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Sustaining peer leadership

Sustaining peer leadership relies on 2 things. Making sure there's support for the leader, and helping group members to share the responsibilities where possible. It's important that peer leaders think about ways of developing skills and roles for group members, so the group isn't dependent on a single peer leader. This means the group can continue to run if the peer leader can't coordinate it.

On this page, learn more about how to support the leader of a peer support group, how to empower group members, and read our tips for taking care of yourself if you're a group leader.

Support for peer leaders

If you have just one leader or facilitator for your group, and you can't share that role, think about how that person is supported in their role. Support for the facilitator is support for the group. This may mean finding external support - perhaps pairing up with another peer support group so that facilitators can support each other. Or finding a local organisation to offer you support.

If a peer leader isn't supported and is doing a lot of work on their own, this can take a toll on their emotional and mental wellbeing. Some leaders find it hard to 'let go' and allow members to share the responsibility. Think about setting boundaries for the group and the leaders so they can have protected time outside of the group.

Tips for taking care of ourselves

Part of the peer leader role is taking the time to look after yourself when running a peer support group. 4 peer leaders who coordinated projects on our Women Side by Side programme gave the following tips to fellow peer leaders:

  • Self-care is unique to you – recognise that we’re all different so prioritise what is important to you
  • Recognise the resources available to you and ask for help when needed
  • Setting boundaries is crucial to ensure you are not overwhelmed 
  • Recognise when it gets too much and have a plan to deal with it
  • Regard self-care as a necessity not a luxury
  • Recognise the cultural narrative for women to be care-takers
  • Self-care can be very simple – choose something that make you happy

Reflective questions to support peer leaders

  • What support does your group leader need? Are you able to find this support from within the group or do you need to find it externally?
  • Can you agree boundaries between you that make sure the leader has protected time away from the group? For example, you could specify times or days when they're happy to answer the phone.
  • Together with the group, discuss the ways you support or care for yourselves.

Activity: Sustaining peer leadership

  1. As a group, list the tasks that the leader does - or might need to do - in organising your peer support group.
  2. Invite members to volunteer for tasks on the list. Try sharing the list with the group in one session and asking people to think about what they feel they can do. It's important not to put pressure on people - but to invite realistic offers of support.
  3. Find out if anyone is interested in leading a session, or part of a session. This is a way of introducing people to the idea of facilitating a group.
  4. Ask if people would like to take part in shared learning or training - for example, group facilitation skills or use of technology.

Empowering group members

Helping group members to share responsibility for running a group is a powerful way of sustaining peer leadership. Sharing the tasks and the responsibility between members of the group stops you from relying on a single person to keep it going.

It's important to emphasise that this is voluntary, as not everyone feels confident enough to share responsibility or take on tasks (particularly new members). Empowering members means supporting and encouraging them to use their skills and strengths to support the group, in whatever way works best for them.

When we say 'empower', it's important to remember that power isn't given, it's taken. This means it's important for people to feel it's a choice to do more, not something they are made to do or feel pressurised to do. Encourage people to do things their own way and encourage group members to support each other.

Developing leadership skills was a key objective of the Women Side by Side programme. Almost all women involved in the programme were offered leadership opportunities in line with their individual aspirations. This ranged from high-level leadership roles like co-leading sessions, to smaller leadership roles like taking responsibility for group refreshments.

Read more about the Women Side by Side programme

Ways members can support a group

There are many ways members can support a group. Any contribution is valuable, whether that's welcoming members as they arrive, to organising fundraising activities. Here are some examples of the types of tasks people can help with:

  • Practical – Setting up the room, preparing resources for the group, picking up tea and coffee, cleaning the room at the end.
  • Support – Checking in with members in between sessions, welcoming people as they arrive, spending time with new members to help settle them in, supporting members to learn how to use online platforms like Zoom, making someone a cup of tea.
  • Admin – Booking venues, arranging or hosting online video calls, managing money, filing information, organising trips, buying new materials or resources.
  • Fundraising – Running fundraisers like sponsored walks, raffles or charity football matches, filling out funding applications, writing to potential donors, managing ways to evaluate and monitor the impact of the group.
  • Promotion – Creating leaflets, building an online presence through a website or Facebook page, writing to local services to raise awareness of you group, creating a newsletter, going to networking events.
  • Creative – Suggesting new ideas for activities, creating things to sell to raise money, planning new walking routes, leading a group activity on something you're interested passionate about.

Activity: exploring strengths, skills and interests

This an activity you can do with your group to think about their own strengths, skills and interest

  1. Print the circles out or copy them onto a piece of paper.
  2. Go through each circle and try to write down 3 things.
  3. If you do this in a group, ask members to share what they wrote down.

Leadership and facilitation in online spaces

In many ways, the facilitation skills needed for the online space will be similar to those needed in face-to-face groups. However, there are some significant differences. One of these is the need for extra people to help with the technical aspects of the online space, particularly if people are struggling to connect.

The virtual space may also need a more structured facilitation than you are used to, depending on the nature of your usual group meetings. There may be a greater need for turn-taking and for managing people's contributions to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

It can be challenging if some people are phoning in or have their videos turned off, because it's harder to notice when someone wants to speak.

All of this means that facilitating a virtual group can be tiring. Here are some tips: 

  • It's very hard for one person to host the meeting and facilitate the conversation at the same time as managing the technical issues. Try recruiting a couple of extra facilitators from within the group - people who can manage technical issues, can check who wants to speak, or can phone people who are struggling to connect.
  • Be transparent about the controls you have as the host on Zoom. Let people know if you're going to use them and how you're going to use them. This is about equalising the power as far as possible.
  • Make sure you have substantial breaks in between Zoom meetings if you're going to be the host facilitator in consecutive meetings.
  • Make time for debriefing with co-facilitators before and after a meeting.
  • Don't expect to get it right all of the time. Be open about the challenges and share your mistakes. This can help some people feel more comfortable.
  • Think of ways of bringing silent participants into the group. Make time to go round each person in turn and invite them to speak.
  • Think about using the chat function. This doesn't work for everyone, but if you have a few silent participants who are willing to type into the chat facility, you might give a co-facilitator the role of engaging with people in this way. It can be a useful way of bringing people into the conversation and involving people in a different way.

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