This month James Evans, Health Inequalities Volunteer at VHS, met with Alastair MacKinnon Chief Executive of Fast Forward. Founded in 1987, and recently celebrating their 25 anniversary, Fast Forward are a national voluntary organisation whose purpose is to give young people the skills, education and choices for them to lead healthier lives. They have a clear focus on reducing health inequalities that are brought about through the negative impact of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Alastair stresses that the most severe areas of deprivation and inequality in society are also where problematic substance misuse is most prevalent. This is very clear in relation to smoking. Creating awareness of the negative impact of tobacco on the health of young people is a challenge Fast Forward have taken up. Alastair felt that the law against smoking in public places was one of the most significant improvements to public health in the last ten years. It has not only reduced the number of individuals smoking but it has also raised the awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke. For health inequalities to be reduced in relation to tobacco a joined-up approach is needed. Another key campaign that has been run by Fast Forward is that of “No Knives Better Lives”. This is in response to the sharp increase in youth knife crime. Working alongside 11 local authorities in Scotland in an attempt to curtail the use of knives which often have strong links to Alcohol and Drug misuse. These campaigns are often focused in more deprived areas and are attempting to close the gap of many different types of inequalities.
A significant challenge for Fast Forward, and many other organisations is creating information that is easily accessible and relevant for their target audience. The organisation has an excellent and eye catching website and they recognise the digital age does create greater ease of access to information. However it is still important to have information in other forms for those who do not have access to the internet. When giving information to young people it is critical it is relevant to how young people live their lives today. This is a challenge Fast Forward relishes. Often the resources are produced by young people for young people. New resources this year included a leaflet on New Psychoactive Substances and a recent leaflet on the negative impact on Shisha smoking was co-created with ASH Scotland.
Another key aspect of Fast Forward’s work is an emphasis on developing and supporting peer education. Fast Forward operates SPEN (the Scottish Peer Education Network) with members all across Scotland. Young volunteers are also trained in –house at Fast Forward in peer education approaches. By having young people around, both in the staff team and on the board, it allows the whole organisation to stay grounded and relevant to its core beneficiaries. This creates regular and effective opportunities to see what issues are affecting young people in relation to health inequalities in order to “promote health and reduce harm”.
It is clear that through their focus on the impact of substance misuse, creating accessible information and promoting peer education that Fast Forward have a commitment to reducing health inequalities from an early age. Reducing the gap in health inequalities is vital and the suggestion from Alastair was for the Scottish Government to continue to its welcome focus on working on a joined-up approach across education, health, social policy and justice