Julia Brown – International Women’s Day

Julia Brown

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

This is such an important day for me. So many women and girls continue to face barriers to fulfil their potential. In these unprecedented times, young women face unique challenges in relation to their confidence, self-esteem, wellbeing and mental health. In the first three months of 2021, young women were more likely to experience some form of depression than any other group. The need to support young women has never been greater.

I grew up in London, studying and feeling truly at home in a variety of multi-cultural and inclusive school communities. At the current challenging time, I appreciate more than ever the freedom, encouragement and support I have always had access to develop my leadership skills, values and most importantly support myself and others to grow. For me it was critical to be able to participate actively and from a young age in Brownies, Girl Guides, DofE, sports teams, youth clubs and as one of the first girls in the Combined Cadet Force. I was also welcomed into many charities as a young volunteer.

I trained and worked with many women as a nurse, midwife, health visitor supporting so many vulnerable young girls and women in East London and Haringey. And undertaking an MSc in Public Health at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, sponsored by the Department of Health Women’s Unit, was a key turning point for me, learning so much from participants from developing countries. Learning, supporting and being with culturally diverse girls, women and their communities continues to be central to my life.

How does your organisation support girls, young girls and women in the community?

Brandon Centre is such a special charity, based in Camden. We have been providing services to young people for over 53 years. In the late 1960s, our founder Dr Faith Spicer became concerned by the number of young women struggling with stigma and shame of pre-marital sex and pregnancy. She established a new model of service for adolescents, years ahead of its time in the way it combined contraceptive advice with counselling and psychotherapy. Today we continue to review, grow, and develop our young people’s adolescent services to ensure we best meet our current young people’s needs. We support young girls and women in the community in many ways. These are just a few examples:

Arsenal Girls Kicks Programme: Arsenal in the Community has been part of the national Kicks Programme since 2006, with the aim of keeping young people away from anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime. In 2019 the team secured additional funding from the London Marathon Charitable Trust and Islington Giving to extend their Girls programme, in collaboration with Brandon Centre and other community organisations, with the aim of engaging females between the ages of 8 and 17. Osira Imoedemhe, is Brandon Centre’s sports psychologist on the programme and says “Performance and wellbeing are very much interlinked. So we look at the person as a whole and try to support them, not just at football, but in all areas of their life: at school, at home and with friends in their lives at that time as well as structured sessions on important topics: Purposeful Practice, Resilience, Mindfulness, Growth Mindset, Communication, and Awareness.”

‘BWell’ Reaching Communities Coaching Programme: we run the ‘BWell’ coaching service to support young people self-manage their wellbeing funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. This new service runs alongside our existing psychotherapy, counselling, and sexual health services to enable young people get support at the first sign of issues impacting their wellbeing. This is an important as we continue to see increasing numbers of high-risk young people with unsupported mental health needs. I am so proud of our newly recruited experienced and inclusive coaches, the majority being intergenerational women coming from diverse and bringing varied inspiring and lived experiences.

This builds on a pilot funded by Camden Young Foundation. Initial benefits included better sleep hygiene, improved self-esteem, greater emotional awareness and regulation and more confidence with communication and relationships.

John Lyons Counselling Service: This service funded by John Lyons, provides a ‘light touch’ counselling offer for vulnerable young people aged 12-25 years living in Camden who would not think, or be confident, to self-refer for emotional support and for whom statutory support is not reaching or appropriate. This helps prevent young peoples’ emotional issues deteriorating. This is an integrated service that sits between our sexual health and mental health service. We offer immediate emotional and motivational support, increase the young person’s likelihood of engaging in conversations of a wellbeing/mental health context in future and provide a bridge to/and from more in-depth therapy if needed.

In January 2022 we started to see an increasing number of young women coming to Brandon Centre who had been sexually assaulted. This new service has been instrumental in supporting many of these and other young women facing trauma, anxiety, and other challenges in a timely, sensitive and supportive way.

MindfulSteps: This is a new inclusive pilot programme funded by London Youth and commenced in February 2022. The programme involves a weekly series of innovative and enjoyable walks for anyone between the ages of 16-24 years living, studying or working in London. The sessions are created led by Brandon Centre with young people to support young people’s mental health, wellbeing, increased exercise and holistic selfcare. The walking is planned on guided routes around our special Kentish Town Community, highlighting points of interest with a special LGBTQIA+ interest along the way.

The sessions include gentle exercise, outside in open spaces which help to reduce anxiety, deepen connections with nature, support more reflective and coaching conversations. I have been participating in this pilot and have been so enjoying meeting our young women and trans young people. We continue to learn so much together through our developing and engaging inclusive conversations.