Deciding for Ourselves was a three-year, community-based, sexual health research project that was run by the Bromley by Bow Centre from 2007-10. The project trialled a method to enable Bangladeshi women from Bromley by Bow and surrounding areas to increase their knowledge and confidence to discuss sexual health and access sexual health services. Sexual health was defined to include cervical cancer, breast cancer, contraception, healthy relationships, sex education and STI’s. The project recorded 493 people attending sessions, 83% of whom were Bangladeshi and 91% of whom were women.
The project grew out of 23 years of working closely with the Bangladeshi community to deliver an integrated model of looking after people’s health and family needs, social welfare and economic well being.
The need for the project stemmed from research showing that the Bangladeshi community were less likely than others to access sexual health services, despite having a similar pattern of sexual health problems to the wider population. Bangladeshis make up only 6% of clinic service users, compared with nearly 1/3 of the local population. Evidence suggested that confidentiality concerns, cultural and religious taboos were preventing the community from seeking help, leading to undiagnosed and untreated health problems. The project fitted in with the national priority to tackle the spread of sexually transmitted infections and reduce teenage pregnancy.
The project hypothesised that an “embedded” model of delivery, reaching the community through existing groups and projects in the Centre, would increase knowledge around sexual health issues and services, and increase confidence to discuss issues and access services. The team consisted of two “wellbeing workers” – a Sexual Health Worker specialising in delivery, and a Researcher – and was managed within the Bromley by Bow Centre’s adult learning team.
Firstly, we delivered “embedded” “information” or “taster sessions” around male and female cancers, to existing groups of adult learners, during their regular scheduled session times. This was then followed up by embedded “workshops” on more overtly sexual health topics. Participants in workshops were then encouraged to book either one-to-one follow up sessions with the sexual health worker and/or to attend further “voluntary” workshops, which took place outside of scheduled classroom times and which participants therefore attended voluntarily. In all sessions, open discussion was encouraged, participants were encouraged to ask questions either in the group or privately, and information about seeking further help or accessing services was made available. For the duration of the project, support was available in Sylheti, a Bangladeshi dialect spoken by many local people with English as a second language.
This research project was funded by the King’s Fund's Partners for Health programme and the Rayne Foundation,