Our Harrow Peer Support Group is for people with hoarding disorder and hoarding-related behaviour living in Harrow, the shape and the direction of the group has changed with the help of its members since its conception in 2017, now we have together co-produced and co-designed the group with the support of Rethink, Mind and the London Fire Brigade to offer peer, therapeutic and practical support to new and current members within the group.

The group meets bi-monthly usually face to face and now due to the current restrictions we meet twice a month online via zoom, supported by a mobile phone huddle group.  Thoughts around post Covid-19 are that we will return to our normal face to face group yet continue with the online sessions.

One of the key benefits of Peer Support Groups are the greater perceived empathy and respect that peer support workers are seen to have for the individuals that they support. They bring together people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences, providing them with an opportunity to share personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies or firsthand information about their signs, symptoms, behaviours or treatments. The groups also have benefits for the peer support workers themselves, increasing their levels of awareness, self-esteem, confidence and positive feelings for the good they are doing.

Peer support Groups improves people’s quality of life, increases their engagement with services, their whole health and self-management. It promotes hope and optimism about recovery, achieving personal recovery goals and provides advocacy where needed. The groups are evidence-based and generally a more cost effective and cost saving method of delivering a community-based service. Co-production and co-design with the groups address any unconscious bias in the decision-making process.

Peer Support Groups empower its members to take good care of their health and well being by providing good quality, reliable information and advice. This can help members better manage their challenges, learn more about their health concerns, and seek treatment or other community support. Our Peer Support Group promotes continuous group development training programmes and expert by experiences initiatives, the members are actively involved on the basis of their personal lived experience and recovery, or their experience of supporting family or friends.

Research shows when people are actively involved with a Peer Support Group:

~ It strengthen the changes in their beliefs and behaviours

~ Increases their communication in articulating their goals for recovery

~ They learn and practise new skills

~ Helps them monitor their progress

~ Supports them in their treatment

~ Models effective coping techniques

~ Offers self-help strategies based on their own experiences

Peer support Groups are not intended to be a replacement for existing services or professional roles, they are designed to complement them (Bradstreet, 2006), offering more of a wrap around community service.

Some Peer Support Groups are more peer led or treatment led, they offer a range of psychological, therapeutic and practical support. These groups, with the help of other specialised organisations, address the complexities, beliefs and behaviours with an emphasis on loneliness, isolation, being judged and living in a cluttered environment.

During the lock down the members of the group have revisited their thoughts around co-production and co-design with our Peer Support Group, which have led to some changes in the way we plan to deliver future sessions. Co-production ensures a genuine partnership of equals at the core of the group, it establishes shared vision, an agreed set of values for securing the pathway, and the framework for embedding the evidence. These are some of the approaches which are important in establishing credibility and in strengthening the mandate for co-production, it allows professionals to see how valuable this is in supporting recovery, and opening opportunities with other mental health services within the borough.

Some of our difficulties in implementing co-production and co-design within our Peer Support Group, has been the concern and experience voiced by our members about this historic dominant professional perspective and governance, while on the other hand, there has been professional anxiety that co-production might undermine clinical expertise.

Overcoming this has involved detailed conversations with the members about the practical application of co-production, and demonstrating the value of lived experience in shaping our services. It is acknowledged that co-production involves the re-balancing of power in the therapeutic and practical relationship between the community.

We have had an interesting and challenging journey with our Peer Support Group, and I would not change that for one minute, the experiences, stories and lives we have changed, and most importantly the community we are continually developing has been an invaluable learning curve for all involved..

Written by Carlton Thomas Project Manager of Collaborative Communities CIC. (April 2021)

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