Last week we were very pleased to have the opportunity to meet Matt Harrison from the Centre for HIV & Sexual Health in Sheffield. We were warmly welcomed to the cosy Shout! office located at The Circle in the city centre. Here they offer a weekly drop-in evening providing advice to MSM (men who have sex with men) primarily on sexual health, but additionally covering a variety of other health and wellbeing workshops. The service provides group workshops and discussion evenings, as well as one-to-one support; their role is to provide information rather than a counselling service, in a safe space, where men are able to meet with other gay and bisexual men.
The Shout! service was founded in September 1996 and moved to their current home at The Circle in 2007. The building provides office space and function rooms to a wide range of groups and services. Matt expressed that the facilities and space within the building were brilliant and suited their needs well at present; our own view was that the building was bright, clean, open and accessible, so it is no surprise that Shout! are proud to be able to invite people to the space.
For many men Shout! may be their first point of contact with a service offering information to gay and bisexual men. The range of other building users, as well as the buildings central but not main street location, offers anonymity and a level of reassurance that a visitor will not be 'outed' for accessing the service. Matt also noted that the time of day helped with this, being from 6:30 until 8:30 there was a reduced footfall from those leaving work, but as the session ended there would not be a busy presence of pub-goers in the area.
Shout! are clear that their main focus is on issues of health (the service is funded by the NHS). Their website www.gaysheffield.co.uk acts as a signpost towards different health services in the area including the provision of a free condom postal service to MSM. They additionally offer links towards social groups and bars/clubs - which is certainly a valuable part of directing people and providing information (being social, after all, does a huge amount for your wellbeing!).
When considering Sheffield on a wider scale, Matt recognised that there are currently no comparable services for adult women who have sex with women and trans people within the city - there are great support services for younger LGBT people, but adult and older adult populations have reported feeling isolated and without services specifically designed to support their health needs. Going on to discuss the position of a possible LGBT Centre within Sheffield, it was noted that there was a range of different needs within the city; whereas a person accessing an LGBT Centre may already be fully or partially in acceptance of their sexuality and are confident in themselves, there may still be a need for a more discreet service within the city. It also became clear to us through our discussion and through previous case studies (such as Manchester and Birmingham), that services should look to support each other and recognise each others specialities, allowing for a comprehensive and clear range of services and providers within the city.
Our meeting with Matt was both enjoyable and enlightening. Later that week he welcomed the Live LGBT team to the weekly Shout! meeting which was, for the first time, opened up to the wider public for this one-off consultation. Watch this space to see what a brilliant evening we had, raising some very interesting discussions with a wide spectrum of people from across Sheffield.