Julie, peer support and Chard Watch Project

Julie lives in Chard in Somerset and has a history of mental illness. Julie had positive experiences of mental health services but didn’t always feel they offered what she needed.

I had some excellent services and support from the formal system. I didn’t feel failed by them, but I didn’t feel all of me was heard.

Whilst using mental health services she learned about intentional peer support and experienced the positive impact it can have on people’s lives.

I was a patient in the mental health system…I was unemployed and felt that there was no way out. At the local day centre someone handed me a poster around intentional peer support and funding for 35 people to learn about it. I saw how peer support can make a difference.

Julie and Chard Watch Project

Julie decided to set up an intentional peer support group in her hometown. This ran for many years, on a small scale – growing and developing organically as people got involved.

Steadily we grew and gained support from local voluntary, community and housing support organisations, who gave us time, reassurance and small amounts of funding.

At the same time many of the traditional day services were closing meaning there were more people who were isolated. The group turned into the CHARD Watch Project which has now evolved to also support emerging peer support groups in other areas.

Now we are able to facilitate other areas to set up their own peer support groups. We train people to find their own way in their own potential. Enabling people to be enablers of themselves. Anything that shows people that they can do something… is worthwhile.

What helped?

Julie gained a great deal of support from her peers.

This meant that I was not alone. Being with people who shared their experience and their passion, I felt connected and not alone with my mental health. This gave me power and unlocked me in a group setting.

A number of organisations, such as the Community Foundation gave Julie and her peers support at the start of their journey.

The support they offered gave reassurance, confidence and small pots of funding. They supported us but didn’t put too many barriers in our way. They let us have our own personality.

Feeling validated internally and externally was very important to Julie and boosted her confidence and motivation.

Awards and certificates all meant a lot to the project in the early days.

Challenges

Julie feels her biggest challenge is taking time to stop and listen – allowing the group to show the way whilst also creating an environment that challenges and encourages people.

Letting it happen can be a challenge. How to keep people at the heart of decision making and not making them dependent. The way we speak and the language that we use is so important.

Another challenge is working with partner organisations who have a traditional or structured approach to projects.

What helped?

Julie gained a great deal of support from her peers.

This meant that I was not alone. Being with people who shared their experience and their passion, I felt connected and not alone with my mental health. This gave me power and unlocked me in a group setting.

A number of organisations, such as the Community Foundation gave Julie and her peers support at the start of their journey.

The support they offered gave reassurance, confidence and small pots of funding. They supported us but didn’t put too many barriers in our way. They let us have our own personality.

Feeling validated internally and externally was very important to Julie and boosted her confidence and motivation.

Awards and certificates all meant a lot to the project in the early days.

Achievements and impact

Julie has a real sense of achievement in simply helping people.

Anybody who comes in and finds someone to speak to is an achievement. We have 35 people who attend the Thursday groups regularly. Everyone’s story is amazing. We have over 100 members but always have new people. To see people coming out of themselves, making a friend or talking for the first time. Playing pool, building their communications…

She is proud of the role she and Watch have played in facilitating peer support groups in other parts of Somerset.

I am passionate about peer support because it is not time or outcome driven. It is about being a friend first, someone who is there. It is not about fixing people.

The future

Julie feels it is important to consolidate the work of the Watch project in the near future.

At the moment we are fine tuning our project and the challenges we are facing. Recently we have had funding from the National Lottery Community Fund which included an organisational strength review and this will help us focus on our strengths and weaknesses. So easy at times to lose track of our original vision when fundraising and can lose your way.

She wants to develop the work to be able to help more people in more and different places.

We want to make sure for ourselves that we carry on developing peer support and creating a warm, safe and welcoming project to help isolated people living in the rural areas connect with others.