We need to respect , not exploit , lived experience , says Russell Webster
We know there is a robust evidence base that many people with lived experience who volunteer as recovery champions and coaches benefit from the experience of giving back , rebuilding their self-esteem and recognising that they have something to offer . Many peer volunteers are provided with the training and ongoing support they need to succeed , including opportunities to progress into paid employment . However , as Dame Carol Black warned , others receive little to no training and support , often have little choice about what role they take as volunteers , and are essentially exploited as unpaid staff members .
In partnership with Revolving Doors , I led a team of people with lived experience to produce a guide that addresses these concerns . It sets out best practice in supporting peer volunteers derived from , and informed by , the lived experience of more than 250 people , and covers a range of topics including training , support and helping people convert their volunteering experience into paid employment .
The guide , which can be downloaded at https :// peervols . russellwebster . com / is targeted at three groups of people : commissioners , providers and people with lived experience , and this article shares perspectives from all three points of view .
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THE COMMISSIONERS ’ VIEW
By Simon Whitlock , senior commissioner , and Sarah Currie , substance misuse commissioner , at the London Borough of Newham
THE WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE PEER VOLUNTEERS BRING is invaluable to drug and alcohol recovery services , but severe budget cuts
and chronic underfunding of services have meant that the much-needed training , support and development opportunities have largely been eroded .
Peer volunteers contribute in a variety of ways , from shaping services and making them more accessible , to providing relatable experiences to individuals going through similar experiences . In return , it is vital we provide
peer volunteers with the right training and support to develop so they can thrive and maximise their potential , whilst continuing to show positive examples of successful recovery and reintegration into the wider community
The guide provides the perspective of peer volunteers – something that ’ s often missed ! – and clearly demonstrates the
value they can offer any social justice sector organisation . The key issues are laid out and paired with easily adoptable best practice and guidance that comes complete with a range of additional resources . Organisations can use the guide to review existing working practices or develop new ways of working built around their organisation and peer volunteers ’ needs .