Co-production and Peer Mentor Development Worker Mike Knowles explains the inspirational value of peer mentoring in relation to homelessness and how co-production (working with someone) can be an emancipating experience
"The Co-Production and Peer Mentoring service, which I work for, is funded by Homeless Link and is part of Housing First, a collaboration between Julian House and BCHA to provide flexible housing- related support to some of the most marginalised individuals in Exeter City.
"BCHA is progressing a peer mentoring programme because it recognises that people using our services - i.e. people with lived experience - can play a vital role in the delivery and improvement of those services.
"We are also aware that many people want to give something back to the services and that this can play an important part in their ‘recovery’.
"I received some useful insight into the term ‘recovery’ recently, from a volunteer (who I am hoping will sign-up to the Peer Mentoring programme). He said that he prefers to use the word ‘rejuvenation’ rather than ‘recovery’. He used the metaphor of a flower, which he said doesn’t ‘recover’ but rather ‘blooms or blossoms’. He thinks that the word rejuvenation is a more hopeful term - less tied to formulaic and rigid forms of interventions - and less bound up with a person’s past.
Mentoring - a unique opportunity
"The peer mentoring relationship can therefore support, enable and encourage individuals to manage their personal development and achieve goals. In the context of homelessness, peer mentoring can support both the mentor and mentee ‘recover/rejuvenate’, develop skills and live life as they want to live it. Mentoring creates a unique opportunity for working together, problem solving and achieving goals.
"As for co-production, when services are genuinely co-produced, they work better because they make the most of the shared expertise of people who work in the service and the people who have experience of using them.
"Services that are co-produced have better ‘buy-in’ from the people using them – if the service is more closely matched to what people actually want then more can be achieved. It also gives legitimacy to the service – people can feel more comfortable with procedures or practices that have been designed by other people in the same situation.
"Our customers are people who are currently receiving a service from BCHA – for the purpose of this programme we are using the term ‘peer mentee.’ Mentees will be nominated by case workers as suitable for working with mentors, who themselves act as role models of someone who has been ‘rejuvenated’.
"In order to understand why someone would choose to be mentored or to co-produce with us, imagine having some of the most important decisions of your life entirely in someone else’s hands. Maybe you don’t ever get to see or speak to that person. That’s how it is for so many people when trying to have their most basic needs met. ‘Doing to’ can equal trauma. ‘Doing with’, ie co-production with someone with lived experience - can be emancipatory. If we don’t want to re-traumatise, we need to work with people.
"People who use services or who have used them in the past, have a huge amount of valuable knowledge about what is needed, which we would them like to share with us. What makes peer mentoring/co-production truly inspiring though is the effect I hope it will have on everyone involved.
Understanding the volunteering process
"The process of volunteering as a peer mentor and/or of taking part in co-production can be inspiring and build confidence. Staff can feel more motivated and positive and the people who use our services can feel valued and useful. This in turn can empower people to live fuller and happier lives.
"The progression of the programme has, however, been limited by Covid in that Housing First staff in Exeter have experienced episodes of self-isolation, lockdown, furloughing, staff sickness and staff departures.
"Consequently, since my start date in March 2020 (a week before lockdown) I was co-opted to work as a Case Worker. I returned to my substantive post fully in September.
"However, this in itself has had many benefits. It has enabled me to work directly with our client group, experiencing first hand their experience of the services they are receiving, as well as working with the Housing First team, building working relationships in and outside the service. I have also been able to share the Peer Mentoring Programme with the staff group.
"In addition, I have been able to put in place a robust set of policy and procedures, which form a good foundation for progressing the programme.
"We also now have a set of goals to progress, including writing a service offer on the project for the organisation, writing a service offer directed at our customers with a menu of opportunities and developing a workshop for frontline staff around co-production.
Values that create the right environment
"Co-production and peer mentoring help us meet BCHA’s own values, such as honesty, openness, reliability, confidentiality, respect, empowerment, treating people as we would want to be treated, the valuing of difference, working in a non-discriminatory way, being non-judgemental, non-exploitative and being holistic in our approach.
"They also help us create an environment where people can take control of their own lives by offering choice, recognising that we achieve more when we are working together as equals and by being flexible and creative in responding to needs.
"Working with very dedicated and skilled staff and helping customers transition into their own property/accommodation has been immensely fulfilling on a personal level.
"It has also been extremely rewarding meeting volunteers who have expressed genuine interest in the peer mentoring programme - they totally get it - and want to share and give back. They are skilled and have insight, and their experiences are unique, inspirational and very moving.
"What makes my work so worthwhile is that BCHA is committed to implementing co-production into its service model. Co-production means sharing power and this fits with my personal and political world view - this gives people who use services an equal chance to sit at the table and make decisions about how to run it better.
"I have also been greatly touched by the unique and very moving life stories of the people I have worked with, both as a case worker and when recruiting peer mentors. Truly, some people have led remarkable and very full lives and their ‘rejuvenation’ has been almost always brave and inspirational.
"To anyone considering using a peer mentor and/or becoming a peer mentor, I would simply say, do it!"
Find out more about BCHA’s Co-production and Peer Mentoring programme
Or contact: Mike Knowles, BCHA Peer Mentor Development Worker Tel: 07971 616436 firstname.lastname@example.org