Vin, one of Chance UK’s youth workers, talks about his experience growing up and identifying as part of the LGBT+ community, and how it influences his work with the young people he now supports:
I’ve recently watched the critically acclaimed Netflix coming of age teenage drama, ‘Heartstopper’ written by Alice Oseman. The story is about Nick and Charlie, and how over the course of show, their mutual feelings develop for each other, gradually turning into love. Alongside them are their circle of friends, each going through their own struggles and development. The show felt like a reminder of the significance of community and support networks – through friendships, family or colleagues – and the importance of reaching out to others and expressing ourselves. As a teenager while I was trying to juggle all of these responsibilities I often struggled, and looking back, I realise I lacked that supportive group of people in my life. I also did not quite understand how to articulate the emotions and feelings I was experiencing, and instead kept them to myself. It was only when I was older, during university, that I felt more comfortable in who I was becoming as a person.
As a child reading was my favorite pastime and it was how I chose to spend time whenever I felt overwhelmed or anxious. My literary knowledge was limited, but it was during university, when I studied English, that my breadth of knowledge expanded. Reading works from the LGBTQ+ community who were also part of other diasporas was soothing. I could trace a particular emotion a character was feeling and compare it to my own, and it felt as if it legitimized my own feelings. During my degree, I found myself in an environment that felt safe and supportive, even when I felt like everything was going wrong. I learned to share my ideas with various people – friends, lecturers and my tutors – they all had a role in my life
Now in my role as a youth worker, I try to offer that safe and supportive environment. In one of my sessions, the young person and I play tennis. I do not know how to play tennis – I’ve hardly held a racket – but together we are playing, slowly improving each session. Sometimes I feel a little foolish in front of the young person because I feel out of my depth and beyond my comfort zone. But whenever we make a mistake we grin at each other and continue to play. At the end of the session, we would reflect on our techniques and how we might improve for future sessions. I remind myself the range of emotions we experience are real and valid. As a youth worker I feel the best I can do is model the emotions and feelings, to show this is part of the process of our own development and learning to understand who we are. These are conversations which I did not have when I was younger, but I am happy to now be in a position where I can create this safe environment for a young person.
Watching ‘Heartstopper’ helped me reflect on my time as a teenager when I was figuring out the different aspects to my identity. I considered the changes I could have made – or ways I could have reached out for help to others. But the story was also a reminder of how we grow and develop in our own pace. And so as an adult the optimism and joy depicted in ‘Heartstopper’ is a reminder of how I can try and practice this in my own life and with the children I support as a youth worker.