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Online and virtual Peer Support, and reflections on shared learning – a blog by Together Lived Experience Leadership Manager, Jess Worner

Posted on 22, September 2020

Over the past six months myself and Jackie Hardy, Together’s Peer Support Involvement Worker, have been part of meetings with a range of people from peer led groups and organisations as response to challenges that Covid-19 brought. These meetings have been hosted and facilitated by Mind, National Survivor User Network (NSUN), Bipolar UK, GetUpSetUp and Together.  One result of those meetings was to produce a resource, written by Alison Faulkner (details of which are at the end of this blog) that provided guidance on Online and Digital Peer Support.

Peer support is such a vital space for many of us with lived experience of mental distress to support our wellbeing, connect with others and share in mutual trust and solidarity. For some, it is a lifeline.

For many, including people using peer support through Together services, this has usually taken place face-to-face, whether through groups or one-to-one. So, as you can imagine, one of my greatest concerns when it felt like the world was turning upside down in March was around peoples’ access to peer support. We found that we needed to adapt quickly so that people were still able to access peer support in our services.

Within Together, our Peer Support Coordinators and Peer Supporters from local services, with support from our Service User Leadership Team and other staff, have been busy working alongside service users to find alternative ways for peer support to continue. This has included developing online and phone alternatives, adapting and developing our training, and providing additional support and guidance.  

Speaking regularly with a range of people from other groups and organisations who have been facing similar challenges has been unbelievably helpful. The way that people have come together to share creative ideas, ways forward and learning, especially from a perspective of lived experience, has really shown the power of peer support during such difficult times.

I would certainly say that not all challenges have been ‘resolved’. There are still people facing digital exclusion, or who struggle to build connections with others when unable to meet face-to-face . However, by continuing to discuss these challenges, particularly with peers who have lived experience of mental distress themselves, we are able to explore ways of reaching out to people who are especially excluded.

The discussions have also opened up opportunities. For example some people have felt more able to join peer support groups now that they are being held online. On a personal level I have really enjoyed being part of these conversations over the past 6 months. I have met and learnt from so many different people, some whom I may not have had the opportunity to ‘meet’ if it hadn’t been for this regular virtual space. It’s also been fantastic to work alongside colleagues from Mind, NSUN, Bipolar UK and GetUpSetUp on such a regular basis in such a collaborative way.

I am really excited to share the result of these collaborations, a fantastic new resource about Remote and Online Peer Support that has been written by Alison Faulkner. The resource can be found here on the National Survivor User Network website at https://www.nsun.org.uk/Pages/Category/peer-support. It is aimed at anyone who is involved in supporting or running peer support groups, whether that is grass-roots peer led groups or as part of peer support within an organisation.

Please see links below if you would like to join future forums:

Click Here – To register for the next session – Thursday 1 October 2020, 11am  

Breakout Room 1 –  Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities; peer support during COVID-19.  

Break out Room 2 – Peer support and social action. 

Future Dates  

Thursday 15 October 2020, 11am – Click here 

Thursday 29 October 2020, 11am – Click here (register from 1 October)  

Thursday 12 November 2020, 11am – Click here (register from 15 October)