Today marks the one year anniversary of my appointment as CEO at SAYiT and what a year it has been for everyone. It is difficult to reflect on my first year, which has taken place entirely in the context of the global Covid pandemic, without using the clichés of ‘unprecedented times’, ‘new normals’, and reference to lockdowns and restrictions which have impacted all of our lives.
And while the pandemic has affected everyone, we know that some groups have been disproportionately impacted including people of colour, disabled people and LGBT+ people, meaning the support we offer as a charity to young LGBT+ people in the region has never been more needed.
I have been incredibly proud to lead a dedicated team who have have adapted to the highs and lows of the year and the ever-changing world in which we are operating, adapting their ways of working as we have offered a mixed delivery model of smaller socially distanced face-to-face groups (where restrictions have permitted), online support, a new text support service, care packages schemes, converting all of our training packages to be delivered online, and quickly adapting plans each time the rules have changed. Throughout the year their commitment and passion for supporting young LGBT+ has been unwavering in the face of the challenges presented.
While this year has been challenging, it has also provided opportunities for us to reach young people who may have previously struggled to access support. Offering online groups and text support has meant that young people who may live in areas on the outskirts of the city or which are less accessible by public transport, or have young carers responsibilites or commitments or other barriers to attending face to face groups, have still been able to access support.
This year has had huge impacts on mental health, and for young LGBT+ people who already disproportionately experience poor mental health the affects of this have been stark.
● 64.6% of young people said that lockdown had a negative impact on their mental health/wellbeing. ● 42.1% of young people experienced a decrease in self-esteem and confidence. ● 32.2% of young people feel less safe as a result of lockdown. SAYiT Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey, June 2020 During the pandemic young people have had disruptions to their education and support they may access in school/college/university settings. Social spaces where they may meet friends for peer support have closed and many have been isolating in homes where they may not be out, or feel that their identity is understood or supported. Local pride events have been cancelled for a second year, which for many is a space where they can find support groups and information and for others the one day a year when they can feel completeley free to be themselves and just exist in a space where they aren’t minoritised.
LGBT+ issues have never been more prominent in the country’s media and political agendas. We have seen both positive moves forward such as the introduction of statutory LGBT+ inclusive RSE curriculums in schools. We have also seen prominent anti-trans and anti-LGBT+ campaigns largely centering around the GRA consultation. All of which impacts on the young people we support, in a context where mental health services are already overstretched and we are seeing the impact of Covid restrictions on our young people with increasing feelings of isolation, anxiety, and poor mental health access to their usual social support is reduced. In these contexts, demands for our service and the value of the support we offer to LGBT+ young people, those questioning their sexual and/or gender identities has never been more important.
Hate crimes against LGBT+ people continue to rise, and we are active in our role within Sheffield Hate Crime Priority Group to represent the needs and concerns of LGBT+ young people. Being able to offer a space where young people can simply be themselves without judgment is invaluable and many of our young people have expressed that is something they simply do not have anywhere outside of SAYiT. That promoted one of most recent projects which was supporting our young people to run a crowdfunder for ‘SAYEat’ an LGBT+ pop up youth café to give them a safe place to hang out and meet their friends outside of the youth group. Young people will also be able to gain work experience and vocational qualifications to further their employment opportunites.
As the pandemic has placed additional barriers to those seeking support, with some services closing or being limited in what they can offer, and waiting lists for statutory services growing ever longer, being able to offer a counselling service at the point of need for our young people through our Noah Lomax fund has been a lifeline for many.
Noah Lomax was 15 when he sadly died at the beginning of August 2018. Noah was a Sheffield young man, was autistic and had struggled with this and his mental health for many years. He was a very proud young gay man who fought for LGBT+ rights. Towards the end of 2018, Noah’s family approached SAYiT, and together we set up the SAYiT Noah Lomax Fund to support the mental health of young LGBT+ people in Sheffield and the surrounding area, providing counselling and a hardship fund.
This Saturday (17th July) marks Noah's 18th birthday and his family are asking as many people as possible to help turn social media pink in his memory by sharing photos featuring Noah’s favourite colour. To take part, people should photograph themselves wearing something pink and upload it to Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #flamboyantpink4noah tagging @sayitsheffield and nominating and tagging three friends. If you don't have any pink clothes or would rather not be in the photo, you can share a photo of anything that colour, from painted nails to a pink drink. You can also donate at: https://localgiving.org/fundraising/FlamboyantPink
Despite the challenges of the past 12 months, we also have a lot to celebrate. We welcomed several new recruits to team SAYiT with Nicola Fearnley-Hill joining us as Charity Manager and Evie Muir replacing my former role on our Call It Out domestic abuse team. We also recruited five new trustees to our board: Katie Marvin-Dowle, Annie Gainsborough, Deborah Murdock-Eaton, Joe Butler and Jasna Magić bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the organisation. We are also currently recruiting for a new training officer (applications are open until 25th July, apply at https://sayit.org.uk/jobs/ ).
Our work with parents and carers, in schools and other agencies, works to improve the wider environments in which our young people experience their lives. Over the past year, in addition to our core youth groups working to support and empower LGBT+ young people, we have continued our specialist SEND work to support our young people with additional needs and our CALL IT OUT project working to improve access to mainstream domestic abuse services for LGBT+ people. We have always recognised the importance of working in partnership with other agencies across the region and have worked closely with Sheffield Council, the city Universities and groups and organisations across the voluntary, community, and faith sectors.
We continue to operate in challenging and ever-changing times which disproportionately impact the lives of young LGBT+ people. However, I am confident in the strength of the charity in continuing to face these challenges with a committed team who continue to work to make a significant difference to the lives of LGBT+ people in the region and look forward to working together in the years to come.