An LGBT youth group has existed in the Highlands since 2013. The project is based in Merkinch, an area of Inverness in the top 15 per cent of deprived areas in Scotland. Receiving CashBack funding in 2014/15 provided a lifeline for the group to continue to have the support of an LGBT specific Sessional Youth Worker to run groups, and provide one-to-one support.
The Pillar Youth Group in Inverness is a small number of young people receiving specialist support and advice. Weekly group and one-to-one provision is offered to young people, supporting the mental, emotional and social wellbeing of young participants. They participate in issue-based workshops and actively engage with other youth organisations. During 2014/15 the Youth Worker observed participants growing in confidence. This was demonstrated by their work with other youth organisations and by presenting at local and national events. Participating in activities like these would not have happened previously and shows the growth in confidence and resilience of the group. The group provides a safe space for LGBT Young people and their peers to explore their identity, grow in confidence, meet new friends and participate in wide range of activities.
Having a dedicated LGBT group in the Highlands helps alleviate the isolation that young people feel from their peers as they navigate their adolescence, which can be compounded greatly by the geography of the area. The Highlands Local Authority area covers a large geographic area, including remote rural places. It can be difficult for some young people to attend the group due to rurality combined with a lack of public transport. Having a base in Inverness helps alleviate this. The Youth Worker has worked hard to connect with other youth services to address the barrier of geography, and to raise awareness of LGBT Young People across the Highlands.
The Pillar Youth Group intended to achieve three CashBack outcomes using funding during 2014/15. These were increased participation in positive activity; increased participation by difficult to engage and equalities groups; and providing young people with places to go where they feel safe and comfortable. Referrals to the group – particularly of transgender young people – have been steadily growing recently, demonstrating the need for more LBGT provision in the area. Partnership working with local agencies is essential to enhance the effectiveness of referrals and activities delivered.
The Youth Worker felt that CashBack outcomes were met in 2014/15, a year in which the group became very proactive in their local, national and international communities. The young people involved have been encouraged by having their voices heard through a range of high profile events. Participants now feel that they can make positive changes for themselves and their peers in the future. On a more personal level, young people have benefitted from routine and structured activities in a safe space, enabling them to share with friends and explore sensitive issues. Without this prejudice free environment, there would be no other place in the area where LGBT young people can share ideas, thrive and develop.