Peer Power

Author: Simon Duffy

This report explores the inspirational work of the Personalisation Forum Group. It suggests we have only just begun to see the powerful impact of peer support on existing welfare systems and that statutory bodies will need to radically revise their current commissioning practices if they are going to make the most of what peer support offers.

The Personalisation Forum Group (PFG) is a dynamic User-Led Organisation (ULO) which has developed quickly since its beginnings in 2010.

At the heart of the group’s effectiveness is passion and self-belief - fostered by mutual support and respect. 

As lone individuals with mental illness it is easy to feel isolated and dependent on the judgement of professionals. 

As a member of a peer support group it is much easier to see your own strengths and to feel positive change is really possible.

The catalyst for the development of the PFG was the on-going difficulty faced by many people with mental health problems to access flexible budgets that can be used to organise positive support. The group feels that, with the right support, they could achieve faster rates of recovery, stay well, and use hospital services less frequently. However, the institutional nature of mental health services, has been hard to change. Self-determination and personalisation are rarely achieved.

However the group have turned their anger at the poor standards within the current system into a force for positive change. In particular they have created a system of mutual support called Support Buddies - a flexible system for making sure members of the group can get support from each other - building on their experiential expertise.

The group’s success has been underpinned by careful and thoughtful facilitation by an independent social worker and by the development of a robust system of governance. 

Key outcomes already achieved include:

  • 13,104 hours of practical support, per year, with an approximate value of £250,000
  • Support for a wide range of community initiatives and partnerships
  • Publication of several films and two important papers
  • Savings for statutory partners from reduced rates of hospitalisation 
  • Some acceptance of the need for change in the local mental health services

The group’s success is also reflected in the national awards they have won: Great British Care Award 2011 (Putting People First) and Adult Social Worker of the Year 2011 for their facilitator.

The group is positive and ambitious - not just for itself but also for the whole system. It has produced a comprehensive model for Personalised Mental Health that puts community-based solutions and peer support at the heart of the system. It continues to work to reform and improve local and national systems.

Despite all of this local statutory organisations have struggled to welcome and support the group’s work. This is surprising and shocking. Despite their power and money, local statutory organisations have failed to respond positively to a local organisation that has much to offer.

In order to stay well and productive the group must continue to maintain its positive and supportive focus. However the difficulties experienced in getting respect and support from statutory services raise serious issues about the current organisation of mental health services in England, and the current systems for working with peer support and other community groups.

NB. The group have recently changed their name to better describe what they are about and are now known as the People Focussed Group (PFG Doncaster).


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Peer Power © Simon Duffy 2012.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

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