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Peer support values: safety

Learn why safety and trust matter to women, and how to embed these values into your group.


Why are safety and trust so important in peer support?

Building safety and trust makes sure that all women, regardless of their identity or background, can feel included in the peer support space. Being accessible to all women is fundamental.

Safety and trust will help make sure your women’s peer support group can flourish, nurture women, and improve their mental health.

For many groups involved in the Women Side by Side programme, safety was synonymous with a trauma-informed or compassionate approach. Trauma-informed practice is important for all groups, not just those working with survivors. Trauma- informed practice means we're aware of the impact of trauma, on people and their feelings and behaviour.

In trauma-informed practice, you need to understand women’s needs and behaviours to make sure interventions don't traumatise them further. 

Values leading to effective peer support

There are 6 values which lead to effective peer support:

  • Freedom to be oneself
  • 2-way interactions
  • Human connection
  • Trust
  • Choice and control
  • Safety

Working with your group to create a safe and inclusive space

Safety is not done with or to women. Instead, you build safety collectively through relationships and experiences. It can change day to day. So it's vital that you have regular discussions about building safety, and how to make spaces safer.

These tips might help you in building safety in your group:

  • Approach the topic with an open question. What does it mean to be safe today? What do you associate safety with? Where have you felt most safe? Who do you feel more safe with?
  • Discuss safety before the first meeting. This helps make sure women understand their safety is paramount in the group. Make sure everyone knows how important confidentiality is.
  • The safe space shouldn't be easily identifiable to others. For example, don't have obvious signs in reception. But make sure the women going can still identify where it is. For them, make sure the meeting venue is easy to find, and give them clear directions.
  • Make sure areas leading to the venue are well lit. This is especially important in winter.
  • Offer childcare and travel expenses.
  • Women should be able to leave the room whenever they need or want to. You could set up another safe space or side room for this. Ideally, 2 facilitators should go to each group so that 1 of them can give extra support.
  • Once you've established safety, you could carry out meetings in other venues like coffee shops, galleries, or museums. But only do this at a pace the women feel comfortable with. And you must do a risk assessment first.
  • Be aware of the safeguarding process for any safeguarding concerns raised during sessions. You could do an introductory safeguarding course from your local council.

The human knot game

You can use the human knot game to help attendees learn how to work together. It's a great icebreaker or getting-to-know-you activity. This activity can help develop communication between peers, by fostering teamwork and laughter!

Starting in a circle, participants connect hands with 2 other people in the group to form the human knot. As a team, the must then try to unravel the knot by untangling themselves without breaking the chain of hands. 

You'll need at least 4 participants to play, but ideally 8 to 12 people. It'll take around 20 to 30 minutes:

  • 5 minutes to brief and set up
  • 10 to 20 minutes to achieve the outcome
  • 5 minutes to review and debrief


  1. Ask the group to form a circle.
  2. Tell everyone to put their right hand up in the air, and then grab the hand of someone across the circle from them.
  3. They then repeat this with the left hand, ensuring they grab a different person’s hand.
  4. Check to make sure that everyone is holding the hands of two different people and that they are not holding hands with someone either side of them.
  5. They must now try to untangle themselves to form a circle without breaking the chain of hands. 
  6. Remind participants to take their time in order to prevent injuries. Ask the group not to tug or pull on each other and keep an eye on participants as they pass over other participants. Monitor everyone throughout and stop them if you need to.
  7. If the chain of hands is broken at any point, they must then start over again.


If you have a person or group who aren't comfortable with touching each other, you can still play the game. Ask participants to hold a scarf or short length of rope between them. If you're worried people might become overexcited or boisterous, you can play the game with a length of sewing thread that you try not to break.

Why consider a women-only space when planning your peer support group?

It's important to explain why women-only spaces are vital for certain types of women and not just assume that people know. Some of reasons are listed below:

  • Women’s spaces give women opportunities to be themselves and express themselves in a way that is healing and confirming.
  • Having visitors who aren't part of the group can negatively impact the group's emotional safety, whether they're male or female.
  • There are religious and cultural reasons why some women won’t access a space where men are also there.
  • Women who experienced trauma at the hands of male perpetrators may find a male presence threatening. This may be particularly true in a peer support setting, where we're creating a safe space to share personal stories.
  • Some women will find it important to not be in the male gaze. Being in women-only spaces might give them more freedom and safety.

Trans inclusion in women's peer support

The Women Side by Side programme included anyone who identified as a woman. In providing services, we need to be mindful of the full spectrum of gender identities and be inclusive of self-identifying women, acknowledging the correct use of pronouns and accepting non-binary and intersex people.

Some people argue that supporting trans women in ‘women-only’ services might compromise the integrity of those safe spaces. They might suggest a trans woman would be a ‘threat’ in this environment or that men might pretend to be trans women in order to gain access to these spaces.

This is not the case according to the Trans Mental Health Survey 2012, which found that almost 3 in 4 (70%) trans people avoid certain places and situations for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed.

In fact, trans women are far more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Men who wish to assault women are evidently able to do so without pretending to be trans.

It is vital to ensure that everyone involved in women’s peer support who may have difficulties with this due to a lack of knowledge about gender is provided with appropriate support and training. Peer support spaces are a uniquely empowering offer to all women regardless of self identification because they are built on shared experiences and life experience.

So it is also vital to show that you make your peer support an inclusive space for all women – those with specific religious or cultural experiences, disabled women and women from different generations, as women have differing needs. In order to make sure there are no experiences of discrimination, appropriate training and support may need to be provided to facilitators.

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