Saturday, 29 November 2014

Brook is 50

It has been a fairly hefty, fun and very stimulating week - In fact I now feel 50 too.  Monday started with chairing the Faculty Sexual and Reproductive Health governance working group; then two days of board and executive away days, our annual general meeting and Brook's 50th birthday party; panel member at the Charity Tech conference on social media, chairing a debate and seminar about young people and mental health, rounded off by Brook safeguarding training for senior decision makers and ending with an impromptu piece of short filming.

Board and Exec Meeting
A really helpful couple of days and so much thinking done, leading of course to how much more there is to do, particularly in the culture and commissioning environment we are in.  The Be Sex Positive volunteers (@besexpositive) had worked with one of the trustees, Pete Lawson, to think about what the 1 year olds of today would need as the 16 year olds of tomorrow and what Brook's priorities should be.  Joshua and Lisa facilitated an excellent discussion and represented young people excellently. There were some surprises - 3D printing machines for condoms (apparently you can make chocolate and make up...) and then the more familiar good SRE, people that like and trust young people as they experience at Brook, and accessible on and off line services. They made the moral and rights based case as well, if not better, than I have ever heard.  I was fantastically proud. And moved to (just a few) tears.

Brook's AGM and 50th birthday
In this archive interview with Helen Brook
(available until 21st December 2014) she says Brook's first clinic was on a dark November evening.  Fitting then that Brook's AGM and 50th birthday should be too.

Brook supporters - i.e. people that like young people - are great to be around and so it was a real pleasure to see so many people who have been part of Brook over the last 50 years - from founding supporters through to people who had recently walked the Thames Path Challenge to raise money for us, our former trustees and our wonderful young volunteers.

At the AGM I reflected on some of the wide ranging achievements of the year including;

1. working directly with 277,000 young people in our education, clinical and support services
2. increasing the quality, quantity of participation/volunteering opportunities for young people
3. launching a new improved website (
4. relaunching our policies and procedures and a pioneering leadership and management programme
5. launching Supplementary Advice on SRE with the PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum
6. piloting and evaluating our 'My Life' work on emotional and mental health
7. working tirelessly to offer advice with the aim of influencing policy nationally and locally
8. bringing all Brook staff together in Manchester for the Being Brook celebration and training event

And much much more.  I know just how hard staff and volunteer teams work and the care with which they work with and for young people, but trying to put together a speech that summarised and captured the spirit of the full range of our work was, as ever, humbling.

Brook said goodbye to three board members this week - David Lock, Christine Townsend and Roger Gibson and welcomed three new board members Jo Youle, Leon Ward and Sue Ryrie.  Roger Gibson who has volunteered at Brook for over 20 years in a number of different roles was awarded an Honorary Life Membership of Brook. Vice Chair, Polly Goodwin confirmed to members that following a review process the board had reappointed Eve Martin as Chair for a second three year term.

Our treasurer, Alastair Bridges, gave an overview of our 2013/14 financial performance, emphasised the importance of the board investing well in our strategic priorities, and thanked staff for managing well within the resources available, finance team and our auditors, Saffrey Champness for all their work.

Business done after a short break we went into the 50th birthday celebrations.  I opened with an overview of some of the changes between 1964 and 2014, and a reminder that even though much had changed too many young people still tell us, as a poll we launched last week, confirmed  embarrassment can still be a barrier to accessing help and advice for many young people.

As a young people's organisation I believe deeply in ensuring we provide young people with platforms to talk from and shoulders to stand on, so it was right that some of the Be Sex Positive volunteers - Becky, Dan, Jodie, Brogan, Rebecca, Christian, George, Hayley and Duy - took on the evening from me and I didn't know what they had planned. Except someone had let on that I might be about to get my knowledge tested so I sat in the audience with an element of trepidation.

Choreographed beautifully young people told us - the 100 strong audience - time and again about how their confidence had grown, how Brook had helped them with their developing identity, how important it was to feel able to be them and to be valued for who they were, how Brook had provided countless opportunities to get involved and to give them opportunities and honest feedback to nurture their talents and strengths.

They also talked about how they wanted those young people that went behind them to have better sex and relationships education and access to all the services they need on and off line.  I got something in my eye again when one of the young people said (my paraphrase) 'I get the chance to be an expert at Brook and to have my views listened to. I have never had that before'. They tested the audiences knowledge with a true or false quiz (it would be fair to say as a collective the education was needed) and finally they set Brook a challenge to continue growing the young people's participation and volunteering pathways through to employment.  A challenge we recognise, accept and will continue working on with my personal commitment to it.  

Each of the group talked about what they were most proud of during their time participating and volunteering at Brook.  One of the young people Rebecca had been involved in the Good Sex Knowledge Exchange Project and had been part of the re-animating data process.  She had read Indiah's story which you can see here (I encourage you to look through the blog and all the films. Brilliant footage which can be used as materials and excellent learning).

Jules Hillier, deputy CEO had a hard act to follow and did it well.  She launched the new Brook friends scheme - please do become a friend if you can and closed the evening with a quote from a young woman who gave permission for her story to be told

“Brook has helped me to grow as a person. They have enabled me to conquer my fears, boost my confidence and literately saved my life. Without the help of Brook and the amazing work they do I don't think I would be here today. Before coming to Brook I was in a very negative place suffering from bouts of depression and was ultimately vulnerable to the outside world… Without the encouragement from Brook and the support I received I would never have dreamed of achieving so much and helping to follow in Brook’s footsteps and help those young people out there who need it just as I did. Without Brook I don't know where I would be.”

A film from the event will be available soon, in the meantime here is a storify

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of the journey for the last 8 or so years. Thank you to everyone who works tirelessly for and with young people from a position of trusting them and liking them and seeking to protect and empower them.  Thank you to our moral and financial supporters and collaborators. Particular thanks to my team who organised the event and to Thomson Reuters for providing us with the venue.

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