Hatty Lawrence, Education and Wellbeing Specialist for the Brook Education Team in Cornwall, tells us what motivated her to work in sexual health and why the work Brook does in Cornwall is so valuable.
As a trained nurse I have long wanted to work with young people in the sexual health field. I became aware of the underage pregnancies in my daughter’s school and the lacklustre RSE they received, and felt that perhaps the two things were linked. Looking into leading organisations in this field led me to discover that Brook’s ethos is very close to my own views, and I concentrated on working towards my goal by undertaking a general sexual health module at UWE Bristol. I plan to continue my sexual health nurse training with Brook in 2020 and enjoy a dual role.
The Brook Cornwall education team is a small team with myself, Grace and Hanna delivering RSE in almost all of the secondary schools, sixth forms colleges, SEN schools and many youth groups in the county. We also have Margaret and Lizzie delivering the Lets Talk. Period scheme and Louisa who works for Drug and Alcohol Services as well as a Headstart/Brook project around internet resilience. We’re all managed by Emma, who is the Education Team coordinator. It’s an absolute joy to work with these dedicated and vibrant women.
We organise our own diaries; liaising with the different schools and youth groups to arrange sessions. We all travel the length and breadth of the county, sometimes driving 50 miles or more to a school. Currently, the schools in Cornwall are offered sessions for years 9-11 covering an introduction to sexual health, contraception and STIs. For Year 11s there is also the mixing fluids activity – a game where ‘characters’ decide whether they would have protected or unprotected sex, or no sex at all. They discover if they would have contracted chlamydia through their choices and evaluate what led them to make those decisions. It’s a fantastic learning opportunity that initiates conversation about the real reasons young people engage in sexual activity.
We are well received by schools and the pupils alike as we offer honest and relevant sessions. Although we are a well-qualified team with a wealth of experience, we are not school teachers and we use this to our advantage. We all find it important and useful to have a laugh with the young people we’re working with, which hopefully helps them to feel that we are their side. For those who are embarrassed by the conversation, laughter certainly takes the pressure off.
We offer up-to-date information and real-life advice to empower young people to make healthy choices, rather than purely instruct.
I aim to offer young people better choices around sex and relationships but stress that it is their own responsibility, and they can act on this when it is the right time for them. I love the fact that we talk about so openly about everything sexual health, healthy relationships and especially self-esteem as I think back to the absolute absence of such conversations when I was at school. What an improvement! And what an honour to be a part of this.
There is an argument that it is preferable for RSE to be delivered by an outside speaker. Algebra in the morning followed by a discussion about healthy masturbation in the afternoon is not an easy leap, and we all hear teachers say “Thank goodness you’re having that conversation, not me.” There are, of course, many brilliant teachers who are more than happy to take on this subject, and this will no doubt become more common with the advent of mandatory RSE in September 2020.
I feel that within my own generation there is a reluctance to acknowledge the reality for young people and, perhaps, a fear of the subject of relationships and sex. We ‘adults’ need to accept that in having an open conversations we are not encouraging early sex, in fact quite the opposite.
Great RSE from school and home can not only inform, educate and empower, it can affect people’s entire lives in a hugely positive way.
It is a privilege to work for Brook in Cornwall and be part of the movement to ensure all young people can lead happy, healthy lives.