George W X Barker is a final-year medical student and the recipient of the LGBT+ Undergraduate of the Year Award 2021 with Clifford Chance. George has years of experience with the Student-led charity Sexpression:UK - he first joined as a volunteer, became a Project Leader and then a Director of the national charity! George has also volunteered in intensive care units during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now preparing to start his journey as a doctor this autumn!
Tell us about your journey with Sexpression:UK.
I joined Sexpression:UK in my first year at UCL and have volunteered there in various capacities ever since. Sexpression:UK is a national charity with 25 branches across UK universities, which was started in 2000 at UCL. It delivers accessible and inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSHE) in schools. I got involved because I didn’t feel that the Relationships and Sex education I received in school was what I needed – it wasn’t inclusive, it didn’t answer many of my questions and I didn’t know where else to look for information.
In my first year, I was going to secondary schools to teach RSHE, which was fun and challenging. I really enjoyed it and in my second year I joined the committee and started running training sessions and organising lessons, among many other things. After that, in my fourth year, I became a Project Leader for the UCL branch and the Externals and Press Director of the charity. In this role, I managed press relations and liaised with our partner charities, worked in the House of Lords trying to lobby for changes in the curriculum, did interviews with the BBC, podcasts and consultations with the Department for Education.
In my fifth year, I became the National Director of the charity, which is something I did not expect when I first joined both UCL or Sexpression:UK!
"It’s been a huge learning curve and volunteering for Sexpression:UK has become an inseparable part of my experience at UCL."
What difference do you feel you’ve made?
I think one of most impactful things we have achieved is to positively lobby for change to the Relationships and Sex educational curriculum. The new curriculum is being rolled out in schools across the UK now and even though it is not perfect, we believe it is a great step forward.
What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?
Volunteering and leading the charity has brought my leadership skills and confidence to a new kind of level which I did not anticipate. When I started at Sexpression:UK, I definitely did not think I would become the head of the charity, which is one of the great things about getting involved in such projects – you never know where they are going to lead you. I gained many new skills, knowledge and experience. For example, how a charity operates in terms of legislation, data and child protection. I had to develop the confidence to say ‘Okay, I think this should be our policy and vision’. It was a joy to work with, and alongside, so many volunteers across the UK: Sexpression:UK is a team effort.
How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader? Did you connect with external organisations, volunteers or other individuals?
There have been many opportunities on a local and national level to connect and engage with members of staff, students, committee members, charities, politicians, the media. Sexpression:UK also holds two conferences per year where members from all branches come together and it is amazing as it is a great forum to exchange ideas, brainstorm and discuss what has been going well and what could be improved.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?
Many people believe that Relationships and Sex Education is not something which needs to be taught and actively trying to make a change can be very challenging. Some teachers and the media, for example, have not always been very supportive and have even tried to discourage and discredit our work. This has been a very challenging and sensitive part of the role and a great responsibility.
Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader.
Recruiting volunteers for any project can be difficult, as you have to share your enthusiasm with those that perhaps know nothing about your cause. The volunteering fairs and information evenings where we recruit volunteers and share the vision of Sexpression:UK are enjoyable, and a great forum to meet likeminded people. However, it can be a challenge to get people to come back for our training programme!
"Receiving the LGBT+ Undergraduate of the Year Award is very humbling, and a wonderful time to end my journey at UCL on. I didn’t start out with Sexpression:UK to get awards and recognition, and so it is a genuine surprise that I was successful in the competition, but a very welcome one!"
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about volunteering or being a Project Leader?
If you don’t give it a go, you wouldn’t know whether you could have done it and what could have come out of it. When you find something which is important to you – join that cause and be part of the movement, otherwise you might regret it. I didn’t expect that I would get where I am and acquire these skills, which will prove invaluable in the workplace and the rest of my life. It’s been a journey that I am just happy I went on, and whilst even at times was difficult, was thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding.