In 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic first became a reality, people’s mental health was impacted.  The uncertainty, risk of illness and isolation through lockdown increased feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicidal feelings.  

bemix responded by offering opportunities for people to meet online and talk in a safe space.  This was through Peer Support groups open to all of bemix and also workforce only groups.  A weekly Wellbeing Group was also held within the Supported Internship programme. At bemix, we have a vision of a world where everyone can be seen, be heard and feel like they belong. Our approach aims to reduce the isolation and segregation that many people with a learning difficulty and/or autism face. Supporting and nurturing people's wellbeing is an important element of the work we do.

What do people want and need?

By summer 2020, our Peer Support groups saw a drop in participant numbers. It was felt that people within bemix might like a new way to talk about their feelings in a safe space. 

To find out what people wanted and needed, we sent out a survey to everyone in bemix. 72 people answered our survey and the results showed the following:

  • 62% of people asked would like support with their mental health
  • A third of people would like to join a wellbeing based Peer Support Group
  • Over half would be interested in accessing training on how to look after their mental health

As a result, weekly Peer Support groups began meeting online, attended by people from across bemix - for a period of 6 months. Alongside the other results of our survey, almost 70% of people within bemix reported that they sometimes, often or always felt lonely - reducing isolation was one of the main aims of this next project.

Project Aims

The project was funded by grants from 2 different projects: Creating Connections is a partnership between SeeAbility and Learning Disability England, who kindly contributed a £1000 grant to our Peer Support Group project.  Regular meetings were also held between all organisations involved in Creating Connections to share ideas.

Pass-it-Online are workshops run by The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities and London South Bank University, supported by Learning Disability England.  The workshops took place online and trained people with and without learning difficulties to deliver training on understanding and improving mental health.  Pass-it-Online also contributed £270 to cover the costs of delivering the training.

Creating Connections aimed to reduce isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.  They funded and supported projects to bring people together within the community in new, safe ways.  

Pass-it-Online aimed to educate people with learning difficulties to understand and take ownership of their own mental health.

The bemix aim was therefore to combine both of these objectives whilst also thinking about what people had said they wanted in the survey.  

Through our Peer Support Group, we wanted to 

  • Provide a safe space where people at bemix could come together, to support one another in a peer led environment.
  • Support and encourage people to feel more comfortable talking about how they felt.
  • For group members to be able to connect with others to reduce loneliness and form new friendships.
  • For this to be facilitated by an Expert by Experience, alongside a supporting facilitator.  
  • For people at bemix to have the opportunity to learn about mental health, and how to manage their own mental health, in an accessible way.

What is a Peer Support Group session like?

A typical session includes some or all of the following:

  • A quick discussion about confidentiality  
  • A short icebreaker to relax the group
  • A “check in” where each member is invited to share how their week has been and how they are feeling
  • A feeling word activity, where group members listed words and phrases associated with a particular feeling
  • Training or a discussion on mental health related topic.  This was either based around the Pass-it-Online training or a topic chosen by the group.  
  • A group gratitude list.

15 people attended the weekly Peer Support Groups in total and weekly numbers peaked at 10 around 6 weeks into the group.

The groups have been facilitated by Sammy Lamb (Expert by Experience) and Jessica Leonard (Senior Work Coach and Mental Health Peer Support Lead), overseen by Louise Allen (Head of Wellbeing).

Screenshot of our last Peer Support Group session

Project Success

Members reported that the group had benefited them in the following ways:

  • Gaining confidence
  • Developing a better understanding of mental health
  • Speaking more about their feelings
  • Making new friends
  • Having fun
  • Feeling less lonely

The opportunity to connect with others, and so reducing feelings of isolation, was highlighted by members as an achievement of the groups.

When asked what their favourite part of the group was, members reported:

 “Getting to know each other” 

“Talking to people” 

“Talking to everyone and making new friends” as some of their highlights.”

One member summarised his experience in the group by saying, “Joining Peer Support Group has allowed me to be open with my feelings and improve my mental health with the satisfaction of meeting everyone along the way.”

This was supported by another member, who added, “It helps young people experience and know their emotions.”  

Challenges faced and thus, recommendations for future projects, included:

  • Finding ways to increase the number of participants 
  • Looking at ways to maintain participant numbers 
  • Continuing to understand the importance of the role of facilitator in managing a group
  • Adjusting the time of a session so that more participants were able to attend
  • Providing resources for participants to refer back to - a way to provide support with mental health after Peer Support Groups end 

We have been nominated for an award!

We were delighted to recently receive the news that our bemix Peer Support Group Team has been selected as one of the winners at this year's Kent Mental Health & Wellbeing Awards!

The awards ceremony will be held in October in Ashford Kent and bemix group members involved will be attending the event! As well as this, a small number of winners will be named as overall champions for Kent - so it is possible that bemix Peer Support Groups project could receive even greater recognition!

We very much look forward to the awards ceremony and can’t wait to share updates from the event, soon!

To learn more about the bemix approach to mental health and wellbeing, click here