Hexagon Housing Association’s Athena Project is a paid peer mentor network, which aims to benefit people living in Southwark with mental health needs. The project launched in 2014 with money from Southwark’s Adult Innovation Fund.
Mentors meet clients for an hour or two each week. A key aim for mentors is to help individuals to engage with their local community and to reduce social isolation: getting to know the person one-to-one and helping them to find activities they would like to do in the community. Mentors can also provide practical support with bidding for accommodation and applying for benefits and funding. Crucial to the role is that mentors are not being ‘leaders’ but are letting the clients make decisions and choices: empowering them to ‘be a person, not a patient’!
To become a mentor, applicants must have their own direct experience of mental health difficulties as well as experience of volunteering in the community. Peer mentors do not have to have a connection with Southwark. To prepare them for the role, mentors are offered ten days training in community development work. This ensures the peer mentoring service is of a good standard and importantly also enables mentors to gain recognised qualifications, offering them a gateway into other employment.
To date two cohorts of mentors have been trained, and there are now 13 mentors working on the project. Further training is planned for April 2016. Clients who are interested in accessing support through the network can see profiles for mentors on the project webpage, and contact the project directly if they would like to access support. A good mixture of gender, ethnicity and sexuality in the mentor team increases the likelihood of finding appropriate matches between clients and mentors.
One of the people who the project has helped is Susan, who is supported by a mentor called Lucy. Susan says of the support she gets from Lucy:
"I was living in supported accommodation, but the accommodation was only for a few years then you have to move on. I was allocated a worker from the Athena Project who helped me move into a one bedroom flat, but I experienced difficulty with rent which she is helping me with."
"Lucy helped me a lot, because without her I wouldn't be able to do it on my own. She comes once a week and helps me with my benefits, gas, electric and setting up my tv. She helps me to take the bus and goes with me to my appointments and meetings, because I don't like public transport. I prefer to take cab, but she's shown me how much I can save not using cab to go everywhere."
The Athena Project has linked up with other organisations providing Peer Support in Southwark and Lambeth, setting up a group call the Peer Support Providers’ Forum. If this interests you, or you would like more information, please contact John Lake - email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07961 108588