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Peer Support and Mindfulness: A New Approach To Transition

Alex Smith is a System Broker for the Fulfilling Lives programme in Newcastle and Gateshead. She recently attended a 'Be The Change' Network event, representing our programme. In this blog, she discusses the relationship between the network and us, and the vital work it is doing to inspire system change, focusing on transition points for our clients.

The Fulfilling Lives programme has been involved with the Homeless Link ‘Be the Change’ Network North East and Cumbria (BTCNE&C) for approximately 2 years and over this time a natural synergy has developed in our work. The BTCNE&C work in partnership with the Northern Rock Foundation to allow organisations from the North East and Cumbria to explore ideas around tackling homelessness.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the work of the BTCNE&C Network, in partnership with Oasis Aquila Housing, where we developed a training package around homelessness awareness for GP reception staff in order to improve access to general practice for people experiencing housing difficulties. This piece of work was started with a seed fund of £500.00 which then went on to attract the BTCNE&C annual summit award of £5,000.00. This in turn attracted match funding from Gateshead’s Public Health department which has allowed an extension of this work to create a clinical space within the Gateshead based Resource Centre, Basis @336.

The network meets every 3 months. In our April meeting, an idea was discussed around transition, which is a key area of focus for Fulfilling Lives and people with multiple complex needs. For those who have three or four different issues happening simultaneously, it can be very hard to navigate through complex systems and it is particularly difficult during points of transition, for example being discharged from hospital, released from prison or moving from supported accommodation to independent living.

The workers attached to the accommodation projects do a lot of support and preparation work with the client for their move […] Something we have learnt from our work with the accommodation providers however, is that this is often not enough to help a person succeed.

Across Newcastle and Gateshead we have a significant number of supported accommodation bed spaces; this accommodation is varied but generally involves living with other residents and having an element of support with day-to-day living. This kind of accommodation is usually time-limited, with a maximum stay of 2 years, for example, after which the resident would be expected to move on into alternative accommodation: often their own tenancy through a social or private landlord.

The workers attached to the accommodation projects do a lot of support and preparation work with the client for their transition; often looking at very practical skills around cooking, maintaining a property, adhering to a tenancy agreement, paying gas and electric and setting up a Housing Benefit claim. Something we have learnt from our work with the accommodation providers however, is that this is often not enough to help a person succeed in their transition.

In all of these situations, knowing how to pay gas and electric does not help and through partners of the BTCNE&C network, we have started to think about an alternative form of support, one which involves peers, mindfulness, resilience and healthy coping strategies.

A move-on placement will often fail because a person self-sabotages: they invite people to their accommodation who put the tenancy at risk; they abandon the accommodation because they would rather be around their peer networks; or they feel the weight of responsibility too heavily that they are overwhelmed and use negative strategies in order to cope (returning to substances or facing a mental health crisis, for example).

In all of these situations, knowing how to pay gas and electric does not help and through partners of the BTCNE&C network, we have started to think about an alternative form of support during these critical transition points; one which involves peers, mindfulness, resilience and healthy coping strategies.

In partnership with NTW’s Recovery Centre and Crisis Skylight, Fulfilling Lives secured a seed fund to start to develop ideas around emotional resilience support for clients with multiple complex needs who are moving from supported housing to an independent tenancy. In May 2016 we launched a mindfulness course for peer support workers from the Recovery College, Crisis Skylight and two of Changing Lives’ supported accommodation projects: Eslington House (Gateshead) and Virginia House (Newcastle).

A total of 14 delegates have engaged with the Mindfulness Train the Trainer course and over the coming months we are hopeful that the skills and practices learned by staff, volunteers and residents will start to embed the values of the training in a variety of different environments. Through the BTCNE&C network we will look to evaluate the effectiveness of this piece of work and in September bid for the annual summit of £5,000.00. This will allow us to extend and develop the training offer further and look to incorporate it into move-on and transition protocols across Newcastle and Gateshead to help improve the experience for residents and tenancy sustainment rates across the sector.