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What we learned about peer support

  • No two Peer Support groups are the same and they all require a unique approach to facilitation, depending on who attends, their needs and aspirations.
  • Peer Support groups compliment the work being done by supported employment agencies by helping people to identify their strengths and goals and voice their fears and anxieties.
  • Many disabled people have no idea they have specific employment rights or what they are entitled to expect from a supported employment service. This makes Peer Support an essential tool for people to share information and learn from others who have similar lived experience, allowing them to have greater choice and control.
  • Running a peer support group for people with a wide range of disabilities requires preparation, flexibility and a willingness to adapt to the needs of the participants.  Some people may not feel able to join in discussions due to lack of life experiences to share, low confidence or communication difficulties. Encouraging the participation of everyone is vital.
  • Avoid written materials where possible and try to ensure anything you do use is Easy Read.
  • Make sure the location of the group is physically accessible, as near to public transport as possible and with accessible parking.
  • Encouraging the participants to take the lead from the outset gives them a sense of ownership and helps people to develop new skills.
  • Giving each session a theme (preferably suggested by the participants) can be really useful, this helps ensure that you have a focus for the activities and the group is talking about issues that matter to them (and which may not be addressed by other employability services).
  • Have a bank of resources to hand for each session – they do not need to be expensive, just fun, interesting and imaginative. Remember that it’s not the activity that matters – it’s whether it encourages people to engage, discuss and learn from each other.
  • Guest speakers are really useful – particularly for new groups. Ideally the participants will come up with suggestions on who they want to come along to talk to them. Speakers can give information on a range of employability topics and participate in a Q&A. These sessions can be a stepping stone for participants who want to try something new (e.g. volunteering) but are apprehensive about contacting new organisations by themselves or are unsure about what they want to do. Guest speakers can also be useful for someone new to running a group – it takes the pressure off!.
  • Sessions for school leaver groups require a specific approach. Young people won’t have the life experience to talk about employability issues, so the sessions will focus more on moving on from school and looking at work options for the future.  Young people can be encouraged to think about a wide range of careers by inviting people from these employment sectors to give a talk to the group. Many disabled people (particularly young people) have few or no disabled role models – inviting disabled people who are working to attend the group has worked very well in the past.
  • Disabled people who enter the workplace can feel isolated if there is no-one else around who has a similar life experience to their own. Workplace peer support groups have been proven to help disabled employees feel more confident and informed and better able to raise issues that concern them or threaten their continued employment.
  • A Peer Support group can meet weekly but even setting aside one hour once a fortnight or even once a month can help people feel more engaged and better supported.
  • Making the peer support groups as user led as possible encourages participation and increases the likelihood of the groups longevity.
  • It is important to maintain a professional boundary and recognise that the person setting up and facilitating the hub is not a peer and is not part of the group – this also makes it more likely that the group can self sustain without outside support.