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akt (formally known as The Albert Kennedy Trust) helps young LGBTQ+ people, aged 16 – 25. They have been fighting LGBTQ+ youth homelessness since 1989. It was great to catch up with Tim Sigsworth, akt’s inspirational CEO, for Pride Month. I’ve interviewed Tim before, in February 2020akt has a fascinating history, which I’ve also written about.

I asked Tim how coronavirus had impacted youth homelessness?

It was massive and catastrophic. At one point during the early days of lockdown we saw a 118 per cent increase in young people coming through to our services. There were fewer housing options because places were closing down. Also, we couldn’t actually see young people in person so, apart from moving them into accommodation, we had to conduct everything through our digital services. We had many young people trapped in households with abusive parents – physical, verbal abuse or just silencing them out – they had to stay locked down but they were in really vulnerable environments. Young people reached financial difficulties because they didn’t have the job security. Whereas other people were being furloughed, a lot of young people were facing real poverty. There was an increased risk of exploitation, because young people who were struggling to find a connection would go online and maybe find themselves in situations where they were at risk of sexual exploitation.

What was the most significant impact?

The biggest impact has been the mental health impact. Young people have come to us with very complex trauma need because of everything they went through. We all know that loneliness and isolation is a massive cause of mental health struggles.

Were there any positives?

LGBTQ+ people and our allies were exceptionally generous. People rallied round, donors and corporate supporters fed us extra money all through the year, especially in the winter period during our appeal. It really allowed us to develop our digital service and as a result of that we are working with so many young people in rural areas nationally. We saw a massive increase in rural areas of Wales, the South West, the Midlands and the North West. We have such a brilliant team at akt – everybody supported each other.

Were there other ways akt adapted?

The digital project – that’s just gone through the roof. We have massive expansion plans for that. We are starting a digital service in the Midlands in the next few months. We are building other pathways into digital, so that we help professionals supporting LGBTQ+ youth and we are developing resource hubs online for young people. We also discovered that we need to do more “hang-outs” for young people online where they can just be with other young people. Through our youth engagement team people are meeting up, sharing ideas, getting training, getting information. We’ve also developed peer support networks as well, digital outreach which involves young people reaching out to other young people.

Philip Baldwin with Tim Sigsworth

Are your service users aware of the broader challenges facing LGBTQ+ people?

When you and I were young Philip and we had this thing about, ‘You can’t possibly be a gay person, how can you know your mind, how can you know your rights, you don’t have rights.’ It feels like the trans community is going through all of that at the moment. We’ve got a highly active and politicised group of young people coming to us who want to see more happening within charities and outside of them.

What does akt have planned for Pride Month?

You’ll see us popping up all over the show, over the summer. We always talk about “Pride Month” but I think Pride stops for akt in September. We’re going to use Pride as a protest – young people developing their own placards. The fight isn’t over. Even if the issues that we’re facing aren’t about you, it’s still all of our fight. The big message from akt is community is about unity – it’s about standing together. It will be a big period of outreach with young people, finding out what support they need, meeting them at Prides and also there’s a big volunteer push, to get new people involved. It’s about really enjoying that time to come together, where young people can engage, enjoy and protest.

Do you have a message for young LGBTQ+ people?

You can find your community at Pride. My advice is come to Pride, but come with others – make sure you’re safe. Be part of Pride because that’s where you’ll meet people and gain strength. Think about volunteering and joining youth groups, because if you volunteer you have the opportunity to really engage and fight those battles that need fighting around trans inclusion, around LGBTQ+ rights in general. You can be part of that fight. Don’t forget akt is here for you. My first Pride was traumatic because I’d just come out, been rejected by my mum and that was petrifying. If you need us – we’ll be there. We’ll be around all the stalls, we’ll be on the marches, but we’re also at the end of a line.

Head to akt’s website if you are a young LGBTQ+ person and need support or if you would like to donate to akt’s Summer Appeal.