Some Thoughts on Peer Support Work

Welcome slide with image of tea and scones

Alcohol and Drug Partnerships across Scotland (as well as other areas of the public sector) are going through a learning curve to figure out how best to engage with our communities. I’m going to share our learning over the past few years because this might have some relevance to how our SDS peer support efforts might emerge.

Typically, services think about ‘what’s broken?’ and ‘how can they fix it?’. Services focus on solving problems. For example, health and social care bosses worry about the growth in older people living longer and the consequences for increased health and social care service demand. This is a glass half empty perspective. What stops us focusing also on the glass half full – all that life experience and wisdom, people with time on their hands, many not ready to stop being productive and looking for an opportunity to give something back to their community?

In addictions, this distinction is important because people in difficulty are often stigmatised, prejudiced and marginalised. They have little power and voice. It’s well recognised that a key aspect of recovery is about connecting, belonging and having hopes and dreams. We need to focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong. We need to help people and communities have the power to solve their own problems rather than have a solution imposed on them. Folk don’t want a service. What they really want is a life. Services can be essential to helping gain a good life but they are not sufficient.

In Aberdeenshire, the Alcohol and Drug Partnership has been quietly supporting the growth of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) via funding of 3 Community Forums, all now led by community members. Their composition and approach truly reflects partnership working, manifest in the increasing numbers of community members with lived experience of alcohol and other drug issues being active contributors to forum meetings and activities.

These Forums (or should that be Fora?) have simple objectives:

•      Supporting people in marginalised communities to get involved

•      Helping community members feel they can influence decisions and have their voices heard

•      Challenge stigma

•      Shifting the balance of power

Follow our twitter feed at @abdnshireadp to find out the specifics of what they’ve achieved. There’s too much to list here!

During the last few years of growth of the Forums, we’ve learned a lot that may be relevant to the development of the SDS Peer Support worker posts.


1.      Some services focused on solving problems may not be well suited to ABCD. They might be limited in what they can offer but more importantly, what they offer might actually inhibit much more important community solutions from emerging. That’s ok, as long as such services recognise what they are good at and don’t get in the way of communities developing their own solutions.

2.      Services should leave ego at the door. If they are going to help, still give communities and their members the credit for the good stuff that emerges.

3.      Be persistent and don’t go for easy wins. Staff can get tired of vulnerable folk who don’t turn up and let them down and instead go with the usual suspects who are always reliable. Give folk a chance and recognise great things don’t happen over night.

4.      Our role is to help citizens through a long learning curve. Go at the speed of community trust, not at the speed of funding cycles. We’ve seen people go through these stages in their learning or confidence building journey:

–        No learning. Just do what experts/services say!

–        Build confidence to critique services. ‘I liked this..., I didn’t like that...’.

–        Recognise the value and power of their own lived experience and use it to come up with their own ideas for projects in their community.

–        Help services to value the power of citizens’ lived experience and help services to come to terms with the shift in power towards communities.

–        Feel OK to try stuff knowing that some of it won’t work and be willing and able to reflect, learn and improve for next time.

5.      Be excited and have fun. People won’t be inspired to be attracted and freely share their time if we’ve taken the joy out of participating. Free tea, coffee, cakes, home-made soup, and oodles of friendship and fun are essential ingredients and the least we can offer.