At least a year in the making it seems rather unbelievable that #BeingBrook - Brook's staff training and networking event for all staff at the Palace Hotel, Manchester is over. Planned within an inch of its life I cannot do justice to it here. As the contributors provide reports and actions I will publish anything which may be interesting or useful here, along with links to photos, videos and other records of the Event.
It is our 50th birthday year. We have merged 17 organisations touching every single team across the UK and Jersey in one way or another. #BeingBrook was a chance to draw a line in the sand after our major change programme has finished, aswell as say thank you for the tenacity, resilience and professionalism of Brook people who worked tirelessly to ensure young people continue to receive excellent services throughout.
It was also a chance for everyone to put names to faces, to share, to learn, to teach and to inspire each other; a chance for teams to input their thinking and creativity into big strategic issues, aswell as receive important training and updates. #BeingBrook was about rewarding, recognising and celebrating Brook people and their talents and to ultimately improve our work with young people.
I know what talking to 450 people feels like, but never had it felt quite like this. As I stood at the podium to talk to 450 'Brookies' my breath was suspended for a few seconds and it was hard to take in the moment, photograph it in my mind and speak. In my welcome speech I reminded us all of Brook's journey over the last 50 years and just how far society has changed - the legal framework for free contraception and services and for equality is in place (same sex marriages of course became legal today, at last). We are still nowhere near there with sex and relationships education law, policy or delivery. That remains a really big challenge. The next 50 years has to be about improving education so everyone, whatever their identity, can grow with confidence and trust. Only then will we achieve our mission of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm.
In my welcome I was able to a) acknowledge that despite best efforts we hadn't always got everything right through the change programme b) to apologise where we had got it wrong c) to assure staff that whilst some pain was inevitable it was never our intention to upset and d) thank everyone for sticking with us, focusing on young people throughout and ensuring services were not disrupted, whilst all the time helping Brook continue to develop and improve.
There were four training zones on day 1 a) safeguarding b) digital services c) health and well being and d) organisational values. Then young people from our participation group and Naomi, head of participation and volunteering took to the stage to talk about their work across the organisation. We saw first hand the difference volunteering makes to young lives. Time after time the young people talked about how the opportunities Brook provides are helping build their confidence - stood talking to 450 people was some evidence of that. We were told in no uncertain terms by Rebecca that young people are vital on staff interview panels because it helps cut through the bullshit. 'We can see if they really like young people. If you don't look at me through the whole interview and then say you like young people I won't believe you'. Good call. They were quite simply remarkable and completely deserved their standing ovation.
Our Chair and some trustees - including our newly appointed young trustees - Claire Taverner and Charlotte Warner joined us for the evening where dinner was served in the Grand Room. It always amazes me how people can cater so well for so many people. After the meal people headed to bed, to the bar or to dance. I was delighted that despite the late night networking that went on, most people were ready to start at 9am on day 2. Day 2 we worked in professional groupings. I facilitated the receptionists group and had a great time learning about the similarities and differences in approaches and on occasion being provocative. I considered it CEO privilege.
There were many magical moments over the two days - seeing people connect, meeting people, connecting people and watching lightbulb moments. The energy was palpable. Initial feedback has been really quite extraordinary. One person reflected what many others voiced to me; 'I have never been in a room with so many like minded people. Not once in my career have I ever felt part of something or so valued. I have learnt so much by talking to different people, about where we are going and I am excited to be part of that'.
As we were leaving when everything had gone seamlessly, one of my colleagues said 'I don't know any other organisation who would have taken on the organisation of an event like that themselves.' I suspect he is right. And our #BeingBrook planning and organising team, the Brookmakers, our National Consultation Forum and everyone who helped coordinate and deliver the event deserve the most enormous gratitude. The delivery team were as good, if not better, than any agency I have ever used. The Palace Hotel, Manchester were brilliant. If you have a big event, I recommend them. And thank you also to our sponsors - CM Print, Virgin Media, Esteem, HRA Pharma, Durex and Consilient Health without whose ongoing support #BeingBrook would not have been possible. Finally, thank you to Jon Dunn, commissioner of our services in Manchester for joining us to say a few words before dinner.
I know everyone who organised and facilitated the Event left exhausted. As did many of the teams as they travelled back home. Check the #BeingBrook timeline for evidence of inspiration, enthusiasm and exhaustion in equal measures.
I never forget what a privilege it is to be CEO of such an important organisation as Brook. I felt that privilege and pride intensely this week. An inspiring bunch to spend 24 hours with. If you get the chance I recommend it.