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Over the last two years, the Side by Side programme – supported by the Big Lottery Fund – has delivered peer support to 17,936 people online and 3,255 in person, and promoted peer support to nearly 74,000 people.

We’ve worked with three research partners – St George’s University of London, McPin Foundation, and the London School of Economics – to investigate the impact of community-based peer support on people’s mental health, wellbeing and use of services. Some members of the research team also used their own experiences of mental health problems and peer support to shape the research

Our first peer support strategy consultation, Piecing together the Jigsaw (2013), and feedback from people with lived experience of mental health problems, recommended that we continue to raise the profile of peer support, evidence its value, and support a wide range of groups, organisations and services to deliver high quality, peer-led peer support.

In response to these recommendations, the Side by Side programme focussed on community-based services using a variety of models, through co-produced design and delivery.

Early findings reports

Final reports

Our recommendations

The results of our research are rich and nuanced, showing the importance of individual experiences, choice and ownership within peer support. Our early findings report gives an overview of the themes and findings. This research shows the richness of different experiences and the ways different people benefit from peer support.

Below are our key findings and recommendations from the Early Findings Report:

  • Peer support improves people’s sense of wellbeing, their ability to connect with others, increase their sense of hope and improve their ability to make decisions and take action. The voluntary and community sectors deliver peer support projects for people with mental health problems, across age, gender, sexuality and ethnic background, meeting a vast range of needs and experiences.
  • Peer support services should be integrated into or offered alongside all mental health services across England and Wales. Adequate resources are required to support these projects to continue to be of high quality and sustainable long-term.  
  • We found clear, evidence-based values underpinning successful community-based peer support. We recommend organisers, service providers and commissioners use these values to develop and commission peer support. These values reinforce those found in previous research and work carried out by groups and organisations leading peer support.
  • Despite evidence that peer support is cost-effective, it is not cost-free. Peer support can reduce healthcare costs. Individuals, groups and organisations, can also benefit from coming together to share skills, experience, offer mutual support, share resources and collaborate. Financial resources are required to support this. 
  • A range of peer support options should be provided, including projects for and by marginalised communities. Our research showed that BaME communities benefit from projects where there are people with similar experiences including shared cultural background, experience of migration and racism.
  • All peer support should offer a range of opportunities and support to give people choice about the type of support they do and don’t access. This helps to increase people’s sense of agency, and provides opportunities for people develop, grow and gain confidence.

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