A few weeks ago, on Saturday 18 March, we gathered a group of stakeholders to reflect on First Step’s journey so far and begin to shape its future. Each attendee held a different experience of First Step, a different piece of our puzzle. Some spoke from the perspective of having used First Step’s counselling service, others from providing them. Previous service users, volunteers, counsellors, trustees and/or staff – we sat side by side as we shared our experiences, concerns and hopes for First Step’s future.
The day began with a presentation from Mark (Chair) and Caroline (Service Manager) that outlined where First Step has come from – its humble, but passionate, beginnings. They honoured the contributions of Tony Magee and Alastair Hilton, without whom we would not be where we are today. Their passion and leadership in often challenging times was instrumental. Cas Beckett, our previous Service Manager, was also recognised as a vital part of First Step’s growth, helping create a warm and welcoming organisation that has sufficient resources to support the men and boys who come to us.
During Mark’s presentation, one thing that stayed with me was the changing landscape of public awareness into the sexual abuse of men and boys. Once barely acknowledged, in recent years there has been an increasing spotlight on the issue. We hear about it on the news. We watch the impact of it on characters in soaps. There is still a long way to go before its full extent it acknowledged, yet there has been tangible progress.
Caroline shared the different aspects of First Step’s current service offers – counselling, emotional support, holistic support and advocacy. We heard about the many different ways staff and volunteers go that extra mile to support service users, and how the connections we have with other agencies help ensure that men and boys do not fall through the gaps. Rather than simply making referrals this can involve being alongside service users as they connect with other services that they might otherwise struggle to engage with. From support to find emergency housing to help filling in benefits forms, it’s clear that our staff and volunteers go that extra mile.
A particular emotive part of the day was an exercise where we were asked to write (and say) what First Step means to each one of us. Words that beamed out from this exercise included: hope; a gateway to living past the trauma; a place to feel safe and understood; a place you can rely on; life support and a live saver; healing; acknowledgement; acceptance; a beacon of light; friendly and welcoming – instantly feel at home. It became clear that First Step holds an important place in the life of all those in the room.
When we moved on to discuss the changing context First Step operates in, something else became clear. We are living through an incredibly challenging time and yet, in spite of this, there are also many opportunities. We heard about the cost of living crisis and the economic uncertainty that is impacting on people and the organisations set up to support them. We discussed the changing role of technology – both in the way boys and men can be harmed and exploited, and in the way they can be connected with and supported. We acknowledged the impact of Covid on us all and how the legacy of lockdowns can still be felt. Challenging times. Times that have required a great degree of tenacity and creativity to connect with survivors and one another.
In the final part of the day we turned our attention to our organisation’s vision, mission and aims. We dreamed big and imagined a world in which all boys and men affected by sexual abuse and assault get the support they need to live their lives to the full. We tried to look at First Step with fresh eyes and envision what is needed from us, in 2023, to respond to the changing landscape we are navigating. We thought together about how the holistic support we offer relates to the counselling we know is so desperately needed, and how we can further develop this as we continue to grow.
All in all this day provided fertile soil for future discussions – with service users, volunteers, staff and trustees – as First Step continues to develop its services and support offers for the men and boys who need our services. Thanks to everyone who took part.