The 20-minute neighbourhood – a peer support perspective

Written by: Heather Calvo, Chief Executive Officer, Neighbourhood Networks

Published: 26/08/2021

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Heather Calvo, Chief Executive of Neighbourhood Networks, shares her thoughts on 20-minute neighbourhoods.

The principles behind the 20-minute neighbourhood are, in my view,  entirely aligned with the peer support model developed within Neighbourhood Networks (this link will take you away from our website). In the last year we have witnessed a sea-change in consideration of these principles. I find myself regularly reflecting about what we have learned over this period, what have been the key elements and what the future may have to offer.

Neighbourhood Networks has developed a unique way of delivering and facilitating peer support that is rooted in a local community model. The organisation recruits a Community Living Worker (CLW) to work with a group of vulnerable people in a network. The CLW must live in the same community as the members of the network and the CLW doesn’t follow a shift pattern, instead working flexibly with individuals and the group.

The CLW support focuses on developing reciprocity between network members and active contribution, encouraging members to share their skills and gifts with one another and the community at large. There is a focus in using local resources and accessing peer support to use these spaces and facilities while working toward achieving shared outcomes, such as making where they live a better place.

A peer support network provides a very local safety net for people who may experience crisis. At a point of crisis, a consistent CLW who can step in when needed, can be a life saver. Equally, a fellow network member can sometimes be the first to notice that someone is reaching crisis and this enables support earlier. If you are known to people and engaged locally you will have people looking out for you or missing you when you are not around.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have witnessed the importance of the 20-minute neighbourhood principles. Thankfully during lockdown, support to members remained as most CLW’s could walk to members and provide access to support. Equally as important, members were able to do the same for each other while sticking to the lockdown guidelines.

Many people kept in touch digitally with peers or CLW support over this period. We invested considerable capacity into developing digital champions across members and staff, however the local delivery of this support from the CLW or a peer proved to be invaluable. It’s easier to accept support from someone local that you know and trust.

Friendships (this link will take you away from our website) can be easier to foster when you live physically close to people, trusting relationships develop more quickly when you see people on a regular basis. Friendships, in my view, also work better when there is reciprocity to be practically supportive to people when you live close by. It’s testament to the peer support model that friendships in networks have survived the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s due in part to people having such strong foundations laid through local network membership.

The importance of green spaces (this link will take you away from our website) in our 20-minute neighbourhoods has really hit home to all of us in Neighbourhood Networks. Bit by bit as lockdown eased we have used the local parks and amenities to bring people together. The spaces were always there but now we all fully appreciate their value. It is little wonder then the Feely Report (this link will take you away from our website) makes recommendations that align with the 20-minute neighbourhood concept. In particular recommendation 41 states:

“Commissioning and planning community based informal supports, including peer supports, is required to be undertaken by Integration Joint Boards and consideration of grant funding to support these is needed.”

It’s too early to say how much of these recommendations will be acted upon by local authorities but we look ahead with some optimism that more local and peer led solutions will be developed in the future.

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