What we shared in our first online meeting – August 2020

The Leeds Peer Support Network held its first online meeting on the 11th August 2020, where 33 people attended to talk about:

1. Returning to face-to-face; how to do it safely.

2. Revitalising groups; building & re-engaging with peer support participants.

There were lots of great discussions in both break out rooms. Below are some of our notes of what was discussed…


  • Some groups have started meeting outside in public spaces, this raised questions around GDPR and being a safe space to talk openly – think about how you manage day trips out or Christmas lunches and the same applies so would need to adapt this to being every week. Your first steps might be very different to how things used to be and could be something as simple as a walk or park meet up and think about your risk assessments!
  • How are you making your groups Covid safe? Let people know in advance as some people may not like to ask the question – include this in your promotion/leaflets. PPE can make people feel safer so think about is this needed or wanted?
  • Should you wait to re-engage with your participants? What happens if the number of cases increases and how we prepare to back into a lockdown? Most people agreed that it is worth trying and see how you get on, some things might work better than others but worth a try. Also ask people what they want, gauge interest with a survey and build from there as it lets people know what your plans are.
  • Utilise outdoor spaces such as parks and green spaces, link in with Neighbourhood Network Schemes to see what outdoor spaces they have or are using that might be Covid safe.
  • As facilitators we are trying our best but we need to recognise that we can’t fix everything and that our best is simply that!  Facilitators with lived experience can also feel anxious in their first steps to re-engaging, but we are not alone and one person said they thought that they were the only ones struggling with Covid-19 – we are in this together!
  • We talked about what we have lost from face to face sessions, our body language/food/drinks – how can we try to adapt that to virtual?
  • When you are the stage of adapting your virtual offer into a face to face offer, don’t just cut the virtual offer off, phase this or try to keep both if possible.

Virtual; procs and cons of online peer support

  • Virtual has its place and is filling a gap but it was felt that in some circumstances it should stay as a model of working alongside face to face – think of the winter months when we might need it again. Also virtual opportunities have enabled people to participate when previously groups might have been too far to travel or had the confidence to join face to face groups.
  • Online groups – ensure people understand confidentiality and ground rules – just the same as face to face. Try to have a 1 to 1 session or at least offer this with people before joining online groups, reassure and inform participants that they can take breaks or its ok to leave when they feel ready and that other people can feel anxious when joining a group session and that they won’t be alone.
  • Be creative! It doesn’t have to be everyone sat looking at a screen, you can even do baking sessions together over Zoom. Some people can struggle without a theme so think about what might engage your participants, maybe condition specific/exercise/quizzes.
  • We miss the power of a biscuit and a cup of tea to break the ice at face to face to meetings, don’t underestimate this when using Zoom to make people feel more at home – although they will have to make their own!
  • For some people the virtual world is just not for them and this is ok, no one should be pressured into joining the virtual world but we should also check it’s not a barrier that can be overcome such as skills/motivation/access – the digital champion training can help you to have those conversations.

Promoting groups

  • When promoting your group make sure to put the focus on the benefits of peer support rather than just the where and when, this helps to promote value such as building friendships / connections / improve your English / how we help each other.
  • When promoting it can be useful to inform if facilitators have any lived experience, this can be reassuring for anyone wanting to join a new group.
  • What does your group need to have in order to be signposted from NHS? Social prescribers? Do you need to meet certain criteria?
  • Link worker/Wellbeing co-ordinators/GP practices can only refer to your groups and services if they know about them, get in touch with them and let them know what your offer is.
  • Encourage word of mouth, this can be very powerful if someone has a positive experience but remember that a bad experience will travel faster so keep checking in that the group is inclusive.
  • You asked the LPSN to have a good database of groups that is accessible to all – we are working on that!
  • What about the people left behind, those who don’t want to engage with virtual? How can we reach those people? One group are sending out newsletters and received positive feedback from this – people have felt valued and included.
  • Launch events (on a small scale due to government guidelines!) can be a good way to get people back into using groups or using for the first time – connect with your local health services or Neighbourhood Network Schemes and see what they are doing, can you work together?

Training needs

  • Digital Champion training.
  • How to facilitate peer support – face to face and virtually. This will be the topic of our next meet up.
  • What does a good risk assessment look like?
  • How to apply for funding applications – where to look? We list some funding opportunities on our website.

Many attendees completed a survey outlining where they want LPSN to go next and what they want to learn and focus on. You can read about it here.