Fulfilling Lives in Islington and Camden

Fulfilling Lives in Islington & Camden (FLIC) is an eight-year Lottery funded learning programme closing in May 2022, designed to support people experiencing multiple disadvantage and affect system change to improve the experience and outcomes for people accessing services.

Too often the voices of people experiencing multiple disadvantage aren't heard. Putting clients at the centre of everything we do is key to our work. Our support service is intensive, trauma-informed and led by the experiences and insights of our clients.

We work in partnership with statutory and voluntary agencies across both boroughs to improve services for people with multiple needs and drive systemic change, influencing how services are designed and delivered.

"Over time my client has really softened to me. She confides in me and trusts me which is a huge step. I have also realised that I have grown as a worker and as a person, other workers now come to me and ask how to connect with my client." – Leyla

At FLIC we work intensively to support people experiencing multiple disadvantage relating to homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental ill-health. We believe in order to support our clients to lead fulfilling lives, the system needs to change. We’re committed to bringing about system change in the way services meet the needs of people with complex and multiple needs. Peer Mentoring support as key to how we work and how we support our clients and to the evolution of services within the boroughs. Peer Mentoring is an essential part of our work, and something we’re advocating to become a pillar of support services.

The employment of Peers (either formally employed or as volunteers) is a relatively new approach in the field of mental health and substance misuse. Currently there are various definitions of ‘peer support’ and, with the lack of a universal definition and model, organisations have developed their own understandings and peer support programmes. Ultimately peer support is about acknowledging the expertise within lived experience and bringing that to the forefront as a skill to develop relationships with clients where magic can happen.

A FLIC services coordinator defined peer mentoring in the following way.

 “Peer support involves a relationship where the person providing support is not afraid of being with someone in distress. But it is also about seeing within that distress the seeds of possibility and creating a fertile ground for those seeds to grow. It explores what a person has gained from their experience, seeks out their qualities and assets, identifies hidden achievements and celebrates what may seem like the smallest steps forward.”

Peer Mentors have many reasons for wanting to be involved. These can include altruistic and personal benefits, but also the desire to give back to society is a key motivation for all Peer Mentors. Peers recognise that their lived experiences means they are well placed to support others in situations, or circumstances, they’ve previously been familiar with. We also acknowledge a further motivation to be the improvement of employment prospects for those with lived experience. We actively work with our peers to support them either into paid employment, further education or other volunteering opportunities after their time with us.

Broadly speaking, the FLIC Peer Mentoring scheme has three core aims:

  1. To provide a system of additional support to FLIC clients. We involve volunteers in the support of Service Users, with the aim to model visible recovery, reduce harmful behaviour, build on clients’ social capital to improve relationship building skills, make links in the community and reduce isolation.
  2. To develop and support peer mentors to use their skills in a positive manner and enhance employability. To support the Peers in a path of professional development towards gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to access employment in the field of health and social care.
  3. To contribute to system change by developing a model of best practice in peer mentoring that can be shown to benefit both parties and can be replicated elsewhere.

 

"I've learnt that sometimes it's the little things that can help you connect to someone, like carrying a client's bag or taking it slowly if they're struggling walking. It can make all the difference." - Anna 

 

What have we learned about peer mentoring?

FLIC believe that having Peer Mentors improves the quality of service provision and increases positive opportunities for clients, partly because the Peer Mentor is less representative of ‘the system’ and can relate in a unique way to the service user. We have found this to be true. We have learned that Peer Mentors can positively impact the lives of clients by supporting their social, emotional, physical and community needs.

FLIC works in a one-to-one model of Peer Mentoring, whereby a Peer Mentor will be matched to one, two or three clients and will meet them individually, as opposed, for example, to a group setting. This has been key in allowing the relationship between peer and client to develop.

Involvement in Peer Mentoring programmes has also been proven to increase the chances of our Peer Mentors moving on to paid employment, providing transferable skills, experience of a work environment and references, an outcome that FLIC actively supports through the co-production of a Personal Development Plan with each Peer Mentor.

Two of the biggest learnings was the inclusion of trauma informed practice in our programme and understanding the benefits of co-production. We reviewed our peer mentoring programme to evaluate how trauma-informed and co-produced it actually is. We discovered that some of the areas in which we were not meeting the needs of the client and the peers was, in part, due to us lacking in both of these ways of working. We now include clients in the recruitment process, as well as explore with them the training our peers receive. We work with our clients to shape how our peers are introduced to client work, how they are supported and coached and they also support us to produce positive endings when our Peers Mentors move on. 

 

The future: The PIN, Legacy work, Infinity and Beyond!

FLIC have now evolved our Peer Mentor roles to include Co-Production elements, supporting our system change and legacy priorities, this includes;

  • Representing FLIC at the National Expert Citizens Group (NECG): The NECG is a forum for representatives with lived experience across all the Fulfilling Lives projects in the UK.
  • Supporting the FLIC Advisory Group: The advisory group aims to bring together the people we currently support at FLIC to shape how services are delivered.
  • Training and Research
  • Being part of FLIC’s Strategic Board: The Strategic Board is made up of FLIC's management, funders and trustees who make sure FLIC is working effectively for clients.

In addition to the above, FLIC is delighted to be working with partner ogranisations and services in Camden to create the Peer Involvement Network (PIN) - a collaborative working group designed to  set standards for peer work, share and evaluate resources and build a community. So, watch this space and look out for our Charter of Peer Working Values, Best Practice Guide and Peer Support Workers Oscars!

Keen to know more? Would you like to join our PIN? Email our Peer Mentor Volunteer Co-ordinator Joe Atiase – [email protected]