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