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Case study: PeerFest

What is PeerFest?

PeerFest was born out of a research report into peer support in 2013, which was led by a survivor research team. The report mapped peer support across England.

The first PeerFest was such a successful event that attendees requested it again the following year - and it's been held annually ever since!

PeerFest usually attracts about 250 people celebrating excellent peer support in all its shapes and sizes.

The event creates a platform for networking, showcasing, learning and having fun. It's always been led by people with lived experience, who represent:

  • National and local organisations which work in peer support
  • Survivor researchers and consultants

How is PeerFest run?

A national planning team oversees the event every year, working with local partners. This team organically grew from our original research project and membership is pretty fluid and open, to be as inclusive as possible, representing diversity and experience.

This group directly managed PeerFest in its first 2 years. This made sure the event:

  • Engaged and involved a diverse audience
  • Was closely connected to local grassroots work
  • Was totally peer led from planning, design and delivery

In the following years, PeerFest has been put out as a tender opportunity.

Why did you decide to engage people in this way?

Peer support is all about people leading, sharing and shaping things together. PeerFest could have looked quite different if one organisation led the event.

Peer support isn't about ownership from organisations – it's about people doing things and celebrating the strength of that.

This is the power behind PeerFest. It has a flat level ownership and equal sharing of responsibilities. It sits in a framework that allows opportunities for people to:

  • Collaborate, grow and develop
  • Try out a new skill
  • Re-discover their strengths.

It's always been about people putting in their ideas and truly shaping how we approach PeerFest each year.

It's about taking risks, and being open enough for people to shape opportunities. The formal tender process structures certain aspects, but it doesn't confine the creative process for local collaboration.

How has using this method benefitted your work?

PeerFest wouldn't be the same if we did not use a co-production ethos and process. Using co-production principles, we've established a format that works and responds to feedback throughout.

This includes people with lived experience on the national planning team, analysing and reviewing the tender process, attending Expressions of Interest days, participating in the delivery of PeerFest itself, and feedback from those who have run PeerFest under contract.

What have you learnt? 

We've learnt that co-production and working truly in partnership with people and organisations can be hard work. We've learnt that logos can get in the way.

We've learnt that playing to people's strengths and skills works well, and understanding where people see themselves and their experience within the process.

We fund people with lived experience to be involved. Early on we relied too much on people's goodwill and enthusiasm. It's been important to be reminded how we value people for their involvement, and how leading by example here does influence practice for others.

As there are so many people in the national planning team, it's important that this doesn't disrupt progress. Working groups, or task and finish groups, helps this.

Balancing hands off and hands on approaches from the national team, and managing a contract process, can be tricky. Being flexible and having good communication, establishing relationships and having debriefs, helps address this.

Have a robust planning mechanism. Have clear roles and clear terms of reference developed by people they involve.

How did the engagement activity benefit those involved?

PeerFest always had strong outcomes as an event for those who attend. It helped people establish new connections, learn, share, and be inspired to set up a peer support group. We're really proud that the 2016 event in London attracted 38% of people from marginalised groups.

Local PeerFest organisers greatly benefit from the process. They develop people and organisations skills, and have benefitted from national exposure as a result.

National planning team members have great experience to offer each other. There've been so many opportunities for people to lead on certain activities. It's provided a platform for some to re-discover their skills and confidence.

What support did you offer?

As part of the tender process, we hold Expressions of Interest partnership days where interested groups can find out more.

This space allows groups to generate ideas and find new potential partners, in order to work up a formal tender bid for submission.

Each year, local groups who are running PeerFest get support from 2 members of the national planning team, plus the advice of an events management company.

They also have access to Mind teams, our communication channels, and expertise.

"Being on the planning team has been the most enjoyable thing I've been part of over the last 2 years. It has been the best meeting to go to where people muck in, have fun but at the same time achieve amazing things.. I've never quite experienced anything like it!"

What tips do you have for other Mind staff?

Be prepared to take risks and for things to not work out, as you can learn from this. Understand that that is an outcome in itself.

Have freedom and an approach that allows for people to have a go, and have a say. Be experimental and open to ideas and trying things out.

PeerFest and the planning process is entirely different each year. We never quite know how things are going to turn out, but that's quite exciting!

PeerFest finds its strengths from the energy and enthusiasm of people. That can feel chaotic, but we trust in the process and harness the chaos.

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