Peerfest was born out of a research report launch into peer support in 2013, which was led by a survivor research team. The report mapped and scoped peer support across England. The first Peerfest was such a successful event that attendees requested it again the following year - it's been held annually ever since!
Peerfest usually attracts about 250 people celebrating and recognising excellent peer support in all its shapes and sizes. It's an event that creates a platform for networking, showcasing, learning and having fun. It has always been led by people with lived experience representing national and local organisations with experience in peer support, together with survivor/lived experience researchers/consultants.
There is a national planning team in place who oversee the event from year to 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 two years. So that it truly engaged and involved a diverse audience, was more closely connected to local grass roots work and became totally peer led from planning, design and delivery; the following years have seen Peerfest put out as a tender opportunity.
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. The flat level ownership and equal sharing of responsibilities within a framework that allows opportunities for people to collaborate, grow and develop, try out a new skill, or re-discover their strengths. It has been about people putting in their ideas and truly shaping how we approach Peerfest each year.
Its about taking risks and allowing opportunities to be open enough for people to shape them. The formal tender process structures certain aspects but it doesn't confine the creative process for local collaboration.
Peerfest wouldn't be the same if we did not use a co-production ethos and process. Using Co-production principles we have 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.
There are many things. I've learnt that co-production and working truly in partnership with people and with organisations can be hard work. I've learnt that logos can get in the way. I'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 I think I was relying 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 practise for others.
As there are so many people in the national planning team it's important that this doesn't disrupt progress. To have working or task and finish groups helps this. Balancing a hands off / on approach from the national team and managing within a contract process can be tricky. Being flexible and having good communication, establishing relationships and having debriefs, helps address this. To have a robust planning mechanism, having clear roles and clear terms of reference developed by people they involve.
Peerfest always had strong outcomes as an event for those who attend – establishing new connections, learning, sharing, being inspired to set up a peer support group for example. 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 – developing people, organisations skills and have benefitted from some national exposure through doing so.
National planning team members have great experience to offer each other. There have been so many opportunities that have been created for people to lead on certain activities. It has provided a platform for some to re-discover their skills, and their confidence.
As part of the tender process, we hold Expressions of Interest partnership days where interested groups and organisations have the opportunity to 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 have extended support and connection with two members of the national planning team, plus the advice of an events management company. They also have access to Mind teams and all our partner organisations communication channels and expertise.
One thing that stands out could be being prepared to take risks and for things to not work out – as you can learn from this - understanding that that is an outcome in itself.
Having freedom and an approach that allows for people to have a go, and have a say – being 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 kind of finds its strengths from the energy and enthusiasm of people, that can feel chaotic but we trust in the process and harness the chaos.
"Long may this continue. Every corner of the country should have one of these."
"Being on the planning team has been the most enjoyable thing I've been part of over the last two 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!"