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In memory of Together Peer Support Coordinator Sandra Smith

Posted on 18, November 2020

Sandra worked as a Peer Support Worker at Together’s services in Norwich after using the service herself and having her own lived experience of mental distress. As a result, Sandra was a passionate advocate for the value of lived experience and the power of peer support. From being a Peer Support Worker, Sandra progressed to become a Peer Support Coordinator. She was well suited to managing a team of both paid peer support staff and volunteers being well liked by everyone, managing to bring a calmness to the role coupled with an obvious passion for the outcomes it could achieve.

Sandra developed strong relationships with the service users she worked with and was adept at spotting potential ways they could take on responsibilities through volunteering themselves to use their own lived experience. This approach was highly beneficial to people in their recovery journey and one example of this would be Peer Supporter Gary French who recalls how Sandra saw that potential in him:

“At one point Sandra was the only person to believe in me. Sandra kept mentioning that I would make a good Peer Supporter. I did not think I was good enough but she kept her belief in me and that was just the motivation I needed to take the step forward.”

Another example of the way that Sandra was able to empower the people she worked with was by developing a very popular badminton group in the local area. Having encouraged Jason Brown, another service user at the time to get involved, he then began to organise the group himself and later became a Peer Supporter too. Jason reflected:

“Sandra made me feel that I was able to achieve things that I didn’t think at one time I could. She gave me confidence to run the badminton group and to become a Peer Supporter. I would not have been where I am today if it had not been for Sandra, she gave me a purpose in life.”

Claire Woodcock, Peer Support Coordinator in Norwich Intensive Team, knew Sandra for the majority of her time working with Together and said of Sandra:

“Sandra always saw the strengths in each person she worked with and would gently encourage them to achieve their own potential. She worked with both Gary and Jason when they were service users and she supported them throughout their recovery journeys. Sandra recognised how both of their lived experiences could be of value in supporting others and highlighted to me that this would be particularly valuable in providing peer support to service users in Norwich Intensive Team. Both Sandra and I trained them together and they have grown in confidence to become amazing Peer Supporters and valued colleagues.

During the pandemic when it was difficult to provide support both Gary and Jason were in the community providing incredibly valuable socially distanced one to one support. I was able to share this with Sandra a few weeks before her passing and she was so incredibly proud of them. This truly shines a light on Sandra’s legacy, as you can really see the inspiration and passion they’ve taken on from the belief she had in them.”

Peer support and service user leadership were really important to Sandra and Together Lived Experience Leadership Manager, Jess Worner explains how it was clear to her immediately how clear her commitment to that was:

“The first time I heard Sandra talk, she was sharing her passion and commitment to peer support. She spoke in such a true way, from the heart, and I remember telling her afterwards that I had never heard someone talk in quite the way she did. It was inspiring and she connected to everyone in the room with her words. Yet Sandra, having so much humility, simply responded by telling me about all of the people who inspired her. Sandra was so caring, warm and kind, and personally I loved any times I got to spend time with her when our paths crossed. She will be missed dearly.”