incredible journey happen. I particularly want to thank the outgoing national trustees who have been there from the beginning and whose vision, boldness, support and challenge has been truly remarkable. They have been a pleasure to work for and with since I started at Brook in 2006. I will miss them enormously.

And now the real work starts - I keep reminding myself that this is the starting line, not the finishing line! The interim senior management team meets on Monday and Tuesday to identify how we will work effectively together, and establish our priorities for the year. The interim team led by me brings together a mix of existing Centre Directors, national office senior staff and someone new to the organisation which is a heady mix that is absolutely right for the transitional year.

The second phase of trustee recruitment has already begun. We are looking for six new trustees to join an already strong board. We are looking for a 2 service users, a treasurer, as well trustees with expertise in safeguarding, clinical leadership and parliamentary and policy. Further details will be on the website next week. Do look if you are interested. Recruitment also starts for the permanent CEO later this month with the aim being to get the permanent CEO in post from October 2011.

Thursday was also a sad day: like many other organisations across the country we closed the doors on services for the last time. For us it was our service in Stockton. Young people are now expected to use all age services with a new provider. I cannot believe young people will not lose out under the new arrangements. Whilst I do not agree with the rationale to close specialist services for young people and I don't believe it will generate the savings Stockton is looking for, I sincerely hope the new services provided by sexual health Teeside will be used by young people, particularly the most vulnerable, and that the hard work that has gone into reducing teenage pregnancy rates which remained stubbornly high until the last couple of years, will not be undone. I will watch closely with interest.

I went to the Stockton team's closing party on Wednesday night, and despite the uncertainty for many of them about their individual futures, I was impressed and humbled by their spirit, solidarity and continued commitment to young people in Stockton and to Brook. In the face of difficult cuts, it can be hard to focus on the successes of the service and what has been achieved for young people over the last four years since it opened. The closure was particularly poignant for me as it was the first new service that opened under 'my watch'. Of course it had all the normal bumps along the way, and some more. And through the dogged determination of staff Brook Stockton we had quickly become a respected provider of services and an expert in young people's sexual health. It is ironic and sad that it is closing down when it had really started to fly and make a difference.

I have just had a call from my father whilst I was typing this blog. When I was at Uni in the early 90s I was tipped off about some shares to buy. As far as we knew I had wasted the £100 which I had scraped together from an overdraft, but a letter has arrived and it looks like I may have made 500% on them. A pleasant surprise.

So, tonight I look forward to seeing my partner. It is fair to say I have been absent from home both mentally and physically for the last month or so, and I look forward to spending some proper time catching up on our tales.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Brook and other organisations develop shared messages in response to Public Health Service consultation documents

Brook has been working together with other sexual health charities and professional bodies to develop shared messages in response to the Public Health Service consultation documents.

These shared messages are from: British Association Sexual Health and HIV, British HIV Association, Brook, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, FPA, Medical Foundation for AIDS and Sexual Health (MedFASH), National HIV Nurses Association, Terence Higgins Trust, and National AIDS Trust.

These shared messages address issues raised in the Public Health White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, and also consultations on the proposed Public Health Outcomes Framework and on funding and commissioning routes for public health – they can be found on Brook’s website at

Monday, 28 March 2011

The forthcoming youth policy and less than one week to go

A few weeks ago I attended the Minsterial Summit hosted by Tim Loughton and NCVYS to participate in early discussions about the Youth Policy paper due out later this year. Josh Harsant from UKYP along with one of Brook's volunteers and a representative from Young Minds spoke about the importance of getting quality health education, support and services in place for young people. Brook as usual argued about the need for statutory sex and relationships education, high quality young people friendly services, workforce development and a strong shift to develop a positive culture about sex and relationships. Here is the link to an article about the policy in Children and Young People Now This week - April 1st - is a landmark in Brook's history as we move from being a Network of independently constituted organisations to one organisation. I have learnt a lot about legal structures, jersey law, due diligence and deeds of assignment over the last year or so. The move is an important one because it was driven by a need to deliver our strategic goal of doubling the numbers of young people we have direct contact with, be a continuously improving organisation, demonstrate our impact and provide value for money. In becoming one organisation there will be many opportunities to share learning more effectively across Brook and maximise the skills and talents of Brook's exceptional staff. I am really looking forward to working with colleagues over the coming months to realise the benefits of coming together in this way in pursuit of improved sexual health for young people. As this will be my last blog before April 1st I want to pay tribute to the outstanding work of all the outgoing trustees across the Brook Network who have spent unknown hours and provided untold expertise and support over many years. Huge appreciation on behalf of the thousands and thousands of young people they/you have helped. -------------------------------------------------- Help us create a sex:positive society - pledge your support (free, quick and very easy) at Follow us on twitter @simonablake @brookcharity @BeSexPositive Facebook - BrookCharity

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Using soaps for discussions - Waterloo Road

Last year as part of the Sex: Worth Talking About campaign, Brook worked with the Department of Health on developing ideas for soap writers to contribute to a positive culture about sex.

And over the last year we have seen many examples of great opportunities for discussion with young people as a result of story lines in a number of soaps such as Christian and Syed in Eastenders, Chesney and Katy, and Sian and Sophie in Coronation Street.

Last week EastEnders featured sexual violence, and similarly today I watched Waterloo Road which has a story line involving Bex and Jess, two sisters, that many young people will already be talking about.

Yesterday at the Brook clinical leads conference, Dr Maddy Coy from London Metropolitan University gave an excellent presentation about sexual violence and exploitation. She told us the evidence from young people is clear - discussion on consent, exploitation and sexual violence is too often absent from sex and relationships education.

So the challenge is in our hands - we all want to reduce the levels of exploitation, coercion and sexual violence so what are we going to do about it? At Brook in Blackburn they have a programme called 'Telling Everyone About Sexual Exploitation', and the clue is in the title - at its most simple we need to talk with everyone about it - young people and indeed adults - so that everyone is aware of the issues; and as parents and professionals we must be able to have a genuine dialogue with young people and be able to recognise the signs.

And this soap coverage of the issues gives us a good trigger for discussing an issue that is still taboo. It was also good to see Waterloo Road with two gay young lads who are fairly comfortable with their sexuality. About a decade ago I wrote a book for Working with Men called Young Gay Men Talking. In the research the young men said they just wanted some everyday story lines in soaps which were not extreme and showed gay young people being happy. This story line does just that.

From sexual exploitation, to gay sexuality, to trust and pregnancy and early fatherhood - in just one episode, Waterloo Road covered a whole multitude of issues. If I was doing face to face work with young people, Waterloo Road is a programme, alongside many others that I would be 'taping' and using clips of.

Here is the link to Barnardos briefing on sexual exploitation


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Friday, 18 March 2011

Red Noses and two weeks to go

I write this watching Comic Relief - getting upset and inspired at the same time and wishing I could do so much more to make a difference. They have just shown the EastEnders clip from last night about Whitney and sexual exploitation. Excellent that EastEnders are tackling head on another important issue. This provides a real opportunity to start the conversations that will ensure young people and adults are aware of sexual exploitation, the process of grooming and how to get help if they are concerned. Brook has a number of projects across the UK working with young people at risk of or involved in sexual exploitation including a project funded by Comic Relief. And we do a lot of training for and working collaboratively with professionals to protect and support young people at risk. The real risk over the coming months and years is that funding for this vital work with some of the most vulnerable young people being exploited through prostitution will not get the support they need. Two weeks today - Friday 1st April - Brook moves from a Network of independent charities to become one organisation. This week I have been continuing visits to Centres and have really enjoyed talking to a number of staff and trustees about the work they are doing, the opportunities to improve young people's sexual health and the challenges in such a fast changing external environment. I have also learnt a lot more than I expected to about Jersey Law this week. Amazing what you learn as you go through change programmes. From Jersey laws I turned to effective organisational decision making. I really recommend Decide and Deliver - 5 steps to breakthrough performance in your organization published by Bain and Company.

On Tuesday I spoke at the Westminster Forum session on Teenage Pregnancy. Alison Hadley did a great presentation on the lessons on reducing teenage pregnancy from the last decade. The key messages are simple - sex and relationships education at home, school and the community and access to young people friendly services are vital. Alison also reminded us that to prevent pregnancy those young people who are having sex need to have access to and use contraception. Lisa Hallgarten from Education for Choice (; @EdforChoice) challenged the notion that we can't talk about sex and relationships in this country - many people can and do, very very well, day in day out.

Lucy and Chris, two of the young volunteers working with Brook, who, despite some nervousness, did brilliantly and talked eloquently about the need to sort out education and services for young people. They challenged us all to think carefully about the messages we give young people about sex.

The meeting was an interesting and lively discussion. I was rather surprised when two delegates took a view about the V team's sex: positive campaign without having looked at it. The suggestion that we call the campaign 'relationships: positive' somewhat missed the point in my view. I encouraged them to look at the campaign pledges ( before deciding what they thought about it. I hope they have because the pledges make sense.

Wednesday I was pleased to be at the first of the Department of Health's Sexual Health Forum set up to advise the Department of Health on sexual health and HIV. I look forward to taking young people's voices and the experience of Brook to inform sexual health policy over the coming months. Today I met with colleagues from the Institute of Ideas and the National Chlamydia Screening Programme before going to the National Audit Office to discuss their forthcoming work on the Compact.

Tomorrow over 20 clinicians from across Brook come together for a conference and I look forward to spending the morning with them. Sexual violence and exploitation is on their agenda. Its a really important issue - well done Comic Relief for bringing the issue into our consciousness.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Three weeks to go!

Three weeks today - Friday 1st April - Brook moves from a Network of individually constituted organisations to one organisation. The move comes following extensive review and consultation which began in 2009.

In these last few weeks before the change I am travelling to many Centres with the new trustees and the more Centres that I am visiting the more excited I am becoming about the change.

Of course there are many unanswered questions as there always will be in a change programme and through dialogue we are developing the answers. What is so compelling about Brook is the passion for young people; there is so much expertise, so much creativity and so many different areas of excellence and expertise that we will be able to utilise to help us continuously improve, and to drive even greater levels of sharing and innovation.

The visits are making the change exceptionally real. And each time I am at, or leave a Centre after talking to staff and trustees, I am grateful to everyone for participating so thoughtfully and positively through the process, but particularly the trustees - 100 + of them - from across Brook who have invested enormous, time, energy and quality thinking into the process.

In the next two weeks we will begin recruiting for six new trustees including two actual or potential Brook service users. Watch this space for the link to the recruitment pack.
Some people have joked that launching the new organisation April Fools Day is unwise - whilst Brook is a lot of fun, young people's sexual health is no joke, and I look forward to working with colleagues across Brook, young people and partners to achieve our stated intention of becoming bigger, bolder and better to make an even greater impact on young people's sexual health.

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Brook conference and awards 2011

On Thursday Brook held our 4th Annual Conference and Awards and many people told me how stimulating and motivating it was. It was from my perspective the best one yet, and the team at Brook who organised the whole event were just brilliant. The theme of the conference was young people, sex and consent. Chaired by Professor Roger Ingham, we had an excellent range of speakers and workshop facilitators, including the V team of volunteers from Brook responsible for and Anne Milton, Minister for Public Health. Three of the V team talked about their research into young people and consent - as always they took a deep breath and performed brilliantly in front of two hundred delegates. Anne Milton talked about the forthcoming sexual health strategy and the DH sexual health forum which will advise the DH in developing the strategy - I look forward to taking the views of young people and professionals who work with them to that table. In the Q and A, Minister was asked about statutory sex and relationships education. She rightly said statutory does not mean quality. I wholeheartedly agree with that assertion - statutory SRE does however provide a lever for systemic change and I question the viable alternatives to achieve the step change that children and young people tell us they need. None of us want SRE to become a tick box exercise and discussion will continue about statutory SRE and improving quality - but the lesson is clear - don't use statutory as short hand for quality. The policy discussions must run side by side. Minister also commented that more progress needed to be made on reducing teenage pregnancy and improving sexually transmitted infection rates. None of us would disagree with that. Both in the session and at coffee, the challenge back from delegates was how this will be achieved with the level and depth of cuts currently underway. Anne Milton was clearly interested in and committed to sexual health - when asked she was clear that there will be no 'Just Say No' policy discourse under her watch. She was also very clear that young people must of course be supported to develop the confidence and skills to say no to sex. Later presentations included; a young woman who had received excellent SRE and said it was vital guidance that helped her understand her choices - the passion and committment of her teacher who also spoke was so evident. A direct challenge to those who say SRE cannot be done well in school. It clearly can and must be. some evidence from the research and a focus on young men and young women, and it was clear from all the presentations that consent is an important issue that we need to talk about more and more in a positive context - helping young people to develop boundaries and a clear understanding of their right to consent, as well as the skills and confidence to assert their sexual rights, including this fundamental of all them - the right to consent. The Awards were begun because whilst you can win an award for pretty much everything else, there were no awards to celebrate the excellent work that people, young and old, are doing with young people on sexual health. We were delighted to welcome our hosts Marc Elliot and Johnny Partridge (Christian and Syeed in Eastenders) who were brilliant - even though I had to hold my breath through their opening speech as they had promised me it was a 'bit blue' they made me laugh. JLS who are such great champions for young people's sexual health joined us for the evening and presented the Brook/JLS young person of the year award. Their foundation, the JLS Foundation launched at the same time as the Durex JLS range of condoms made its first donation to Brook recently and we are grateful for their financial as well as moral support. Tracey Cox, Zoe Margolis and Carrie Quinlan strong ambassadors and supporters of Brook presented the other awards. The awards winners were;

Sufyaan Patel - Brook/JLS young person of the year

David Bigglestone - UK Sexual Health Professional of the Year

Duke of Edinburgh and Young Parents Project - London Borough of Hounslow

Jennifer Hill from Brook East of England - Brook Employee of the Year

Brook Northern Ireland - Brook innovation of the year

A stunning performance from Heart n Soul concluded the evening (

The sponsors of both the conference and awards are absolutely vital in making the evening happen and I am grateful for their ongoing support. My evening was made when a young person who used to volunteer in the national office and her father described to me that working at Brook had been a major turning point in her life.

I finished for the weekend exhausted and very proud. -------------------------------------- help create a sex positive future ; follow us on twitter on @brookcharity, @simonablake and @BeSexPositive