Introducing you to Filippo Rustighi, Senior Project Worker and EDI Champion – LGBTQ+ Representative

Hello, I am Filippo Rustighi and I am a senior project worker at William Collier House.

I started working for YMCA Brighton in 2019 as a project worker after volunteering for two years at the Clock Tower Sanctuary, an organization that support homeless young people in Brighton. Before moving to England, I was in university studying Sociology. I have always been interested in social phenomenon’s related to specific fields like substance misuse, homelessness, and the jail system. My dissertation was focused on those aspects of society. While I was writing the dissertation I was studying and analysing social issues and I felt the need to be more involved, more “on the field” and to do something active which could support the people who were affected by the phenomenon’s I was studying.

With that in mind I moved to the UK in 2017, just after finishing my university degree. When I moved to England, I took time to settle myself and to start learning about the opportunities that were available. I started to think about where and how I could be involved in supporting the people that I had studied for many years.

Settling was not the easiest thing to do especially because Brexit was happening while I was moving into the country. This meant the future for me, and many other foreign people was uncertain. I lived in many different places in town, the most interesting place I lived at was in a hostel with other 12 people in the same room as me! This was because I didn’t yet have enough savings to move somewhere more private and comfortable. Also, the agencies didn’t have very inclusive and friendly policies about renting to people who had just moved to England from other countries.

As many Italians (but not all) my first job experiences in town were in hospitality. I witnessed a lot of abuse, mainly verbal and emotional, when working in hospitality. I saw people, workers, and colleagues, being treated in an unequal way with no respect for diversity at all. There was a lot of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, racism, you name it. Complaining to your manager basically meant you would be fired. A classic response from a manager would be to tell you not to show up for the next shift if you disagreed with something they had said.

I witnessed a lot of things that I was not ok with, but I was basically told to shut up. I was aware that I needed to pay the rent, but I was very unhappy. Luckily, I had found an opportunity to volunteer for the Clocktower Sanctuary and this experience was the only thing that made me happy during that time. It gave me happiness for different reasons. Firstly, I was happy that I could support a cause that I deeply believed in and that gave me a purpose; Secondly, I met people that helped me figure out that the things I witnessed in hospitality were not ok, not at all. The people I met taught me about part of the UK legislation around Equality and Diversity in workplaces and in the general society and I started becoming more and more interested in that aspect. Thirdly, they inducted me into the supported housing sector and taught me what the supported housing system was offering in Brighton and Hove.

I volunteered for them for two years and they taught me a lot. I was so happy to see many of these young adults achieving their goals and knowing that in some way I was part of that process.

Eventually I heard that a position was available at William Collier House, and I wanted to apply. I was a little bit concerned at the beginning because my previous experience in this sector was only with young people, but William Collier House was classified as adults with high support needs. However, Clocktower was very supportive, and this gave me the confidence to apply. Three years later and here I am! I am now a Senior Project worker and the manager of reception.

When I started at William Collier House everybody (Head Office included) was so nice to me, there are two people in the project that I consider mentors; they taught me so much and I still am learning from them. What was mind blowing to me was the complete difference in working environments, in terms of respect and support towards each other. This was something that I was never used to because of my experience in hospitality.

I was very happy to take on the role as LGBTQ+ lead at William Collier House when I was a project worker. Later, the I became the Equality and Diversity and Inclusion Champion because I am driven about advocating for my clients, colleagues and anybody who has experienced discrimination or has been a victim of hate. I just dread the idea of people having to go through the same discrimination I had to go through, not just in hospitality, but in my life in general, from homophobia to xenophobia…etc.

I do really appreciate YMCA for being so inclusive and for giving workers a platform where they can be free to discuss Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. It makes it feel like a safe space for many people.

1)  Why do you feel Inclusion is important?

When I was on my journey trying to follow my aspiration to become a frontline worker, the obstacles, barriers, and discrimination that I experienced made me realize how important inclusion is. Honestly, I guess my life in general made me realize how important inclusion is.

In Italy I grew up with a lot of people coming from different countries and different backgrounds and I just felt that enriched me as a person. It just expands your mindset. Growing up with different people just helps you figure out who you actually are, what you actually like, and it helps you to consider your own path rather than follow the predetermined path of a closed society.

One of the things that I am proud of in my country is that the education system. Even though it has its flaws it offers people the same opportunities to access education. I do believe that it is fundamental to include everybody in the education system to improve society. What differentiates people are the opportunities that are given to them, and people are not given the same opportunities in society. Often this disparity in opportunity leads to a lot of issues due to the marginalization of specific people and that is often connected to an increase in social problems like crime rates, alienation, and poor mental health, etc. Societies with high levels of inclusion usually have more contained rates of crimes, mental illness, and alienation.

I personally believe that in my job equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental. Firstly, research suggests that inclusive and diverse workplaces are more productive and efficient as they have a wide range of talent and experiences within their teams. Secondly, our organisational goal is to help adults who experienced homelessness or who are at risk of being homeless to achieve their goal and lead an independent life. In most cases the homeless community experiences a lot of discrimination, social stigma, and marginalization. That leads many homeless people living in a constant fight or flight mode that makes it hard for them to live in the wider society and achieve independent living.

My workplace is their living space and by modelling an inclusive and diverse environment we can help develop an understanding of how the wider society could be. We demonstrate that in inclusive environments misunderstandings and prejudices are minimised and meaningful conversation can take place. This will help support them within the general society to become more accepting towards each other, and themselves.

2)  The theme of the day is ‘Diversify your Perspective’. What does this theme mean to you?

I think that, as I said previously, a diversified space allows you to grow and evolve and enrich your character under many aspects. Again, it is fundamental for a support worker to differentiate your perspective to support clients. For example, I usually ask my clients how they would like to be supported to make them feel listened to and to show them my willingness to understand their needs. I ask them which is the best way that they would like me to support them. I feel that when it is not possible to use this approach the support process can be harder because clients may feel patronized in terms of support. They may perceive the support given as demeaning them instead of feeling supported. This seems especially true with regards to substance misuse; the change has to come from them, so they need to feel that you are willing to understand their point view.

Although I haven’t been through the same issues, I feel it is my job to help empathise with client. I may have not had the same experience, but I am willing to listen and understand what they have been through, and I will hear their perspectives on their life and the challenges they face, as well as understanding how they would like to address it. By earning trust and showing clients that I am listening and learning from them I can also find space to introduce my own perspectives and engage in an exchange of views and knowledge. In my experience this sort of supportive relationship helps people achieve a manageable substance use.

Just to use an example about this specific side of my job, to diversify my perspective on this specific topic of substance misuse, there things I did that anyone could do without experiencing the substance misuse themselves. These steps can be used for anything that you want to diversify your perspective on:

  • Step one: Learn: Like I did before I joined Brighton YMCA, I was reading about homelessness, drug addiction and the jail system.
  • Step two: Engage: Then, when I felt I needed more than to just read about it, I actively engaged by supporting people; I went and started volunteering and talking directly to those people. I then started attending trainings and conferences
  • Step three: Act: I applied my new knowledge to my work, and it does give results.

I apply the above system to any topic that I want to develop my understanding of, not necessarily regarding my job. We all start with pre-established opinions due to our personal biases. That is when we should apply step one or two to verify if our opinion is valid and discover if there is more information that we could consider that might challenge our biases and develop our understanding further.

As an EDI Champion I believe in educating myself and others, clients, or colleagues, and I promote participation with all. I started as LGBTQ+ specialist when I was a project worker and I created partnership with organisations like Mind Out. I organised talks at William Collier House in which Mind Out would come and explain their services: counselling for LGBTQ+ and Transgender Advocacy. It was a good way to offer to my colleague options to consider when supporting clients who were LGBTQ+ and I also found it very useful getting in touch to those organisations who could offer extra support to clients.

I kept my role as LGBTQ+ specialist while I also took the extra responsibility of Volunteer Coordinator and Activities Coordinator with my colleague Ruby Fong. We offered university student the chance to volunteer with us and we offered those students the chance to experience a work placement in supported housing and to meet clients within the service. However, we also made sure we had opportunities for clients to volunteer alongside students. We wanted to diversify the activities environment by mixing external volunteers with internal volunteers to promote inclusivity. We do believe it was a very beneficial experience for the clients and the students. They all really enjoyed the experience but unfortunately, with Covid this has been put on pause.

Covid has been a difficult time in terms of arranging activities and promoting inclusion since so many restrictions were put in place; there were too many risks involved in shared spaces and with meeting people. Unavoidably this had an impact on the support system. However, my colleagues did an amazing job making sure that everybody was safe and did this whilst continuing to support clients.

Now it is an important time for inclusion, we can reunite and use all the provisions possible to promote the type of inclusive environment that we worked so hard to build before Covid. At William Collier House we continually promote inclusion and diversity. As the EDI champion I work inclusively with my colleagues who are incredibly competent people. We work as a team to ensure we diversify our perspectives by sharing knowledge. This helps us support newer project workers into their role and all of us learn when we expand our knowledge on specific topics.

We are a big team and every single of us have specific extra responsibility that determines a specific knowledge that we develop and then we share with the team. For example, we have specialist in the following areas:

  • Men’s worker
  • Women’s worker
  • Complex Needs:
  • Bame representatives
  • LGBTQ+ responsible
  • Activity coordinators
  • Volunteer coordinators
  • Domestic Violence worker

As the EDI champion for William Collier House, I want to make sure that the knowledge is shared throughout the team and that the Equality and Diversity policies are respected, promoted and improved.

3)  What do you enjoy most about your work at the YMCA?

This is an easy one for me: The best part of my job is to see the residents achieve their goals. That is just what I want to do. Support people achieving their goals by helping them to be independent and move on. But I also love how dedicated the people I work with are. I love how competent my colleagues are. I love that I have people that I can learn from. I love how we take care of each other while witnessing a lot of intense events very often.

4)  Tell us one unique thing about yourself.

I don’t know. Maybe two truths and a lie….

I was a gymnast, I have been to an X Factor audition, I have a twin! ?

5)  Is there anything you would like to share as part of our virtual library that inspires you or encapsulates what inclusivity and diversity means to you?

The Elephant Man by David Lynch

To have or to Be? by Erich Fromm.