The FRESH Team at Portland College, UK
(Friendships, Relationships, Education and Sexual Health).
The learners who attend Portland College range from the age 16 to 25 years old, they have a variety of disabilities including autism, sensory modulation disorders, PMLD (profound and multiple learning difficulties), as well as physical and neurological disabilities resulting in some of our learners using powered or manual wheelchairs.
In October of 2008 a sex and relationships launch evening was carried out to establish the College’s position on how they thought both learners and staff should engage in the divided opinion on how the College should manage / support our learners to have a positive experience with sex and relationships.
The event was deemed to be a success and demonstrated learners enthusiasm and hunger to learn more about sex and relationships.
A steering group was subsequently formed from a staff group across College that generated a genuine interest in ensuring a policy was implemented and to enable learners to be provided with the support and mechanisms to be safe, to be heard but to also to empower them to have a relationship that would be non judgemental and free from discrimination.
The FRESH team felt that to enable staff to be fully supportive, training and research was required. Therefore a considerable amount of training has been sourced and received
The Occupational Therapy and Nursing staff are primarily the lead departments for educating and supporting learners to understand the implications of sexual health, while our Student Services department deal with referrals and signpost the learners to the appropriate people. The FRESH team run four events each academic year: Fresher’s disco, looking at how to make friends, the Valentines Disco looking at different types of friendships and relationships, the Fresh circuits which is themed around what happens in relationships and OurDay looks at sexual health.
The FRESH team have been empowered to provide a consistent message to our learners without having the fear of retribution for their actions as it is now considered to be a subject matter that should be open and supportive.
Maxine Bell & Anne Etchells