Peer empowerment

10 October 2019

Arty-Folks provides creative sessions and volunteering opportunities for adults living with serious mental health issues in Coventry.

In this blog, we hear from Lorella Medici, project lead at Arty-Folks, who runs the Peer Empowerment Group (PEG), about the recent accomplishments of the group’s volunteering scheme.

“There are not enough provisions in our local community for mental health service users. Once discharged, people are generally side-lined and lose important support resources like contact with healthcare professionals, leading to social isolation and a higher risk of relapse. The project offers a fundamental peer support network for members when they need it the most.

Volunteers, staff and project members celebrating their achievements with tea and cake

 

Having two years of funding from People’s Health Trust has really allowed us to grow and evolve as an organisation. Over the last year, we established an accessible volunteering scheme. We have clear policies, an induction process and a role description based on individual interests. The scheme supports members to give back to the local community in a way that is recognisable and accountable.

Many of our project members are now volunteering with the project; the experience of giving back is a hugely important stepping stone towards healing. They know what it’s like to be in a bad place and their involvement can help others to get better through their experiences.

Volunteering helps our members recognise that their mental health issues do not define them – they have skills, personal qualities, and life experiences through which they can help others. Our volunteers work directly alongside staff and project members, offering their invaluable skills in marketing, finance, social media and website design to promote and help run the project.

A new volunteer might undertake a whole range of tasks with Arty-Folks from assisting staff with art workshops, supporting new members to relax and enjoy being creative, to supporting them to access other opportunities or helping staff in the office. 

We also encourage our volunteers to work towards their personal goals, which might include gaining a qualification or finding a job. Anish Sidhu, our youngest member and newest volunteer, struggled with anxiety and depression when she first joined the project. Now, one year on, she has developed creative skills and confidence and will be starting the Art Foundation at Coventry University this year.

Laura, a volunteer and part-time member of staff had a breakdown earlier this year and had to drop out of her PhD. After a couple of months as a project member, she took up additional responsibilities through the volunteering scheme. She is now working at Arty-Folks for two days a week on a project with the European Social Fund, which involves upskilling project members to help them to get into education or employment. This transition back into work has enabled her to start her PhD again next January.

Lorella being presented with the Investors in Volunteering accreditation 

Following these and various other successes, we were recently awarded the prestigious ‘Investors in Volunteering’ (IiV) accreditation. This is a national quality standard for charities - administered by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) - for demonstrating best practice in all aspects of working with volunteers. The assessment process involved a representative from NCVO conducting interviews with volunteers and staff, as well as a formal evaluation.

We celebrated this brilliant achievement with a cake and coffee afternoon at the beautiful Rising CafĂ©, near Coventry Cathedral. During this, we were presented with the IiV accreditation by Peter Smith from NCVO. Attendees included current and former project members, staff, trustees, partners of the project and of course, volunteers. It was lovely to be able to celebrate and recognise the enormous contribution our volunteers have made with their time, commitment, passion, and expertise.”

Peer Empowerment Group is funded by People’s Health Trust with money raised through The Health Lottery in the West Midlands.

 

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