Transcript - Empowerment & Awareness of Sexual Health in Southend with Rutendo from Brook Southend
Libby: You are listening to Constellations, the community podcast connecting charities, communities & causes in the two unitaries of Thurrock & Southend.
Today’s episode comes with a content warning: please note that we will be discussing sexual health, and services pertaining to sexual health. If this is something you would rather not listen to, please pause the episode now.
In today’s episode we’re speaking with Rutendo, Health Promotion Coordinator from Brook Sexual Health Southend. We talk about all of the great things offered by Brook Southend, including instant HIV and syphilis testing, free condoms, inclusive training and so, so much more!
Let’s get started!
Libby: Today we are joined by Rutendo, Health Promotion coordinator from Brook Southend. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Rutendo: You’re welcome, thank you for having me on your podcast.
Libby: So for anybody listening that doesn't know, can you tell us a bit about Brook and Brooke Southend in general.
Rutendo: Okay, so I work for Brook, and Brook is a sexual health and wellbeing charity. We’re a national charity that works mostly with young people, um in about 35% of the local authorities in the UK but to Southend we’re quite new. And we provide sexual health services, so the clinical side, um testing, contraception provision we’re a level three clinic, which means that also a GUM clinic - all the services have been integrated into one. And my team, the one I'm part of is the education team we’re an HIV prevention team. So we do community outreach, we do provide um, DIY STI kits when we go out to events, and we also provide professionals training and we’re keen to just engage with the community.
Libby: That sounds amazing!
Rutendo: We don't judge people by the type of sex they're having. And we also use terminology, like someone with a penis, someone with a vagina. And specifically to the LGBTQ+, hat's the term that we use at Brook, um we, in terms of our education service, we work a lot with MSM, the men who have sex with men community.
Rutendo: Um so we'll do a lot of outreach and grindr um and tell people about Brook, accessing the clinic, accessing prep - pre exposure prophylaxis, which is a drug that was now free on the NHS but allows um if someone knows they're going to engage in risky sexual behavior without a condom, they can take that in advance. And that means that they will not contract um HIV, the HIV virus. So we kind of promote that a lot in the uh MSM. But uh you know community. So we do a lot of outreach on grindr and a lot of those sites we also go to dating sites in general and we also target heterosexual um couples or lesbian, you know, so but still it's just kind of saying, I think that's the most effective route because when we do have any testing or any community events and we go on grindr and invite people, a lot of them will actually turn up from through grindr. Yeah so we're just like “oh it's so effective” or through the you know, we’re saying grindr but it’s, just like all the dating sites that are like that people will turn out. We’ve had a really good response. And um I know that a lot more people are accessing prep because of that kind of outreach. So it's digital, unconventional, but really really effective and
Libby: That’s sounds amazing - I’m so glad how inclusive the language and everything is. That’s brilliant.
Rutendo: I think the place that's most important to know is where the clinic is. So the clinic is next to Papa John's pizza on Southchurch Road.
Rutendo: So it's called Warrior House and you kind of going there, you see a sign that says Brook on the side -There's quite a lot of services in Taylor House, but yeah, that's where we are.
Libby: Brilliant. There are so many um services that you provide. Can you give us like a whistle stop tour of the different things that are available in Southend for people?
Rutendo: Okay, so the great thing about Brook in Southend - most people know Brook as being a young people's charity - in Southend we’re an all age service. So that means anyone from 13 upwards is able to access anything that we offer. So sexual health services come to the clinic. The reason they say 13, is because 13 is the age of capacity where yeah, anyone who's having sex under 13 that's statutory rape so they can access the services.
So the education team is really quite active. We have a team that does instant syphilis and HIV testing and they have a number of sites where they do this like regularly check our facebook page for specific details. We also have a condom distribution scheme which is free to anyone in Southend age 13 upwards where people can come and get free condoms. So you do not have to pay for condoms if you are in Southend! Um just sign up for a C card and that's accessible to anybody. And we also do a lot of community outreach. So if you have an event taking place and you want our team to come, please do email us - so, firstname.lastname@example.org that will come through to our team and we will help you and support you.
And I also do professionals trainings - we want to make sure that professionals are upscaled. So this is free, like it can be CPD training for your team, um just so we help to minimize any misconceptions and take away the stigma surrounding sexual health, you know, just making sure that professions are aware of their own biases, but also giving them up to date information. Um, telling them about sex consent and the law, um we do quite a lot of that as well. Um, I’ve gone on…
Libby: It sounds AMAZING!
Rutendo: I’m quite involved so we do a lot of stuff!
Libby: You really do!
Sharen: So who would typically go on to do that professional training?
Rutendo: So anybody working or volunteering in Southend or with Southend youth can come onto our trainings
Sharen: It's amazing, that you offer that.
Rutendo: It’s amazing. So we want to. So we just think that if we're targeting the professionals, sometimes we assume that someone is in a certain role, they have no biases. But the feedback we've had from young people is that sometimes when they're accessing certain services, they get judged, for example, if someone has an um HIV diagnosis and then a professional finds out they start treating them differently.
Rutendo: But so it's just kind of like, you know what actually, let's engage, let's talk about these issues. Let's make you look at yourself and reflect and see what biases you have or what stigmas or what you're carrying. And when you are delivering a service separate, you know, separate your own beliefs, you know, your own beliefs, or your own biases from the person and make sure it's confidential. We're just so big and confidentiality or just like, you know what, confidentiality, respecting people, you know, and then not assuming, so we're kind of big on do not assume someone's sexuality do not assume someone's gender
Rutendo: You know, check their pronoun. So just things that may not, people may not have come across before.
Libby: Yeah. I think a lot of people think that they don't have bias, but we all do. You can’t-
Libby: It’s something we all need to work on
Sharen: It’s almost impossible not to
Libby: Yeah. You mentioned that anyone can sign up for a C card, is that on the internet, how do you go about signing up?
Rutendo: So one thing that we're working really hard on is just getting people to know what it is. So we've got we run a condom distribution scheme and because it's called the C card in so many services, we assume that people know what a c card is so we’ve had people coming like oh “do you wanna sign up for C card”, they’re like “what is C card? What is a C card?” So just - it’s a card that allows you to access free condoms, it's actually not a card, we want to digitalize it and say it's a number.
Libby: Oh okay
Rutendo: So if you go to our website um sexualhealthsouthend.co.uk, somewhere say it's free condoms and there's a form that's linked to that and you just um fill the form in and you'll be able to pick up condoms but we're trying to make sure that the service is accessible to people all over Southend
Rutendo: And yeah anyone who needs it
Libby: Sounds like a nice and easy way of getting access
Rutendo: Yes! Getting access and you get six condoms and one pack of lube
Rutendo: And don't have to pay and I'm just like yeah.
Rutendo: Yeah and if you do want like other sizes or if you want femidoms you can to go to the clinic they will have a wider range.
Libby: How does Brook engage with and support people in marginalised communities um or people who might struggle to come along and access services for cultural or religious reasons?
Rutendo: Okay, so that's an excellent question because that's one of our goals. So we are commissioned to as well as work with, um you know, obviously young people we also work with vulnerable groups um and we also need to work with BME community, religious groups as well. So just in terms of that, that's mostly outreach, so we do outreach to sex workers in Southend. So we've got um a drop-in session at places where we know they will be a couple of venues. Um we will go to soup kitchens as well and um with religious communities, we're building relationships with the local mosques and churches. Um so just trying to engage with different groups and just, you know, I think we also have a translation service just to say, you know what we're here and also working with different charities that we know in Southend that are welcoming with the UK.
Some people are afraid to actually to access sexual health services because they think that if you are a foreigner and you don't have the right immigration documents, you're not able to access sexual health services but even if someone has no recourse to public funds, they can still access sexual health services. And that's a big, big, big, big one. Um we want to get that message out there - don't let that stop you from getting treated for an STI getting tested for HIV, syphilis. Um we also have, I guess sometimes at the outreach events we’ve got gonorrhoea and chlamydia tests as well, um that we’ll post off for people. But we're just trying to make it as accessible, so just having these little DIY things you will see us going around with suitcases and just going and targeting places um and people who we think would not access sexual health services.
Libby: It’s brilliant that you’re out and about!
Libby: Um so the only limitation is people need to be living in Southend.
Rutendo: Yes. So people need to be living, studying or working in Southend so they can access the C card scheme.
Rutendo: So we also have a service that we work in partnership with, the digital side, SH24. People want to access any testing, um they can actually go online um as long as you’ve got a Southend postcode. You've got online digital diagnosis, um access online testing kits, um access contraception including emergency hormonal contraception and that will be sent to your house. Yeah.
Rutendo: So any yeah. Yeah, that will be sent to your house as long as you're over 16. Obviously if you're under 16 just because of safeguarding, you'd have to go to the clinic, but if you’re over 16 and it's sent in really discreet packaging
Libby: That’s what I was about to ask!
Rutendo: Exactly, yeah really discreet packaging.
Rutendo: No one don't know what it is, it's not like um it shouts “sexual health package!”
Rutendo: It looks like an Amazon package and they’re usually delivered within 48 hours. And it's such a brilliant service because that means that people who don't want to be, you know, judged, you know because a lot of people are very self-conscious
Libby: It makes it so much more accessible
Rutendo: Yeah makes it so accessible
Sharen: And you spoke about community champions.
Sharen: So, can you tell us a bit more about what kind of, what that looks like and what they would do and cover?
Rutendo: Yeah, so I've got, like, a really excellent example. So, um, one of the ladies we just started, who's sitting behind me, she started off as a community champion. So she signed up for it to be a community champion.
Rutendo: And um so if someone is interested and then eventually she got the role as a community support specialist. But, if someone is interested in becoming a community champion, a voice, uh we're looking for people from different from different settings, anyone really can sign up. But, you know, if you are, you know, part of a community that you think is underrepresented in Southend
Rutendo: We want to hear your voice, want to engage with you, we want to train you, we will do offer safeguarding room training, we'll just check references and obviously do a DBS check because we're a sexual health service and offer a safeguarding training and then you have an opportunity to contribute however you want. So, if you, are maybe an influencer, then you could actually, you know, be retweeting some of um the things that Brook produces Brook Southend produces, do a little video for us or with us. If maybe you are more conventional and you want to come with us to our outreach events, so if we’re out of the community, you can join us, you know, come along with us and do some engagement.
Rutendo: I think the biggest misconception that people think - you don't think HIV is not a death sentence. I think some of us grew up thinking or hearing stories and so on. They've got HIV this month and then six months later we hear oh no, funeral. No! Now with the medication that's there, someone living with HIV or who has contracted HIV can live as long life a life as someone who as long as their on medication and adhering to their medication as anyone else. So their life expectancy expectancy is just the same. And there's something called “U=U”, um which is, most people don't know about which means um when um your viral load is undetectable, it means that you can't transmit its untransitmitable. So even if you have unprotected sexual intercourse, you cannot transmit the HIV the virus as long as their viral load is undetectable and usually they say tests have been undetectable for six months and someone who's living with HIV can have a family, they can have children do you know?
Rutendo: Yeah and the advancement in technology is remarkable and so that's the biggest misconception that we get, yeah.
Libby: That’s brilliant uh normalizing it and everything and like you said, there's no reason to not have that testing
Rutendo: Exactly yeah yeah
Libby: You’ve not got anything to lose
Rutendo: Yeah it’s peace of mind. You know it’s empowerment. I think some girls I think we kind of had this where young girls are like the boys should have it, I'm like “no, no, no, no!”. You know everybody
Rutendo: We want you to, we want to empower people and want to say you know what have discussions if you're in a relationship, have discussions. Do you know what I mean, we teach a lot about consent and you know what is concerned what it's not when we do some of the education sessions but we also do them with the professionals. What is consent? What is it not? And um you know how do you recognize when you're being coerced or when it's not your choice, and consent can be withdrawn at any time. And they’re like “really?” and I was like “that's what the law says!” and there's the you know we talk about you know consent, trying just different things and young people are like “really?” because I think I had a session, and I was talking to some young people and I said you know you need to negotiate your relationships and you know and then they were like what negotiate?! With you know like and I was “yes!!”
Libby: It's so hard when when you're young, isn’t it to have those conversations?
Rutendo: Exactly, it is it is so hard but we just want to empower you because we are obviously are looking at it from the other side and saying you know take control.
Sharen: But meeting you today actually and how open you are, kind of how warm and welcoming.
Sharen: Yeah. It's it’s just great to have this in Southend.
Libby: Yeah like my experience of like sexual health education when I was a teenager… Not good! So it's just really refreshing and lovely to know. We've both got young Children. The next generation’s coming through
Sharen: They’re in safe hands
Rutendo: Oh thank you that’s such a great compliment!
Rutendo: So Brook is here in Southend and I’ll emphasise that our clinic team are excellent so professional, so open, welcoming. Our nurses are really highly trained and they will make you feel safe and they will respect your confidentiality. And um I think also some people think that if you're having an STI test, you get some umbrella thing inserted in you - some people have a fear - honestly, gonorrhoea testing is just a little swab, you know, people with a penis, it's like a pee in a cup. So it's really not as not intrusive it won't hurt you, we want you to be safe and we want everyone to have what the UN defines as good sexual health.
Rutendo: So it's not just about the absence of disease but it's also just having well being and peace of mind around your sexual health.
Sharen: And normalizing it.
Rutendo: Yeah normalising it. Come on!
Sharen: Making it part of our every day lives.
Rutendo: Yes. Yes it is. It is. And I think the more we keep things secret or hidden that encourages the stigma doesn't it? Um And then um and that leads to more problems and we don't we do not want STIs to go untreated or undetected or anything else, or for you for people to be afraid to access the services because it leads to more problems.
Libby: Brilliant! It’s really refreshing to have all the kind of information and everything and normalising it’s so important. So yeah. It’s amazing.
Sharen: Yes. If any of our listeners would like to get in touch with you or follow along with what you've got going on, how can they find you?
Rutendo: If you need to get to go to the clinic, call the clinic on 03301355916 - 03301355916. And if you're interested in getting in touch with the education team, um we would say email us at email@example.com - firstname.lastname@example.org. And please follow us on facebook - we are um sexualhealthsouthend and our website is sexualhealthsouthend.co.uk.
Sharen: Excellent, thank you. And we’ll put all these in the notes as well.
Rutendo: Thank you!
Libby: Thank you so much for coming to talk to us today.
Rutendo: Thank you!
Libby: Thanks for tuning in - we hope you enjoyed learning about Brook Southend. In the spirit of normalising talking about sexual health, please share this episode, or the contact details for Brook Southend with your friends and family. As mentioned in the episode, everyone living or studying in Southend is encouraged to access their services for peace of mind around their sexual health.
For links to any social media, websites and more, please do visit our website to access the show notes for this episode. You can also access a transcript of the episode. The website is constellations-podcast.org.
Our next episode will be live next Tuesday - we will be talking to Michaela, Head of Services at Thurrock & Brentwood Mind. So remember to tune in then. In the meantime, take care. Bye!