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Peers who volunteer: a guide on how to support people with lived experience

New co-produced best practice guide and website to support people with lived experience who volunteer (or work) in the social justice sector.

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The value of lived experience

Moving away from drugs & criminality left me with a huge void in my life. I found supporting others gave me a purpose again – and a much more worthwhile one.

Over the past year, myself and a team of people with lived experience, have been working on a best practice guide on how to support people with lived experience who volunteer in a range of roles in the criminal justice, drug and alcohol and homelessness sectors. Typically people volunteer as peer mentors, peer supporters or recovery navigators – helping others overcome the same sort of challenges as themselves. Sometimes, people form part of lived experience panels who give feedback on service delivery and how to improve it.

There is a robust evidence base that many people who volunteer as peer mentors benefit from the experience of giving back, rebuilding their self-esteem and recognising that they have something to offer.  However, there is also clear evidence that not all peer volunteers are provided with the support they deserve.

Whilst many peer volunteers are provided with the training and on-going support they need to succeed, including with opportunities to progress into paid employment, others receive little to no training and support, and often have little choice about what role they play as volunteers.

Our guide sets out best practice in supporting peer volunteers derived from and informed by the lived experience of more than 250 peer volunteers. It recognises that peer volunteers in different organisations will operate in different ways and will have different support needs.

Therefore, ours is not a prescriptive “how to” guide, but rather a document which discusses the key topics from the peer volunteer perspective and offers a set of principles to guide organisations in developing the most appropriate support structures.

The guide and the website have been developed to meet the needs of three groups of people:

  1. People with lived experience who volunteer or work in the social justice sector.
  2. Providers of services whose workforce (both voluntary and paid) includes people with lived experience.
  3. The commissioners of those services.

 

We are grateful to the Oak Foundation for funding the work and to  Revolving Doors for supporting the development of the guide through every step of the way.

Just click the image to visit our website

Some organisations complain about the turnover of volunteers and the time it takes to train them. Others are proud of how many volunteers go on to paid roles. Same issue, different attitude. I think I know which works best - for everyone.

How to use the guide

We designed the guide to be easy to use. It is divided into chapters covering seven key topic areas which are core to ensuring that peer volunteers are properly supported. These are:

1. Recruitment
2. Training
3. Support
4. Help in developing work skills
5. Helping in becoming more employable
6. Financial support
7. Choice and control over volunteering

Each chapter highlights the key issues from the experiences of the 253 peer volunteers who completed our survey, split into positive and negative experiences. It also includes suggestions and insights from the co-production team.

We do not set out to recommend a definitive approach to every issue. This is because one size doesn’t fit all – the roles of volunteers vary between organisations and organisational practice differs depending on the size of the organisation, its culture and sector etc..

I was supported in complex problems and needs that arose in my life. The team went further and beyond to make sure I was okay. They did not give up on me when things got difficult. They were there for me when I needed them most.

Grounded in lived experience

Instead, we seek to highlight the key issues and bring them to life by sharing the lived experience of peers who have volunteered. There are many examples of peer volunteers feeling unsupported or poorly treated, not because organisations set out to exploit them or neglect them, but inadvertently through work practices and policies which weren’t thought through from a peer volunteer’s point of view. 

Throughout the guide we highlight people’s real life experiences, including the quotes you can see in this blog post.

Our aim is to give organisations the opportunity to think about the way they work with peer volunteers from different perspectives so they can reflect honestly on their own systems and approaches.

Finally, each chapter contains links to a range of resources – studies, policies, training programmes, best practice guides, etc. – to enable readers to draw on examples of best practice.

We have produced this guide because many people like to download or print out best practice in a written format to be able to refer to when creating their own systems.

The need to please is a real thing. It’s like a desperation to be valued and heard. It is a driving force for good, but can also be exploited.

However, we have also built a dedicated website at: www.peervols.russellwebster.com. The website includes the same contents as this document but also several “bonus features”:

  • A series of short video interviews with peer volunteers explaining some of the key issues (which can be used as a training resource).
  • Video interviews with providers and commissioners to share their viewpoints.
  • A jobs board for organisations to advertise both volunteer and paid positions for people with lived experience. The board is fully searchable by sector and location.
  • Blog articles with the latest policy, practice and research on lived experience issues.

 

The website will serve as an ongoing resource and will be updated over the coming years. 

Please get in touch for any reason:

  • If you have any feedback or suggestions of additional resources.
  • If you would like to advertise opportunities (paid or voluntary) for people with lived experience
  • If  you’ve got an article, blog post or example of good practice to share.

 

Simply email us on:  peerideas@russellwebster.com

 

You can also follow us on our social platforms. Just click on the buttons below.

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With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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