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Embracing our Participation Journey

For #iWill Week Brook’s Head of Participation, Kelly Harris, looks back on our journey to develop meaningful participation work at Brook. 

To celebrate #iWill Week and the ‘We Embrace our Journeys’ theme, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to reflect on what Brook has done since we signed up to the Power of Youth Charter in 2020.  

Brook now has a dedicated participation team who work closely with Brook’s Education, Clinical and Central teams. This has been a big investment by our Trustees and Executive Team to ensure the organisation has the proper resource needed to undertake meaningful participation work.  

The Participation Team worked with young people in 2020 to create three National Participation Forums with a structured aged approach to long-term engagement with individuals. We have 50 members engaging across our 16-19, 20-24 and 25+ National Participation Forums on a regular basis, with each Forum determining a project they would like to undertake during their 2-year term. The 16-19s decided they wanted to work on accessibility and inclusive clinical services, the 20-24s decided to work on ‘normalising body differences’ and launched the #EmbracingBodies campaign, and the 25+ forum wanted to focus on a consent campaign for adults.

It has been wonderful to see the Forum Members lead their projects and see the outcomes and impact of their work across different Brook services.  

The National Participation Forum Members have received opportunities to take part in a range of other exciting projects too – some examples include – user testing with Brook’s Digital Team as part of our digital innovation work, volunteering at festivals across the UK as part of our partnership with Festival Republic, contributing towards Brook’s new three-year Strategy, providing insight to our Safeguarding Team during the development of updating the Spotting the Signs Tool, and being involved with our yearly Sexual Health Week campaigns by contributing videos, blogs and social media content.   

Alongside the National Participation Forums, the Participation Team have been involved in other exciting projects with young people. Since 2021, we have undertaken a research project to complement Brook’s wider work by focusing on a particular topic with a particular audience who we want to hear more from. In 2021 we worked with boys and young men about access to online sexual health services, in 2022 we worked with neurodivergent and neurodiverse young people about the best ways they would want to access clinical services, and this year (2023) we are working with young people from diverse heritages to learn more about where they access information on condoms and contraception. You can learn more about our research, and download our reports, on the dedicated participation section of the website.  

We have developed different ways to engage with young people, and one piece of work which I am particularly proud of is the co-production project we undertook with young people through the Your Best Friend fund.

Young people were involved from the beginning by contributing to the funding application, all the way through to the design and implementation of the project.

The #FriendsCanTell project was a focused social action campaign to address the theme of healthy relationships, with the young people deciding to create animations focused on how they could support friends in unhealthy relationships both on and offline.  

All the work we have achieved would not have been possible without the involvement of amazing young people and adults, and it has been important that we recognise their contributions where possible. The Participation Team spent time working with young people to explore what recognition might look like, and it became clear that they wanted to be recognised/rewarded in different ways. Therefore, instead of having just one way to recognise their contributions, we are flexible with our approach – training courses, shadowing opportunities, voucher remuneration, certificates etc – to ensure it suits the individual.  

To me, the most important part of recognising the impact that young people and adults have made to our work is to tell them!

We always make sure we feedback to everyone who has been involved with any project at Brook about what impact their contribution has made, and what we have done as an outcome from their involvement. This is vital and something we build into every piece of work we undertake.  

Alongside all the different and interesting projects, there has been a lot of work happening behind the scenes at Brook to find meaningful ways for young people to be involved in our governance structure. With the support of the Trustees and our Chief Executive, Brook has created a Participation Committee which has democratically elected Forum Members from each of the National Participation Forums as part of its membership, alongside a Trustee from the Board and experts from the participation sector. This has been a genuinely exciting way to ensure that young people’s contributions are heard and enacted upon by our Board of Trustees.  

It has been an absolute honour to manage the participation work at Brook over the last three years, with the cherry on top being when Brook was announced as one of the twenty charities in the UK to be awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award, which was a special one-off addition to the annual Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) to celebrate exceptional work being done to empower young people. This award recognised the many ways Brooks engages young people and volunteers and really showed that we are on the right path with how we engage young people and adults across the organisation.  

There is still lots to come!

2024 will see new projects, new local participation groups being mobilised, formalising internal participation structures, and excitingly, recruitment for the next round of National Participation Forums. 

A young person involved with Brook said, “change is possible when young people come together and are passionate”, and I am excited to see what other changes they can bring to Brook to ensure we meaningfully, inclusively, and respectfully, involve young people and adults in all that we do to ensure we provide the services they want from us.  

Want to get involved with Participation at Brook?

In 2024, we’ll have new participation opportunities available. Keep an eye out on our webpage for when they come out.

For more information about our participation work, you can email us on participation@brook.org.uk

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