We are incredibly proud of our Peer Mentorship work across the East of England.
Funded in the past by Connexions, Lloyds TSB, Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, our Peer Mentorship project promotes advocacy and friendships between young people with and without a learning difficulty.
Our unique School Peer Mentorship Programme developed from LG2, Lets Get Together.
Lets Get Together started in 2003 and worked outside of school time to help young people forge friendships. This involved organising social activities such as bowling and workshops in art and music to provide natural environments for friendships to develop.
The project led to rich friendships and to non-disabled young people learning to understand their peers’ unique methods of communication and speak verbally on their behalf. With advocacy training from Circles Network these young people were able to support their disabled peers in one-to-one interviews with the Connexions Service. An opportunity many were not having due to the complexity of their impairments and the unique way in which they communicated.
For the first time, young advocates spoke for their disabled peer with the voice of a young person, from the perspective of a young person and from a long term relationship and understanding of their friend. A very powerful experience for both young people and an exciting and important outcome from this project.
Our pioneering and highly regarded School Peer Mentorship Programme developed from this work. This project now brings over 80 young people a year from special and mainstream schools across Cambridgeshire together in curriculum time.
Young people from across seven schools come together on this project to learn from one another, build respect, grow new friendships, develop new skills and to achieve their bronze Youth Achievement Award.
Preparation for the programme involves all volunteers from the mainstream schools being trained in advocacy, disability awareness, communcation, person centred approaches, inclusion and friendship to address and overcome concerns.
Developing friendships is a very complex and fragile process for anyone. Circles Network support is essential to facilitate sessions and support young people to make these new friendships.
The aim is to provide intense, interesting and fun sessions to help young people to get to know each other and learn to communicate with one another. Doing things together and discovering commonalities and interests is key. Practical activities like cooking and painting portraits are mixed with games like football, table tennis and really creative sessions like body mapping and building desert islands.
Creating person centred portfolios is at the heart of the projects. This is an inclusive and two way process where young people work together to explore who they really are, what makes them uniquely individual; who the important people are in their lives and their dreams and future aspirations.
Each portfolio is different but importantly everyone is equal in the process and the interaction between the young people inspires whole new areas of creativity and thinking. These portfolios can be an exceptional resource for supporting young people with transition planning and ensuring their voice is heard in decisions made about their futures.
Equality and inclusion is at the root of all our work, this is not about mainstream students volunteering to help their disabled peers; it is the opportunity for young people to work together and to share and benefit from the lived experiences of one another.
The success of the programme is wide reaching, with disabled and often socially excluded young people given a chance to build friendships with their peers, that can extend beyond school and into the community. This experience exposes them to the ‘ordinariness of growing up’ and goes some way to tackle feelings of isolation and separateness.
Independent evaluations have shown that the benefits of the peer mentorship are completely two way, improving communication skills, self esteem and confidence, giving all the young people the possibility to achieve, feel that they belong, and experience being truly valued.
In 2007, Circles Network was very pleased to be awarded Approved Provider Status from the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation for their Peer Mentorship Programme.
If you would like us to develop a similar programme for your school please do contact us and let us share the best practice we have developed.