Matt is a Peer Support Coordinator at our Swale Your Way Service.

This year, Together launched its Peer Support Charter, which sets out the fundamental principles of our peer support. It sets out standards that Together expects and maintains, regardless of setting or service type. More than that, it sets out what both the Peer Supporter and the person they are supporting should expect from each other, so creating a bedrock of trust and safety. We owe it to the people we’re supporting – who are entrusting us with their experiences – to have these standards in place.

I know from experience that, when someone says: “I understand what you’re going through”, you need to be confident they are telling the truth, not just saying what they think you want to hear. Otherwise the trust evaporates. Together’s peer support is genuinely about people drawing on their own experience of mental distress to help others. It is not a box-ticking exercise, or just about meeting targets. To really empower people to make positive changes in their lives, we need to give a strong message about what peer support means at Together.

I really feel involved in Together’s peer support at a strategic level

Whenever I first meet with a new Peer Supporter, I use the charter as part of their induction and supervision, explaining that it was written by service user for service users, and sets out what they have told us they want and need, in their own words. It’s a great tool to use to check in and make sure the support they are giving really is peer support as defined by Together. For example, if you realise there are no outcomes from the support you’re giving, it’s probably something closer to befriending. It takes a structured approach to be sure that you’re still in peer support territory, and the charter helps with that.

When, some time ago, I came to the end of a 6-week Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programme, I felt abandoned by the services I’d been using. Suddenly there was no more support. I found Swale Your Way and started going along to groups and meeting people, but only when I heard someone talking about Peer Support did I realise this was what had been having such a positive effect on me. I began to realise what a powerful tool it was, and wanted to get more involved. So when I saw the Peer Support Coordinator job come up, I knew I had to go for it. Now I’m playing a part in moving peer support forward– making it more focused and structured, and putting us in a position to help more people.

Swale Your Way and peer support saved my life

I get really involved in explaining to the staff team what peer support is and how it needs to integrate into the service. They are often the first point of contact for service users, so it’s really important they can articulate what peer support is and how it can benefit people. I attend a lot of partner meetings and build links with other agencies, sometimes even deputising for the service manager. That I’m supported to do this makes me feel very valued by my manager and by Together as an organisation. It shows how much peer support is valued as an integral part of Together’s work, as something worth promoting externally – not just an add-on to the service. In turn, I get to invest in the Peer Supporters I manage, to see them progress and move on to great things as a result of their experience as a Peer Supporter.

I started my role in August, but I’ve seen peer support evolve so much even since then. I get to meet and discuss peer support with other Your Way teams, other Peer Support Coordinators, and colleagues at Peer Support Review Days. I really feel involved in Together’s peer support at a strategic level. 

Before I found Swale Your Way, my day consisted of me getting up and planning every day how I would end my life. I never went out. Swale Your Way and peer support saved my life. Now I get to see others make huge positive steps in their lives as a result of the work I’m doing. I joke with my manager that if you snapped me in half, you’d see PEER SUPPORT written like in a stick of rock!