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Stortford youth club sets up safe space for LGBTQ teens

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General Views, Bishops Stortford. Northgate Youth Centre. Pic: Vikki Lince
General Views, Bishops Stortford. Northgate Youth Centre. Pic: Vikki Lince

A safe space for teenagers to understand their sexuality has been set up in Bishop's Stortford by youth workers.

The support group for LGBTQ+ (for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer+) boys and girls and those questioning their orientation meets on Wednesday evenings at the Northgate Youth Centre.

The new resource was outlined to members of the town council, which supports YC Hertfordshire’s work, by youth work team leader for East Herts Russell Cairns.

He gave councillors an overview of engagement at the centre over the past year and said: “YC Hertfordshire now has a specific focus on vulnerable young people particularly those 13 to 17- years-old. As a result, youth work provision at Northgate Youth Centre will be changing to reflect this.

“Generic delivery will continue on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. However, we have recently started an LGBTQ+ group on Wednesday evenings.

“This gives support to young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or those who are questioning their sexuality.

“It was set up following research that highlighted a need for such a project in Bishop’s Stortford. In addition, we plan to deliver an LDD (Learning Difficulties and Disabilities) focused project on the same evening following the installation of a disabled lift at the building last year.”

The centre has also played a role in the prevention of terrorism. Mr Cairns confirmed that his team has supported two young people, referred under the Prevent strategy. This Government programme is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities.

Mr Cairns told the council: “Our role in this has been to inform them of local opportunities and broker them into positive activities within the local community.”

The centre provides a raft of advice, information and practical help for teenagers including:

At the Bishop’s Stortford YC Hertfordshire Centre at Northgate Youth Centre, YC Hertfordshire provides a free and confidential service for young people. We can give you information, advice and guidance on: apprenticeships; benefits; finance; drugs and alcohol; education; health; housing and homelessness; jobs and careers; relationships; self-esteem; sexual health; training; volunteering; youth work projects and programmes.

It also provides IT facilities for youngsters looking for work and operates as a c-card registration and distribution point. This is a sexual health scheme for young people which gives them access to free condoms; testing for sexually transmitted diseases and advice about relationships, unplanned pregnancies and contraception. The scheme is available to young people aged between 13 and 19 (up to 24 for those with learning difficulties and up to 21 for those leaving care).

As well as youth clubs, Mr Cairns and his team also run projects including summer programmes, “detached youth work” engaging with kids around the town to prevent anti-social behaviour, Duke of Edinburgh award schemes and “diversionary activities” again to ensure good citizenship.

Healthy eating, animal encounters, liaison with local schools and the YMCA and offering gym facilities are also part and parcel of the youth centre’s work and more developments are to come.

Mr Cairns said: “We hope to commence some improvements to the building to develop our delivery to young people in the near future.

“This will include a dedicated space for advice, information and guidance and access to sexual health services and improvements to the main youth centre area, kitchen and toilets.”

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