"As many people are finding it hard to imagine a future with goals beyond what’s necessary right now, peer-support offers so much..."
The Permission to Dream peer-support groups have always been designed to be as flexible as possible. Because the aim with peer support is for genuine open-ended support and mutual empowerment to take root, the Permission to Dream (this link will take you away from our website) groups are always meant to be led by the people who take part. Outside the Box’s role is to get each group started, facilitate brainstorming and conversations, and eventually support the group members to take over and drive the group’s plans.
The value at the heart of Permission to Dream is that it never helps to limit what people are allowed and encouraged to imagine for themselves and their lives. With the Wellbeing Fund grant we have been setting up local peer support groups embodying this idea for ex-carers, young people experiencing difficulties with their mental health, and adoptive parents in Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire.
It’s important to be able to talk about our experiences in life, and to feel supported to explore ideas with people who understand. As many people are finding it hard to imagine a future with goals beyond what’s necessary right now, peer-support offers so much potential.
With COVID-19 there are more complex logistics to work out to get new peer groups off the ground. If experienced support makes developing new groups easier in the best of times, it’s especially valuable for getting groups going amidst quick-changing restrictions, the necessity of online group-building, and difficulties accessing community spaces for safely meeting in person. In other words, it takes groundwork and knowledge to make the complex things easy.
Even for people who have family and friends around them, the reliability of peer-support groups is irreplaceable, as is the possibility of creating new connections. Friendship means opportunities – to build confidence, learn new things, see other people in a different light – and to see yourself in a different light.
But online-only spaces can be a limited tool – people need a different blend of opportunities to connect. By working in small groups we can adapt to individuals’ needs and barriers, and when it’s safe we’ll balance Zoom with physically distanced sessions to experiment with different activities. Peer support at its best can be so much more than having a weekly chat.
Many people have been wanting to meet in person for peer-support – but even when this has felt safer in terms of the virus, small community groups still need to find affordable spaces to use.
This has been a struggle locally, with Falkirk council slow to open community buildings – which people understand, but it is tending to affect small and new groups, and peer support groups which usually work on a small budget.
The main ingredient for good peer-support already exists in almost every community: people wanting to share their stories and support each other. At the moment lots of the work is on finding safe spaces to use, and new ways for people to share their strengths and interests online and offline.
We know how well food, music, art, gardening and DIY can help communities connect – not even considering their wider benefits, like how gardening is proven to support good mental wellbeing.
Here, there’s local woodland space to enjoy, and the Sustainable Thinking Scotland garden (this link will take you away from our website) has offered the Permission to Dream groups access to their spaces to grow food, cooking facilities and wooden cabins to shelter in as it gets colder. If there are keen cooks, we can collaborate with community food projects – and for people who like staying active we there are the Falkirk cycle route network and canal pathways. Opening up options like these can make building togetherness much easier – and what we do will depend on what emerges about what each peer-support group needs and cares about.
Even more than the activities, we’re looking forward to all the interesting, unknown directions the groups will take, and ways they’ll benefit the communities they belong to – that positive side of the unknown can be a great motivator! From trusted friends supporting each other through life, to lightbulb ideas for making a local community work better, to all the vegetables we might grow in 2021, there are a lot of unforeseeable positives to look forward to.