Brighton Heroes

We ❤️ Brighton Heroes: The Clare Project

The Clare Project was originally formed in 2000, and since then has provided a safe space for the Brighton trans community. Their core service is a weekly drop-in session at Dorset Gardens Methodist Church where trans people can seek advice and support, as well as low-cost psychotherapy.

In a caustic world where leaders like Donald Trump are seeking to abolish the basic fundamental rights of transgender people, organisations like The Clare Project are crucial for maintaining compassion and harmony.

Dr Sam Hall is a trans man with five children working as a GP in Brighton. Since attending a session in 2012, he’s helped The Clare Group become recognised as a charity and has big hopes for the role they can play for trans rights and health in Brighton and beyond.

In advance of the Trans Day Of Remembrance (20th November) we spoke to Sam about the work Clare Project do, the complexity of trans healthcare, and how the workplace can embrace the rights of transgender people.

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Hey Sam! How did The Clare Project start

The Clare Project originated in a beauty salon [Shadi Danin] where the beautician was doing electrolysis for a number of transgender women. She introduced them to one another and it became a meeting space. The early organisers were intent on having mental health support because the impact of being trans in today’s society on one’s mental health can be huge. So they got a grant early to provide mental health support and it ran from there. It moved to Dorset Gardens church and has been running since then as a weekly drop-in.

What does your drop-in service entail?

It’s very loose and a facilitated drop in service on Tuesday afternoons. They tend to be visited by the most vulnerable: trans women, that get abused in the street and can’t work because no-one will employ them.

We get first-timers attendees arriving, saying that they can’t live their life as a male anymore. Sometimes they’ll actually go and change clothes and become their real selves. That’s very powerful There’s also very low cost psychotherapy for those that want it.

What are the primary issues attendees report?

The Clare Project has traditionally supported trans women more than anyone else because they tend to be most vulnerable. They’re generally more noticeable, often with facial hair, bigger hands, deeper voices. It’s so difficult to be seen as who they are. So many people make the transgender issue around genitals but the average transgender experience is so little about genitals: it’s about how other people see you.

How can you help these people increase their confidence?

We try and encourage them to get involved with volunteering with us, so they’re a bit more visible but in a safe way. It’s about capacity building in the community.

You mentioned about trans women’s problems with employment. This must surely be affected by this?

Absolutely. One thing that really frustrates me is there’s so many trans people with skills that don’t get utilized because people don’t employ them. They can live very small lives and that’s such a shame.

What more can businesses do to help?

We’ve found a real willingness to engage from the business sector. The main problem is a lack of information and/or education. Stuff like why access to the right bathrooms are important. Why it’s important to use the right pronoun when addressing people. People are scared to make a mistake, so often it’s simply a case of educating them. Brighton is, without doubt, the best UK city for advocating trans rights, where private and small business sectors are jumping onboard with us.

And the council has been supportive?

What we have in Brighton and Hove is relatively unique. We have a history of public and statutory bodies engaging with and championing the cause of trans people. The council did some exemplary work in 2015, producing a needs assessment for trans people; that was the first of its kind in this country, engaging the trans community in the way they do other minorities. We’re also feeling increasingly supported by Sussex Police.

As a GP, you must have a passion for trans health?

Yes. Health care provisions for trans people are third world in comparison to people that aren’t. Many GPs will refuse to treat trans people, citing a lack of knowledge or the fact they don’t think it’s right. There’s inherent transphobia in the system that makes access difficult. The few specialist clinics that are available have extremely long waiting lists. It’s hugely complex.

Take one issue i experienced: I was born with a female body but identified as male and was walking about as a man, but then needed to go and have a smear test! Imagine how that must feel? That’s just one example.

How has your transition shaped your view of gender roles?

We’re addicted to gender roles and we’re addicted to misogyny. It was fine for me: I got handed white male privilege on a plate! It’s frightening to experience both sides so I’m obliged to fight against it as I can see very clearly it’s not healthy to the human race.

What do you seen in the future for The Clare Project?

I see us as a sizable charity with a political voice, as well as delivering much-needed health and social care for trans people. I hope in future we will be committed by the NHS to provide services.

You guys are great, thanks Sam!

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Check our previous entries in our ‘We ❤️ Brighton Heroes’ series

Guestblog: Lessons I Learned At Happy Startup School’s Summercamp

We love hosting Happy Startups’ monthly Ideas Cafe at PLATF9RM. They are progressive business dudes with outrageously creative minds and every year they host Summercamp. It’s their own festival and this year PLATF9RM Member Lana Burgess went along. We asked her to write a blog about her experience and it sounded like quite a ride!

Summercamp is the annual gathering of the The Happy Startup School community. It offers the opportunity to unplug, get inspired by a diverse range of speakers, and connect with other founders, freelancers, and creatives in a natural setting. This year was my first time going. I can safely say that it was nothing like I expected. But everything that I needed.

When I reflected on what to include in this blog post, I found that my most memorable realisations were around wellbeing rather than business. This, perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise as it was a recurring theme throughout the weekend.

With that in mind, here’s five lessons I learned about wellbeing this weekend that have truly transformed my perspective.

The Joy of Missing Out

There was so much going on at Summercamp that falling foul of FOMO (fear of missing out) was entirely possible. Each morning was filled with talks offering a unique take on entrepreneurship. In the afternoons, we could choose from a plethora of workshops.


Some workshops were pre-arranged and others emerged through an innovative process called “open space”. Topics covered included the psychological role of awe, entrepreneurship as a spiritual journey and what causes burnout, to name but a few.

After the workshops, we could try different wellbeing activities. My favourite was the wild sauna spa. Jumping into the bracing, emerald waters of Frickley Lake after getting my sweat on was addictively exhilarating.

With so many valuable experiences to choose from, FOMO could well have wreaked havoc on our enjoyment. Fortunately, Marcus Pibworth from the Ministry of Change offered up a way to reframe this problem: JOMO (the joy of missing out).

For me, this simple reframing was immensely freeing. It helped me quiet the voice that often asks if there is somewhere else I should be. This reduced my anxiety and allowed me to be fully present to enjoy every moment. A good life lesson, indeed.

How to Access Empathy

My second lesson came from the workshop that Christine Raine and her partner Seb Castro ran on emotional mapping. This is the idea that we can communicate better by taking a moment to observe — and name — the emotion we are feeling. We are feeling this emotion because a specific need we have is unmet. If we can identify this unmet need, we can discover what we need to move forward.

We can apply this process to the person we are speaking with, too. Rather than simply reacting to their words, we can take a moment to feel their emotional energy. We should not tell them what they are feeling, but we could ask them. Asking opens space for empathy. It allows the person we’re speaking with to feel heard. Activating empathy can improve the communication, deepening business and personal relationships alike.


The Beauty of Self-doubt

We spend a lot of our time as entrepreneurs trying to iron out undesirable qualities. To banish imposter syndrome. To quash procrastination. To erase self-doubt. But perhaps we shouldn’t. Because it’s our vulnerabilities that allow us to connect. That keep us open. That allow us to learn.

Without vulnerability, our default position can become that of the teacher. And the teacher alone. Sometimes this can prevent us from learning. Which seems like a terrible shame. Because, arguably, the best lessons are ones which flow in both directions.


What It Means to Be Present

We’ve all heard of mindfulness. But how many of us have ever really, deeply, felt what mindfulness means?

I had a powerfully mindful experience with Gino Yu, from the University of Hong Kong. This is a man who can maintain eye contact like no one I’ve ever met before. When someone intensely holds your gaze for an extended period of time, it isn’t always comfortable. But it brings you into the present moment like nothing else.

When you’re in the moment, you experience the world physically, rather than through thought. Time seems to stop and anxieties fade. Being in your body, not your mind, feels radically different. Like coming home.

How to Move On


Birthing a business can be an intense, fulfilling, and meaningful process. But what happens if reach the point where your creation no longer serves you?

The stories I heard at Summercamp revealed that there is no single answer to this question. How you decide to transition is deeply personal. But recognising when a transition needs to happen is essential. Ignoring the nagging voice that’s telling you you’ve outgrown your business can lead to disconnect. We stop being true to our authentic selves if we cling on to something that we need to give away. There’s no shame in admitting that it’s time to move on.


I arrived at Summercamp wanting to focus on my next step as a freelance writer. The insight I gained was much more personal. I connected with people on a deeper level than day-to-day interactions tend to allow. I forgot about my business and reconnected with nature. I felt the true value of community. A shared energy. Shared vulnerabilities. Shared love.

My thinking around wellbeing has taken a massive leap forward. And writing about my learnings has reminded me that words are not just something I sell. Writing is a tool that I can use to process my mental health journey. And to share it with others — when I’m ready.

Going to Summercamp may not give you everything you think you want. But, somehow, the process seems to give you what you need. I’m pretty sure someone once wrote a song about that! Anyway, go next year and I have a feeling that you’ll understand what I mean.


We ❤️ Brighton Heroes: Paul Richards of Stay Up Late

Stay Up Late are a totemic Brighton charity whose influence spreads way beyond our seaside city. They are the brains behind Gig Buddies, who pair people with learning disabilities with pals to attend gigs with. They were born out of a disarmingly simple problem: support workers accompanying people with learning disabilities to concerts traditionally finish their shift at 10pm. Therefore both would leave early – normally by 9pm – and be deprived of those culturally enriching and perspective-altering elements that live music can provide.

Paul Richards is the founder of Stay Up Late, which was born from his band Heavy Load; a punk outfit composed of five men – some who had learning disabilities – that became famous for their passionate, chaotic gigs. They eventually had a film made about them (Heavy Load). That was back in 2008 and since then Stay Up Late has been a quiet juggernaut, with social franchises in nine UK cities and even one in Sydney. They’ve had coverage in The Guardian, attend festivals like Glastonbury and Latitude, and positively affected hundreds of people.. They’re rad. We called Paul to talk about why live music really can change lives.


Hey Paul! Gig Buddies really seems to have captured people’s imagination. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because the concept behind Gig Buddies is easy to understand. We match people up with a shared love of the same thing. In that process we alleviate social isolation. Simple.


Right! And live music is the thread for this?

Absolutely. Music gives people a common interest. It brings them together.  It’s also about changing how we engage with people with learning disabilities. They get pathologized and people make assumptions about what their disability means. It’s about people owning their condition.



How would you tangibly measure the positive effects of your work?

On a micro level it could be someone going to a nightclub for the first time in their life. Or discovering a new band. On a grander scale: going to Glastonbury for the first time. But it’s also about the effect it has for our volunteers: they now see their buddy as their friend. These are small societal changes.


Is there a danger that people with learning disabilities have a limited cultural experience?

Definitely. Recently, Kate [Project Manager for Stay Up Late] organised a meet-up at  an experimental music night in Worthing. They all hated the music but they loved the night and were united in that. People with learning disabilities often have a narrow cultural experience: how do you make those decisions about what you really love until you are exposed to stuff you don’t?


It’s also about the wider confidence it gives people?

Absolutely. It’s about giving them more of an idea about the way they want to live their life and giving them the confidence to go and do things in the community. I describe Gig Buddies as scaffolding around someone’s social life. Hopefully you can take that scaffolding away and you’ll see people going out to nights outside of Gig Buddies.


How does the process actually work?

Just go on the website and fill in the form. We do training every month and we’re always eager to hear from people. People are matched around musical interests but also maybe around their location, age, gender and sexuality. They’ll be introduced and any specific support needs will be discussed. They’ll then go to their first gig together. We also provide ongoing support.


How many people do you currently have on your books?

We’ve currently got 100 pairs of buddies but a waiting list of 100-150 people with learning disabilities looking for buddies. We really need more volunteers to match them with. We think of it as turning something you would already do – going to a gig – into a volunteering opportunity. We know it’s hard to find the time for people to volunteer- this enables you to do that whilst doing something you love and getting a new friend along the way.


Is Stay Up Late now your actual job?

It is, yeah. At first I was doing it voluntarily. Then part time whilst I was working for other support organisations. Now it’s generating enough funding to cover my wages, which is another dream: to work in Brighton and do this!


What motivates you in the morning?

A sense that  – through our work – we’re able to make real change in people’s lives. That is exciting. But also working really closely with the people we’re enabling and to create a culture and charity that works in a way which I think it should be done.


Lastly, it looks like you have Harry Fairchild on your books. We interviewed him a while back. He’s a dude.

Harry does training sessions for us. He’s a force of nature, that man! I remember him marching with us at Pride and was walking out with his top off. He said, “I need to get the air to my body. And also the girls like to see my body.” I’ve never known anyone like him.


What a legend, cheers Paul!.

Check our previous entries in our ‘We ❤️ Brighton Heroes’ series

We ❤️ Brighton Heroes: Jo Wren of The Grow Project

Jo Wren is a woman who calms a room by walking through the door. There’s useful synergy between this and her job as co-founder of The Grow Project, who organise nature therapy courses for people with mental health and wellbeing issues. They’re mostly based at Saddlescombe Farm near Devil’s Dyke and, over the course of their seven year history, have helped over 520 local people confront their demons.

They’re a life-altering organization for many and Jo, whilst being self-deprecating and sweetly awkward at accepting acclaim for her actions, has been central facilitator in this. We invited her along to Hove Town Hall to chat about the history of Grow and why nature can be a powerful tool in the battle for good mental health.


Hey Jo! What are you earliest memories of nature?

I only started thinking this through recently. My dad and I used to walk for miles and miles in North Wales when I was younger. He was at his happiest when he was outside and I think he’s handed that down to me!


What do Grow’s courses entail?

Our main thing is a course called The Grow Season. It’s one full day a week for eight consecutive weeks. We meet in central Brighton and take people out of town - mainly to Saddlescombe Farm near Devil’s Dyke. They’ll do a variety of different activities: it could be walking, conservation work, shepherding or maybe something creative like wild art. The aim is to remove them from their comfort zone and find something in nature that inspires them.

We also work with businesses and organisations who take day courses with us.



What effect have your courses had on people’s lives?

I sometimes still bump into people from the first course – seven years ago – and they’ll literally say things like, ’Grow saved my life’. That can be quite overwhelming! It’s obviously incredibly rewarding but I also think that it wasn’t me who got them there. We provide a safe, supportive environment for people but the change has to come from themselves.


What is most people’s journey to Grow?

If you start feeling that you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, generally the first thing people say is go to your doctors. The first thing they’ll do is medicate, at a huge cost to the NHS. But it’s just a holding pattern really; you’re not truly getting “better”. They’ll then say that you should try talking therapy and put you on a waiting list and that might take another 6 months.


That’s a long time in someone’s life.

It is! That whole time they’re possibly deteriorating. Then even if you get talking theory it’s maybe six weeks, 12 if you’re lucky. There’s a real gap. I think we tend to be in the space people are not yet so bad, or where when they have gone down a difficult route but are coming out of it. We’re not a crisis group.


Do you think people in Brighton are perhaps more prone to mental health issues?

There are stats that show Brighton has some of the highest mental health issues in the country. Drugs and alcohol are a big problem here. Also, lots of people come to Brighton from other towns and cities and maybe don’t have support networks. They can then run into trouble. Isolation is such a big problem for many people.


Are your courses about connecting to other people as much as nature?

Certainly. When we started, we were focused on connecting to nature but one of the more important things is connecting to yourself. Other people are vital in this. If you were to attend group therapy sessions, meeting 12 people in a room can be really difficult. Meeting 12 people on a hillside is nowhere near as intimidating.


Do you think social media and 24-hour emailing is making it harder for people to unplug?

Absolutely. I think it’s really valuable to unplug. The internet and social media is an incredible resource and connects you with people in incredible ways. But we are bombarded.


And we’re always chasing the dopamine hits from social media likes and engagement…

Exactly. That feeling we get from a bunch of likes on our Instagram post is great! It’s natural to want those things but people need to know there’s other ways to get them.


There’s also a culture of always being busy too? As though if you’re not busy 24 hours, you’re not working hard enough?

Definitely! Recently I’ve actually only been working three days a week and I've deliberately kept that space. It can feel a bit lazy but it’s been so positive for me and Grow– I’ve had the space to think about things and where I want to go


How do you see the future of Grow?

We’re partnering with other groups and charities a lot more now. We’ve formed the Green Wellbeing Alliance with local similar-minded charities and there’s the beginnings of a community. I think that's the way small projects like us will thrive: stop chasing funding separately and club together. I don’t want to live in a world of competition.


We agree! Thanks Jo.

Check our previous entries in our ‘We ❤️ Brighton Heroes’ series