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Everyone deserves a bloody good education: lessons from our Education programme, so far

Bloody Good Education is a programme which provides free female reproductive health education to asylum seekers, refugees, and people who cannot normally access it. Here Hannah Whelan, BGP Education Programme Manager, and Dr Ehlum Jhanji, founder of collaboration partner London In Your Language, reflect: what have we learnt so far?

Have you had a really comprehensive education about female sexual and reproductive health? Us neither. And asylum seekers and refugees are potentially even less likely to have access to this kind of information. So we started Bloody Good Education to tackle all of those unanswered questions.

Our Education pilot started last Spring, thanks to collaboration with The Body Shop, and we’re bloody delighted that we’re now able to run education sessions as part of our regular activity. Very simply, the programme responded to attendees’ wants and needs; providing information around their sexual and reproductive health and signposting them to relevant services. And what did that look like in practice? By working closely with women’s centres and partner-platforms such as London In Your Language, we pulled in gynae and sexual health doctors to facilitate, had some *bloody babe* volunteers support, and asked the women what they wanted to know. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way.

1. Start small: Experiment and adapt

Beginning with a pilot was crucial. And we have The Body Shop to thank for this vital part of our programme.

Pilot sessions gave us an opportunity to develop an efficient, agile model of working. We trialled a session, learnt from what worked and what didn’t, and constantly adapted. It enabled us to deliver a programme that has clear objectives and allow for a growth-mindset deeply woven into our ways of working.

Our traffic light evaluation system
Our traffic light evaluation system

For example, our evaluation process has changed completely since the programme’s inception. To begin with we used fairly lengthy surveys to determine what worked (and what didn’t). We quickly realised how laborious they were for the women to complete.

We went back to the drawing board. In considering the aims of the evaluation, we came up with five questions that were tightly aligned to our objectives. To make this more

An example of our traffic light evaluation system
An example of our traffic light evaluation system

accessible to attendees, especially those who do not speak English well, we also moved towards a more visual method of capturing feedback - the traffic light system.

The traffic light system is where participants indicate their feedback via coloured markers once each session has finished (green: yes, orange: unsure, and red: no). This feedback also determines future topics, and whether participants feel more confident after each session. It not only captures responses with clarity, but additionally creates an opportunity for one-to-one conversations with participants once sessions are complete.

2. Listen to what the participants want (not what we think they need)

Bloody Good Education sprang from listening to issues women raised at drop-in centres.

A diagram of how the contraceptive coil is fitted
Contraception options are one of the topics covered in our Education sessions

Listening to the women we work with is at the core of Bloody Good Period, and doesn’t cease at evaluation processes. In addition to our traffic light system, a transcript is produced during every session. This enables us to easily identify themes, which in turn inform the next phase of the programme.

Arranging to have interpreters prepared and present is another fundamental step in making sure that every attendee can participate and make themselves heard. Simply having interpreters stay in the room isn’t enough. Interpreters need to be thoroughly briefed beforehand to ensure they translate what is being said, and avoid the temptation of putting forward their own views and asking their own questions. A well-thought-out seating plan and help from facilitators can also ensure that the interpreting doesn’t impact negatively on the session for those who do speak English well.

Finally, our work is greatly informed by drop-in centre staff. They work hard to build trusted relationships with the women who attend sessions, and support us with a ‘bigger picture’ perspective as to their wants and needs.

3. Collaboration is Power

Working together is at the essence of our programme.

BGP ambassador Nahla and our Education lead Hannah
BGP ambassador Nahla and our Education lead Hannah

Through diverse partnerships and alliances, we are able to keep our sights on achieving our overarching goals - to encourage open dialogue on women’s health, reduce health inequalities and improve access to healthcare. The insights from Bloody Good Education are fed into the topics covered on our collaboration partner London In Your Language, a digital platform that brings together essential information to promote better pathways to services and help users learn practical phrases to access those services. The women who attend Bloody Good Education sessions can leave knowing that they can find out more about the topics covered and explore such issues in their own time. Understanding pathways to NHS services and service signposting is crucial for participants to comprehend how best to take control of their sexual and reproductive health.

Dr Annette Thwaites, one of our volunteer facilitators
Dr Annette Thwaites, one of our volunteer facilitators

The programme wouldn’t take place without our resident gynaecologists, who volunteer their free time and bring their wonderful enthusiasm for women’s health matters to the sessions. They are adept at creating an equal measure of planning and flexibility; responding to the needs of participants in-session, connecting with fellow volunteers, BGP staff, and the programme’s key partners, as well as preparing ahead of time to ensure content answers the attendees’ questions, before they’ve been asked.

Woman wearing a T-shirt which reads 'Everyone deserves a bloody good period'

Bloody Good Education has really underlined how, when we join forces with session attendees, women’s centres, BGP volunteers, and other like-minded organisations, we can together empower each other with knowledge and information to tackle stigma and misconceptions head-on, and create a more positive (menstrual) cycle.

Blog post co-written by London In Your Language and Bloody Good Period

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