We are celebrating 25 years of Brook Manchester. To find out more about the service and the role it has played in the city we spoke to Helen Carroll, who worked at the clinic when it first opened in the mid 1990s, and to Debbie Quinn, who has worked at Brook Manchester for the last 16 years.
When Brook opened its doors in 1996, it was the first sexual health service of its kind in the city and there was very little Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in schools. But for Helen, who had recently qualified as a Contraception and Sexual Health Nurse (then called a Family Planning Nurse), it was clear that attitudes were changing among the younger generation.
“A proportion of clients were confused, for want of a better word. They had heard that their grandparents hadn’t had sex before marriage, and the prevalent societal views were that people weren’t having sex or relationships under 18 or even 21.
Some people still thought it was illegal for Brook to see young people under 21 and for people to have sex under that age.
But the reality was that people were becoming sexually active at a younger age, despite what the previous generation thought. So, it was just really positive that they had somewhere to go.”
Despite differing attitudes, Helen remembers little pushback or negative atmosphere from the general public. Brook was housed in a building shared with other organisations, all of whom were welcoming and positive about the new service. But setting up a young people’s sexual health service wasn’t without its challenges.
“I used to get parents contacting me saying I shouldn’t be seeing their child and wanting to know what they had been there for. They wanted to be consulted and I had to explain that our services were confidential. This wasn’t something that was well understood at the time.”
She maintains that’s why it’s so important to have a dedicated space for young people, telling us that clients appreciate the space and time that Brook gives to them. Having a separate space is valuable because they aren’t worried about bumping into older family members.
Indeed, the value of a specialist service was immediately apparent and Brook was busy with a steady flow of new and repeat clients.
“New clients were coming in all the time because their friends had told them it was brilliant.”
And this continues to be the case, Debbie Quinn who still works at the service tells us.
“I think young people have become confident in accessing Brook over the years as we’re known for being a non-judgemental, confidential service. Young people spread the word and give their friends support to attend.”
The great service that young people expect from Brook stems from its staff who are tireless in their dedication to improving young people’s health and wellbeing. Both Debbie and Helen cited their colleagues as the best thing about working for Brook, with their shared principles of providing the best possible care and putting young people and their wellbeing first.
But Brook’s Manchester service has had a wider impact on the community and social attitudes too, not just for the young people who visit the clinic.
Helen tells us, “As an ex-midwife, I could see teenage pregnancy rates reducing from the 80s into the 2000s.
“The existence of clinics like Brook Manchester has helped educate parents, and raise awareness around the fact that young people might be sexually active and need contraception.
It’s all linked to sex education in schools, too. Going into schools was brilliant, staff members were really pro CASH services for young people which was great to see.”
Debbie also highlighted the relationship between sexual health clinics and RSE in schools. As Brook’s education work in Manchester and the surrounding areas has increased, young people have become more aware of the options and support available to them.
Helen and Debbie conveyed their passion for excellent sexual health provision for young people, as well as a strong belief in the importance of services sitting within a holistic approach to young people’s wellbeing. Although the city and its attitudes have seen many changes over the past 25 years, one constant has been the dedication of Brook staff to providing young people with the best possible support.
A big thank you to all who contributed to 25 years of this important service!