Article by Daniel Browne 23.02.15
Push Projects is a youth support charity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people up to the age of 25, as well as those who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity (Q). It currently provides a number of services across Warwickshire, including weekly drop ins, telephone and email support, online advice, talks, workshops, consultancy, and advocacy. In my role as founder and Chairman of the charity I also organise the Warwickshire Pride festival under the Push Projects umbrella. It’s strange to think about what the charity has become and how much progress has been made when I consider how difficult it was in the early days.
I decided to form Push Projects in the summer of 2011 after the County Council’s LGBT youth group that I volunteered at came to an end. I could see that a number of young people still needed a source of support and that, coupled with the memories of the difficulties I faced being a victim of homophobic bullying in my youth, spurred me on to take the step of setting up my own LGBT youth group.
Originally that’s all Push Projects was going to be; a weekly group at the Gap Community centre in Warwick each Thursday. For several months that’s all it was, although it was still a vital service for young people with no other source of support or social outlet. I remember coming up against resistance to setting up my own LGBT support service. People who should have been supporting Push Projects seemed to be actively making it difficult for such a service to exist, and I was often met with a tone of superiority from the ‘powers that be’. There was also a letter sent to Push Projects that claimed there are no gay people in Warwickshire so therefore there isn’t a need for the service to exist. This was from someone in a position of authority and still shocks me to this day, as well as puzzling me because they were writing to a gay person and surely must have known that. Go figure!
As the months went by I developed a telephone and email support service as a number of young people were contacting me saying they were not able to get to the group in Warwick but still needed support. Young people from all over the UK began getting in touch for advice and support, as well as LGBT people from as far as India and Africa. I still ran Push Projects in my spare time when I wasn’t working from my little flat in Warwick, and also funded the charity out of my own pocket for the first year as I struggled to obtain funding support.
In July 2012 Push Projects officially became a small charity. From that point things began to become slightly easier. The charity status gave a bit more credibility to Push Projects, and with a committee of prominent, respected, professional people that I had managed to put together, I was also taken a bit more seriously.
The next step in Push Projects’ evolution was the day that I woke up and decided that I was going to organise Warwickshire’s first ‘gay pride’ event to take place in Leamington. As with when I first set up Push Projects, I faced some resistance, but also as I had previously done, I never let it deter me from the goal I had in my mind. I knew that Leamington would benefit from an LGBT festival that focused on celebrating our diverse society. With so much awful stuff happening in the world, I wanted to highlight the positive side of humanity with a colourful celebration.
Almost three months to the day after I woke up with the idea of putting on a pride festival, Warwickshire Place took place at the Pump Room Gardens. The sun was shining and around 2,000 people turned out to support the event. It was deemed a great success, with support from the local authority and our MP. There has been a further Warwickshire Pride, which took place last year, and another festival is planned for July of this year. It continues to go from strength to strength and is now an anticipated fixture on the festival calendar.
In the present day Push Projects supports a number of young people across Warwickshire and around the UK. A second weekly drop in has been launched in Stratford-upon-Avon to keep up with the demand from young people who need a source of support and a positive social outlet. Issues that the young people we work with include being victims of homophobic bullying, not being accepted by their families after coming out, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, depression, self-harm and suicide attempts. All because people won’t accept them for who they are.
Last year the charity won the Carer of the Year award at the Pride of Warwick District Awards for the work supporting LGBTQ youth and campaigning to make Warwickshire a more open-minded, tolerant, progressive place for all people.
As for the future, I guess things will continue as they have done. At no point has there been a plan for Push Projects. It’s all grown as a result of me taking on board the views of young people, thinking about those views, sleeping on them and waking up with what I think are good ideas, and then running with them. The most important thing is that young LGBTQ can now access the support they need. Long may that continue.
You can find out more about Push Projects at http://www.pushprojects.co.uk and join the conversation on Twitter @PushProjects.