In early February, the Communities team attended a peer leader residential in Durham hosted by Peer Hub. The intention of the residential was to bring peer leaders together – predominantly those working in statutory settings, such as peer leads for NHS trusts, but also other organisations like Mind and IPS.
Most of the 2 days focused on the evolving peer support workforce within statutory settings. Many conversations were had about how we can dismantle the power within health organisations and bring that back into the hands of community grassroots movements. There was an acknowledgement that the evolving peer support workforce in the NHS is being driven by organisations like Health Education England, NHS England, and the Royal College of Psychiatry – not those who have been part of the grassroots, user-led movements to which peer support owes its origins. At the moment, the grassroots peer support movement almost lacks an organised faction which can stand against the institutional power of statutory or government-led institutions.
We also thought about what peer support roles currently look like, how to support the peer support workforce, and talked through best practice. Of particular interest to our team were conversations around what evidence is seen as valuable: the frame of reference for this is often clinical or academic research, as opposed to experiential learning from within the movement, or even third sector peer-led research or papers.
For many, especially those coming from more grassroots perspectives, the ideal outcome for the development of peer support over the next 5 to 10 years is to see the dismantling of health services, allowing peer support to form more naturally within communities themselves. The worst case scenario is that peer support becomes increasingly medicalised, and that value is only placed on work driven by the NHS. The more realistic outcome is something in the middle – meaning we need to lobby for the relational values of peer support to be meaningfully embedded, ensuring it doesn't become a medical intervention and upholds its roots and values, while also acknowledging that it will still be used in statutory settings.
We must continue lobbying for the values of peer support, creating a platform to highlight and facilitate more grassroots, experiential insights and learnings. We must work collaboratively with other groups, organisations, and individuals who are living out the grassroots values of peer support in their work. We will also continue to be proactive in supporting non-medicalised peer support, driving for more relational and more radical work. We should never forget that this increasingly medicalised work is actually a co-opted form of a grassroots movement, originally set up by people who felt they had survived the oppressive systems that are now embedding peer support themselves.