Always Another Way

1st February 2018

Young people in Copeland, struggling with their gender identity or sexuality, are now getting invaluable support to help them and their families understand their needs.

Always Another Way received a total of £2,625 from the Cumbria Fund and Shepley Group Fund to set up their ‘Colour Coded’ support project based in Whitehaven.

Colour Coded is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) project for youngsters aged between 8 and 24 years and their families to help them deal with issues around gender and sexuality differences. The project offers a safe haven for peer support, getting information, understanding and building confidence, and promotes resilience and the ability to cope in a non-judgemental environment.

The 2-hour weekly Colour Coded sessions, based at the Whitehaven Harbour Youth Project, offers 10 young people or families activities to build confidence, self-esteem and family dynamics. Information on suggested topics is provided and guest speakers are invited to advise the young people and families on a variety of topics including bullying, hate crime and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

The sessions have already been helping many youngsters. One participant was supported the moment he started self-harming, which allowed him to experience other coping strategies. Another now walks to and from the service unaided by a worker, which is a huge step forward due to her other disabilities. Her newfound confidence and self-esteem gives her more independence. One youngster even said “I don’t know what I’d have done without you – I was ready for giving up”.

Set up in summer 2016, the group helps to signpost LGBTQ people to services in the West Cumbria area and establish projects. The three directors have backgrounds in mental health support, working with young offenders, and youth work.

Jo Haigh, co-Director, said: “There is a huge gap in support for LGBTQ young people and families in Copeland. Childhood experiences are often said to be precursors to later life outcomes, and children who are especially vulnerable can often experience long-term enduring effects: we need to break this cycle.

“Our goal is to improve community spirit, as well as psychological, social, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

“We aim to promote social inclusion and acceptance, reduce discrimination and social exclusion, tackle any issues relating to sigma, while at the same time, providing a safe environment for young people, and their families, to meet and support each other.”

The peer support gained from meeting others in similar situations has been invaluable; “having someone to talk to that’s been there” has been highlighted as one of the most beneficial aspects of the service.

One particular family; mother, father and child have attended. The father was pleased he no longer felt alone, that he could talk about his fears, worries and confusion; and that others had similar stories. The child was identifying as Batman when sessions started. Both parents worked with other agencies and their local school to support their child. Since sessions began, the child now attends school and lives socially as ‘his’ preferred gender.