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Networking and Learning Events

Learning Events and the Women Side by Side Programme

Partnership and networking were critical to the programme and happened mainly during our learning events, which took place every quarter in each region. The purpose of the shared learning events was to bring together all the regional projects to share their knowledge, experiences, and ideas, with no competition between any of the projects  so that they could establish a culture of mutual support and collaborative working.

They were managed by each Women Side by Side hub. The hubs, run by women’s organisations, used their specialist expertise and links to community organisations to ensure all projects understood and responded to women’s specific needs, including their experiences of trauma and abuse.

The peer support groups were established autonomously but it was important for them to collaborate with other peer support groups so that group members had the opportunity to attend more than one group or find another better suited to their needs. Groups were able to refer women to other groups without any element of competition.

How the Women Side by Side learning events worked

These events were co-produced by the regional women’s peer support hubs organisations with peer support participants and they took place quarterly in different geographical areas to increase accessibility. These hub organisations were funded to bring together the different projects in each regional area. The participants were consulted on what days and times were best to improve attendance.

The flexibility to also have participants join from nearby regions (e.g. North Wales and Midlands) also encouraged diversity within the events. These events were very interactive, had key speakers on relevant topics, and enhanced professional and personal development.

Many participants found that hearing about the lived experiences of women participating in the programme was especially powerful.

“I remember when I attended my first event in Cardiff, I was asked to present my life story. I was supported by my manager in the charity I work for and I felt really empowered doing this. The feedback was really good and I met many women after the presentation that not only wanted to thank me for sharing my story but also learning about the peer support group I ran in South Wales.”

How to improve networking for your peer support group

Here are some tips based on what we learned during the Women Side by Side programme:

  • Develop local learning hubs as an avenue of support. These do not have to be physical buildings, nor do they have to be formalised.
  • For groups and organisations that struggle with a lack of time or resources, or those in rural areas, online events can be more accessible. Platforms such as Zoom offer the use of breakout rooms for networking and smaller group work.
  • Encourage funders to create more opportunities for their funded groups to network (e.g. they could make it a condition of the funding that a group has to actively network with others close or attend so many sessions per year).
  • Consider using an online channel like slack to set up by a learning hub. This can allow you to communicate with peer support groups that are geographically distant from your own. It can also enable you to share resources and opportunities, like accessing training, which peer support facilitators wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
  • It is helpful to consider new funding options at the half way in point instead of when your current funding is about to run out. This can yield additional funds for travel costs for participants to join, or even host, learning events.
  • Consider developing partnerships between various learning hubs to share the learning and resources even further.

Benefits of learning events, and the partnership they created, in Women Side by Side

Many of the projects who took part in the learning events highlighted the benefits of attending and shared examples of how this helped their local peer support groups as outlined below.

“It opened up the way we work with other projects. We tend to have the mentality that resources are so scarce we simply can’t share with others, which can also end up holding us back! When there is an overly ‘outcomes-approach’ focus that can zap our synergies from actually being in the process and making time to build networks and partnerships so our organisation offered meeting space to other projects.”

“We have engaged with three additional partners: The Royal College of Speech and Drama, Imperial College and St Margaret’s House to support the workshops, increase project visibility and make the project more appealing for women to engage in the future.”

“These learning events have helped us to be more ambitious in our promotion of these groups. We are more aligned with GP psychology and counselling services and have received a 45% increase in referrals from them.”

“Sometimes partnerships can form in the most unlikely of places. For example, the police referred a frequent caller to our project. When they realised she was happy in our group and that she no longer called them, they started referring other women with mental health difficulties to our group. We maintained a good relationship with the local police, who then in turn offered much-needed training to us and the group."

“Working with a new partner, British Red Cross, sharing knowledge and learning around supporting women refugees has been invaluable to us.”

“One of the projects organisations created a diversity and inclusion training session and invited outside organisations via the Slack channel and email to come and attend it. It was provided free of charge. Sometimes, women are not good at asking for help. We can feel like we have it do it all by ourselves.”

“From attending the learning event, we were able to network with Greater Manchester Women’s Support Alliance and Women in Prison, who are partnering with us to run a webinar on Trauma for the Mentor Mothers on 19th September.”

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