Health Themed Coffee Mornings for Young Women and Young Men

City and Islington Sixth Form College have had sexual health services provided by Brook available on-site for more than 10 years. With each new year new students arrive in college and need to get to know about the service and become comfortable to use it.

Over the years the service has been promoted in a variety of ways; through posters, information provided in tutorial and pro-actively by outreach staff working alongside the nurse. Through talking to young people in the canteen the outreach worker learnt that young women in particular were uncomfortable about talking about sexual health directly and said they did not want to be identified as sexually active. However, the need for the service was indicated by the fact that a number of young women in the college became pregnant.

The outreach worker tried a new approach based on a more holistic view of young people's needs and also a more targeted approach for young women. A weekly coffee morning was started for young women with a health theme. To begin with the group discussed health and well-being issues that were less personal such as healthy eating, skin-care and periods. As a relationship of trust was established sexual health was also discussed. As a direct result of the coffee mornings a number of young women went on to seek confidential sexual health advice from the nurse.

The success of the young women's group inspired young men in the college to request a similar space for themselves. Themes addressed in the young men's group included tackling homophobia and condom use. Through dialogue with the outreach worker the young men asked for a different range of condoms to be available from the nurse and consequently these were provided.

Creating a safe space for young women and young men to talk separately about health and well-being topics proved to be an effective way to build trust in using sexual health services. Use of the on-site service varies each year - sometimes the service is more or less well-used by young men and young women. So with every new year a pro-active effort is needed that responds to the dynamic student population. The college also supports young people with learning disabilities and ESOL students to access services through targeted tutorial sessions combined with 'mock visits' to local sexual health services.

More case studies on this theme can be found in the Sex Education Forum briefing Enabling vulnerable young people to access FE-based sexual health services (2010).