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Membership and inclusion in peer support

On this page, learn about group relationships and the power of inclusion in peer support. All of these will impact the cohesion and sustainability of a peer support group. 

Why is membership and inclusion important in a peer support group?

Being clear about who your group is for and how many it should include is key to the sustainability of your group. The focus of your peer support group will help you define the membership.

If you're setting up a general peer support group, you will have fewer criteria than if you're setting up a group for a particular community or for people with a particular experience, diagnosis or background.

Being clear and transparent about the nature of the group helps to reach the people the group is for. You'll also need to decide if you want an open group or a closed group.

Membership tips from GetUpSetUp team

  • Manage group size. It's important that everyone feels heard. If a group gets too big for this, then it may no longer meet the needs of some people, particularly those who find it hard to be heard.
  • Have realistic expectations. Be realistic about what you and your group can achieve. Don't try to be all things to all people. Refer back to your values and be clear about how the group is seen from the outside.
  • Congruence. This means having and sharing a clear understanding of who you are as a group, what your values are and knowing your boundaries. 
  • Empathy. When you show empathy towards someone, you're empowering them to be part of the group and to take an active role within the group.
  • Importance of giving back. It can be empowering for people to give to others and share support with the group.


You may need to promote or publicise your group at the start to attract new members, and to renew membership if the group size becomes too small. The longer-term sustainability of the group will rely on keeping a workable group size.

In order to publicise your group, be clear about your purpose and values so that you can give a clear picture of it to potential new members. This will help avoid the need to turn people away.

As a group, you can set aside a time to describe yourselves. This can also be a good opportunity to review your group, its values and purpose, and to think about the new members you would like to attract. Publicising the group can also raise awareness of what the group stands for. 

Top tips for promoting your group

  • Be clear and transparent, so you don’t misrepresent the group
  • Try using social media, like a website or Instagram account
  • Use more conventional methods too, like local radio stations, or contacting your networks and organisations with similar values
  • Always go back to the need - promotion is reaching out to people who need your group

Group relationships

Maintaining group relationships is key to the sustainability of a group. Most groups go through periods of difficulty and occasionally a group will encounter serious disagreements that threaten its future.

Thinking about group relationships before difficulties arise can be a good opportunity for you all to think about how best to resolve difficulties. It also forms a part of how a group remains inclusive.

Starting the discussion

Understanding and talking about group relationships openly with your members can make the group ready for challenges and change. This kind of discussion with your group can feel scary, but it can be very constructive.

Keep it simple and ask each other:

  • How do we relate to each other?
  • How can we work together in a constructive way?
  • How would we like to resolve difficulties if they arise in the future?

You can build some of the outcomes of this discussion into your group agreement, so it's a part of what everyone signs up to when they join. 

"Exploring the topic of group relationships really helped my peer support group to do some reflective work on themselves as individuals and what strengths they each brought to the group. This meant the group became more cohesive and more resilient. We became more sustainable because we were open about group relationships and how they played out in the group."

Endings and new beginnings

Endings do not have to be negative. They can lead to new openings or new beginnings. Part of this process also involves embracing change, which can feel overwhelming and scary to many of us and our groups.

Below are some experiences shared by the GetUpSetUp team.

Sometimes peer support groups try to keep themselves exactly the same and avoid change. This can mean the group ends.

"I have a group that is not allowing fluidity and that has been the demise of the group. The very nature of the group is the fluidity, but not everyone sees it that way."

'"The person who was driving the lack of change was trying to sustain it. Inadvertently they caused the ending by not allowing the flow."

“The river might dry up but next year start flowing again and it might be more vibrant next time it flows, it can be good to lie dormant for a while.”

“At the start, I was all about rules and making it safe, I would have found letting it flow really hard, I was so focused on keeping everyone safe and having a handle on everything.”

One group might be setting the stage for another group to start. If we are talking about empowerment, the group may have done its purpose and can fade away. Some things only exist for a short period of time, sometimes they have fulfilled their function. It’s Ok to let them go!

“Locally we needed a recovery network – so we met under the umbrella of psychological therapies and formed the Borders recovery network. It bumbled along for a couple of years and it did what it needed to do. It set the scene. A different idea of recovery was beginning to get buoyant, the group paved the way for the next group, Think Thrive. The idea of recovery training was born”.

Activity: Moving on with positivity

When a group has decided to close, it can be really helpful to everyone to find a good way to end.

  • Invite each member to write down on a card what has been their most positive experience of the group.
  • If meeting face to face, place cards in the centre and ask everyone to take one that is not their own.
  • If meeting online, group members can be paired in breakout rooms to read their partner’s card.
  • Each person reads out the positive experience on the card they've chosen.
  • In time, everyone’s positive experience will have been shared with the group in another person’s voice.
  • This can lead to a general discussion and celebration of the successes of the group and help the members to leave on a positive note.
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