This is a regular new feature on our bulletin where The Proud Trust or one of our partners shares good practice about youth work or working with LGBT+ young people.
Please welcome Tamzin Forster, a freelance creative wellbeing specialist, who is discussing Peer Support in this month’s
In 2015 Matty Donaldson from The Proud Trust, and I joined forces to create a Peer Support Wellbeing Training Programme. This is designed to enhance and maintain positive mental health. It is based on previous work I have undertaken and The Proud Trust’s Peer Support Project which has run in some form or another since the mid 1990s.
What is peer support?
Peer support models are founded in non-hierarchical, reciprocal relationships. It works on the idea that non-professionals, (e.g. young people), can provide flexible social, emotional and practical support to one another through their personal knowledge and experiences. This role can complement and enhance existing services, bridging the gaps that occur within any service, reaching individuals and communities who may otherwise be alienated from or have poor access to services. Evidence shows that a peer support model can enable people to feel more confident, happy and knowledgeable and less isolated.
We trailed our training programme with participants from a youth group and sixth form college in Rochdale. Using The Proud Trust’s existing training, and some new creative tools, we delivered training in peer support skills and stress resilience strategies using evidence-based creative activities. Here are some key elements from our project which show how to build an effective peer support package:
A Flexible Model
Flexibility allows each project to receive good quality training, but with room to tailor it to their specific needs. A one size fits all model does not work with peer support projects as they all have different aims and practical requirements.
Training Is Practical and Theoretical
We combine practical tools that the Peer Supporters can take away, alongside accessible theory to underpin the effectiveness of the tools. The training is interactive and utilizes multiple delivery methods, which appeals to different learning styles.
The Holistic Approach
Encourages people to take an active role in their own self-care management, benefiting health and wellbeing long-term. Crucially, the project focuses as much on the wellbeing of the Peer Supporter as it does on the person they are supporting. This acknowledges that everyone has mental health and highlights the importance of self-care for people who are supporting others.
The Peer Supporters have input into the design of the programme. This allows the Peer Supporters to have ownership of the project rather than being passive receptors, and it ensures that they can tailor their project to the needs of young people in their area/context. The group created a pack of the tools they need to deliver peer support, and designed their own creative wellbeing activity to use in their support work.
Meeting Local Need
Through a flexible approach and involving the Peer Supporters in the design of their project, we ensured that each project is tailored to meet the local needs of young people using the service.
Peer support as a model provides early intervention, helping to provide young people with the support they require before their needs escalate to necessitate professional intervention. It also provides young people with a friendly avenue into supportive services, where they can then be signposted or referred to additional services if necessary, but is more focussed on a social model rather than a medical model of support.
After the initial cost of the training, the peer support project is a low cost service to implement. The Peer Supporters generally volunteer giving their time for free.
Participants have gone on to become mentors, encouraging and supporting others in their own networks, both informally and more formally depending on their setting.
If you would like help setting up a peer support project, either for LGBT young people of young people more generally, then please get in touch with Matty.Donaldson@theproudtrust.
Freelance Creative Wellbeing Specialist | Design | Photography | Animation | Visual arts and Craft | Workshop facilitator