Pete Lawson - introduction
Boards need to listen to young people. It’s as simple as that. Not just by having young trustees, but by providing opportunities to get trustees out into projects, and get young people into the boardroom, to present and discuss and challenge. It’s only through getting the widest and deepest perspective that we can get the clearest picture of what we do and why we do it, and go on to make the best decisions. Decisions that have young people’s needs at their heart.
We had a great board meeting earlier this month, with a chance to learn more about the fantastic BiteSize Brook programme. Dean Cattell, a member of Wirral’s education team, and Shelby Halliwell, a young peer educator, came and spent an hour taking us through several BiteSize exercises, giving us a taster of what it must feel like to be a young person taking part in a session. I always find it inspiring to see any of Brook’s skilled professionals in action – we have the best staff in the sector, whose passion, dedication and skills are second to none. The exercises they took us through were fun, lively, provocative, informative, challenging, and beautifully designed. Both the materials and the trainers are a real credit to Brook. I wish I’d had that when I was at school.
It is equally inspiring to see the journeys that our young people go on. Shelby is clearly an articulate, passionate, and highly skilled youth worker in the making – any pupils who are lucky enough to be trained by her are in for a real treat. It was humbling and moving to have her share her story with us, from when she first came into contact with Brook to where she is now, and so we asked her if she would mind us sharing it. Her story, in her own words, is below. For me, it’s a beautiful, impassioned reminder of why we do what we do.
Shelby Halliwell – a young person and youth worker’s perspective on Brook BiteSize
Thinking back to when I was a year 9 pupil attending school, I got the opportunity to experience a BiteSize session facilitated by Brook’s education team. During the BiteSize session I gained a great deal of knowledge based around Sexual Health and Relationships Education (SHARE) as well as sexuality and homophobia. My friends and I found this an eye opening experience which enabled us to lower the social barrier when talking about these issues. It enabled us to communicate easily with the workers involved and to freely and comfortably voice issues, concerns or opinions we may have had at the time or even not known or understood we had until informed of potential situations in present and future social/sexual relationships.
I personally found it extremely helpful as I was struggling with issues surrounding sexuality and homophobia at the time. Without a doubt my favourite zone in the BiteSize session was and still is ‘Work It Out’ as this zone helped me to understand that as a young person it wasn’t wrong to be different, I didn’t deserve homophobic comments and there was nothing to be ashamed of. Shortly following the day of the BiteSize event I felt confident enough with my new knowledge to come out to my peers as a member of the LGBT community. Personally, I think that without Brook’s guidance and understanding I would have lead myself down a negative path battling with homophobia and depression. But thankfully Brook altered my opinion as well as many of my peers.
As a result of the BiteSize I was able to feel confident enough to become a member of the ‘Work It Out’ youth group run within Brook of an evening. This helped me to feel more secure within myself, my sexual identity and allowed me to develop relationships with other young people experiencing similar situations. The most positive outcome of all the help and support I received from Brook, Response and other organisations I feel is the realisation that supporting and guiding young people was something I not only enjoyed, but I am passionate about, this helped me to forge a career in youth work that benefits not only me but other young people in my surrounding community.
When offered a chance to enrol on the SHARE project and become a peer educator for Brook Wirral I jumped at the chance. I took it in my stride to be the best I could be. During the programme staff members began to comment on my natural ability and passion for the work, and this enabled me to run BiteSize zones confidently and effectively with minimal staff support. I began to then see BiteSize events from a staff member’s perspective while still maintaining the previous experience and views from once attending as a young person. I feel this gives me a well-rounded understanding of how and why the zones are run the way they are and have the effective, useful content they do. I now frequently get the opportunity to see the difference our sessions make in young people’s lives and the positive effect this has on negative opinions and topics that may have seemed taboo in the past.
I can safely say that without the confidence and knowledge gained within Brook I would have never been offered the chance to embark on the gap scheme and be in the process of studying for my qualification in youth work practice. Without Brook and the incredible work we do I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be proud of my achievements and the work I do to give back to our community and help other young people as Brook has helped me.
I was recently told a story that has had a significant impact on me. I was told this story by Helen Corteen, our Centre Manager. This is the story…
One day, an old man was walking along the beach in the early morning and noticed the tide had washed thousands of starfish up on the shore. Up ahead in the distance he spotted a boy who appeared to be gathering up the starfish, and one by one tossing them back into the ocean.
He approached the boy and asked him why he spent so much energy doing what seemed to be a waste of time.
The boy replied, "If these starfish are left out here like this they will bake in the sun, and by this afternoon they will all be dead."
The old man gazed out as far as he could see and responded, "But, there must be hundreds of miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can't possibly rescue all of them. What difference is throwing a few back going to make anyway?"
The boy then held up the starfish he had in his hand and replied, "It's sure going to make a lot of difference to this one!"
This story made such an impact to me personally and professionally because the reason I want to do youth is to help young people, I know there are thousands of young people in need out there but if I can make a difference to just one, it makes all the hard work and dedication worth it. If I can reach out to someone who needs my help and change their life for the better just as brook has done to mine then I can be proud of the person I have become. I may not make a difference to everyone, but the difference I can make to one person can be everything.