'I understand because I’ve gone through it': Barbara’s peer mentoring story

'I understand because I’ve gone through it': Barbara’s peer mentoring story

Barbara volunteers as a peer mentor for Shelter’s Entrenched Rough Sleepers Service in Manchester. The service aims to give homeless people the emotional and practical support they need to get to off the streets and manage a tenancy.

All our peer mentors have specific lived experience. This gives them the skills and understanding needed to be able to help someone who is facing the same challenges that they struggled with.

As part of her role, Barbara provides regular weekly support to clients. She is a vital listening ear and accompanies them to appointments. These might include health, financial, or housing-related appointments that could be intimidating or difficult to go to alone.

Barbara’s support is key in helping clients to sustain their accommodation and integrate back into their local communities.

After battling with substance misuse, Barbara was street homeless for over five years. Her health deteriorated to such an extent that it became clear that her only option was to fight her drug addiction.

Because I’ve been there myself, I can understand a person because I’ve gone through it.

Barbara feels that, because of her personal experience, she’s in a strong position to help someone else turn their life around – just like she did. She truly understands how difficult it is to maintain a home, pay bills, attend appointments, and fight an addiction – all at the same time.

Another important part of her role is the support she gives to engagement workers – often at short notice – on joint visits. And she also provides ad hoc support to clients who need urgent assistance with something.

Barbara has been described by her supervisor as patient, consistent, non-judgemental, and trustworthy

‘When I first started, I struggled with certain things, but I’ve been doing it now for two years and I feel like my ability to make decisions has grown.’

Barbara is fully aware of some of the challenges of her role. She understands how hard it can be to motivate individuals who are disengaged. She also knows how difficult it can be to calm down an anxious and upset individual and, at the same time, keep herself safe

‘Sometimes it’s very challenging. But the more that you go out with other workers and other peer mentors, the more confident you are in your ability to help someone.’

Volunteering has had a positive impact on Barbara’s outlook. She wants to make a difference to someone’s life, and she wants to give something back. And, through her work, she’s also developed her own skills.

She would like to continue to help people who are experiencing similar struggles to those that she has faced. She wants to encourage them by being a positive role model at every step of the way.

‘I’ve learned about different styles and different ways of working with people with complex needs, and it’s given me some things as well – it’s given me the confidence in myself and an understanding of how to work with people.’

Huge thanks to Barbara and all our peer mentors in Manchester for the incredible impact that you have through volunteering. And thank you also to our peer mentor coordinator, Rachel Sutton.