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Support for peer support groups

Peer support groups come in all shapes and sizes. Groups in larger organisations usually get support or supervision sessions, where facilitators can talk about how they're feeling and challenges they're facing. Independent peer support groups are less likely to have those structures in place.

On this page, learn more about the support you could get for your peer support group, and how to set this up.

Why is a support network important?

Some people find themselves leading peer support groups without having enough support in place for themselves. This can be stressful and emotionally draining. Make sure that, as a peer support coordinator or facilitator, you have the right support. You matter!

This is where networking in your local community, or further afield, is useful. Creating a support network can benefit you and your group. This support network can help protect your own wellbeing and can offer you opportunities to do the following:

  • ‘Check in’ and consider how you are feeling
  • Offload when something is difficult
  • Exchange ideas if you aren't sure what to do
  • Acknowledge and find support if you're leading on your own
  • Borrow resources rather than spending time and energy recreating them 
  • Receive guidance, encouragement or advice from others
  • Get a helping hand

Case Study: Women Side by Side

The Women Side by Side programme, delivered by Mind and Agenda, aimed to increase the availability of high-quality peer support for women experiencing multiple disadvantages.

As part of this programme, learning events were held 4 times a year. These events allowed people from all the peer support projects funded by the programme to come together. The feedback from these events emphasised how beneficial it was for people facilitating women’s peer support to meet each other and share their experiences and challenges. It helped people to feel understood and they were able to problem-solve together.

Many of the people who came to these learning events went on to create support networks themselves.

“I enjoyed sitting with women from other organisations – sharing ideas, views, networking.”

Creating your support network

Creating a support network can involve reaching out to local individuals, groups or organisations who are also running peer support. If you can't go to events or gatherings with like-minded people, you could consider other ways to find your support. Here are some alternatives:

  • Connect with other peer support groups online, using email or social media
  • Create a wellness action plan to help you understand what support you need for your own wellbeing. Get our free wellness action plan template.
  • Seek support from your family, friends, colleagues or local Mind.
  • Ask members of your peer support group for help to organise things.
  • Consider how you'll communicate your own needs to members of the group. For example, can you tell them if you are going through a rough patch and need extra help?

Even if you are receiving face-to-face support from other groups on a regular basis, you can still try out these things. It's often best to give yourself a range of different support options.

Activity: Creating your support package

Set aside a session with your group to reflect on the support you need.

  • What support would benefit the group?
  • Look at the networking that you do now as a group and as individuals - which of these are most valuable to you? Is there anything that you might to do strengthen these relationships?
  • Are there any gaps in your support network? List the peer support groups or organisations that you know of locally and nationally and divide up the task of contacting those who might benefit you.
  • Can you think of 3 things you could do to strengthen the support for your group?

Shared learning

Shared learning is another way local networking can benefit your peer support group and facilitators. Independent community-based peer support groups often don't have access to formal or conventional training. Connecting and building relationships with others in a similar situation can help you to share and learn from each other’s experiences and grow together. This can improve your skills and expertise and make sure your group is sustainable in the longer term.

Benefits of shared learning

  • Increased knowledge about what works well and what might work better.
  • Validation of your experiences or challenges you've faced, especially when others have encountered similar. This can help you to feel less alone. ‘Me’ becomes ‘we’.
  • Problem-solving. Listening to how others have overcome similar difficulties can inspire you to make positive changes with confidence.
  • New ideas or resources which you can use to benefit your group members.
  • Opportunities to reflect on your own learning journey, highlighting your successes and the challenges you have overcome, and to plan for the future.
  • Gaining new skills and expertise without the costs of formal training.
  • Opportunities to share your own knowledge and help others.

Creating a shared learning network

How you create a network for shared learning will depend on how much time you can spare, who else becomes involved, and how keen other groups are to participate. You may start small, and approach just one other group or project initially, then focus on building a relationship with them. When the time feels right, you could approach other groups together and share the responsibility for hosting sessions between you.

You could organise ‘exchange visits’ where you take a few members of your group along to a meeting of another group. You might note similarities and differences in how the group is run. Hearing about the lived experiences of people outside your group can be inspiring and very powerful. Be sure to check beforehand whether there are any issues around confidentiality or safety when considering an exchange visit.

Here are some other suggestions for facilitating shared learning:

  • Identify your group’s strengths and expertise. What do you have to share with others?
  • If you've received funding, you could check who else received the same or similar grants and contact them.
  • You could create a group online for shared learning, using platforms like WhatsApp, Slack, or Facebook.
  • You could organise video calls on Skype or Zoom for an informal ‘check in’ with other groups or group leaders.

Creating a shared learning network takes time and effort to build relationships with other groups. You may find that some groups don't have the capacity, or the desire, to share their knowledge or skills. It's also possible that some groups might view your group as competition for members, resources, or funding. One way to overcome this fear is to identify what's unique about your own group. The beauty of peer support is in its diversity and its ability to mean different things to different people.

There is potential for conflict when people have different views or different ways of doing things. But there's no ‘right’ way to do peer support. 

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