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Networking in peer support

This page looks at how being connected with your local community and wider communities can help to keep your peer support group going.

Why is networking important in peer support?

Making connections with others can help sustain a group. For example, through:

  • Finding new ideas and resources
  • Shared learning
  • Mutual support

This page explains how networking and being connected with your local community, national organisations and groups can help your peer support group to learn, grow and sustain itself.

What is networking?

People often join peer support groups, or start their own, in order to get support (and give support to others) and to be introduced to new ideas and approaches that others have found helpful. This principle also applies to connecting your peer support group or project with others in a wider community.

Here are some examples of how reaching out might help you to learn something new, look after your own wellbeing, or find out about opportunities and resources:

  • Improving support for other group members. A peer support group in another area may have a higher number of members from a particular minority community. Your group may be able to learn from them how to support people from that community, or connect minority members from your group with others who share a similar background.
  • Hearing about funding opportunities that have benefited other groups in the past. If you decide to apply for funding, this might include learning more about how to apply successfully or getting support with your application.
  • Sharing knowledge with other peer support leaders and supporting one another in your roles.
  • Learning about specific tools or resources that other groups have used to achieve a particular goal.
  • Bringing new experiences and interest to your peer support. For example, a peer support group for older people who are isolated joining with another group to socialise or do a particular activity.
  • Bringing new people to your peer support. For example, if your peer support group is small, you might like to partner with a group in another area for joint events.
  • Finding out about conferences, training or events.
  • Connecting you with new members.

It can be easy to overlook support that might be available nearby. The pandemic encouraged people to look closer to home for support, with Facebook and WhatsApp groups popping up for residents on particular roads or in shared buildings. There’s no reason why peer support can’t do the same. Who in your local area might help to sustain your peer support group?

Benefits of networking

Networking can help to sustain and develop peer support groups in the following ways:

  • Increased skills and confidence without needing to pay for formal training.
  • Increased visibility of your group and attracting new members.
  • Being well-placed to hear about and pursue funding and other opportunities.
  • Opportunities to problem-solve and gain new perspectives on any challenges.
  • Making sure you and your group are well-supported.
  • Becoming known and respected in your community by other groups and services.

This is not an exhaustive list. Every peer support group or project is different and, just as every individual peer support relationship is unique, different groups will interact and benefit in different ways.

Challenges of networking

Networking can be a very positive and valuable tool to help sustain your peer support group or project. But it also has challenges:

  • Networking can take time and effort. This can be tricky to accommodate when there are other competing demands on everyone, even if the effort does pay off later.
  • There is potential for conflict when other groups, services, or individuals have views that differ from those of your group.
  • If you decide to pursue funding for your group or project, or if you put yourselves forward for an award, you might find yourselves in direct competition with people you know well. In this case, it’s often best to ‘clear the air’ with a chat acknowledging the situation and wish each other luck!

Activity: Mapping your networks

Think about the individuals, groups or organisations that have been helpful to your peer support in the past or could be helpful to you in  the future. Discuss how each person or organisation could support your group. These partners and resources will be different for every group or project. Examples include:

  • Friends
  • Your local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS)
  • Your library
  • Your local council
  • Cafés nearby
  • Local peer support groups or projects
  • Your local Mind or other local mental health charities and organisations
  • Other local community and voluntary sector groups and organisations

Once you've identified these resources and partners, consider:

  • Which ones have been the most helpful?
  • What potential partners may be missing from the list?
  • What skills or expertise do you need?
  • What can these partners offer?
  • What skills or expertise can you offer them?
  • Which ones would you like to talk to?

National networking                                

One of the benefits of looking beyond your immediate community is finding that many others have faced similar challenges to you, and some will have come up with solutions and strategies. Networking at a national level and across the internet will reveal alternative support networks and resources.

The wider peer support community shows that we can all benefit from the interconnectedness of people and resources. It is our similarities and our respect for our differences that help us feel human, feel respected, and give us the opportunity to develop a sense of belonging.

Here are 2 websites with ideas and support for national networking:

  1. Scottish Recovery Network
  2. Leeds Peer Support Network

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