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An Interview with a College Peer Trainer – “We are in the unique position of being part of an incredible journey”

Sheryl: So Debbie, how do you see the role of the Peer Trainer?

Debbie: I think for me the role of a Peer Trainer is to use my experiences with mental health – which have been fairly extensive – to help students gain some knowledge to better understand their problems and to help them gain the skills that may come in useful with their recovery. Also, sharing what I’ve found really helpful and that aided my recovery. I hope to encourage and inspire students to either start or move forward with their own recovery journey.

Sheryl: Thank you. What made you decide to become a Peer Trainer?

Debbie: So I’d worked as a volunteer for the Trust for around about two years, through the Involvement Centre, and found that I had an affinity with the subject matter. My recovery was going well, and I didn’t want to go back to having my own business. I saw the course for the Peer Support workers and enrolled. Then this job became available, which was to set up and promote the Primary Health and Wellbeing College, and they were asking for lived experience of mental health problems and physical health issues. I fitted that bill because I had struggled with my physical health for quite a long time. So I applied through NHS Jobs and went through the shortlisting process. Following the interview, I was really lucky to be offered the job and I haven’t looked back.

Sheryl: So what’s it like working at the Recovery College?

Debbie: Working at the Recovery College is amazing, and I love it. It’s a little bit like being part of a big family. The team are really supportive of each other, and the variety of courses are really interesting and useful for understanding and gaining strategies about mental health. Probably the best part though, is seeing students blossom. Seeing them go from being quiet and shy, to being involved in all the activities - that’s amazing. The fact that as Peers we are in the unique position of being part of that incredible journey is so worthwhile. I don’t really see it as a job - it’s more like part of my life - and I enjoy it wholeheartedly.

Sheryl: What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

Debbie: As I said, the best part is seeing students’ progress and start to fill their potential for life beyond mental health. I really enjoy developing new courses in conjunction with my other Peers, students and some of the Partners that we work with. It’s that co-production that means we give the students so much more information and skills than if the course was produced by an individual. I really love working as part of the wider team because it is really supportive, and we look out for each other. In fact, we really care about the students and each other.

Sheryl: Thank you. How do you see creativity helping students in their recovery journey?

Debbie: I think creativity in our courses is an area that we do work with well. It enables students to access other areas of the brain. There’s still a lot of research going on but most of it says that using creativity can be really beneficial to our mental health. It’s not about doing lots of arts and crafts but more about how we can help the students try different strategies that may be useful. Journaling is a great example. It can help students understand their journey, think about options, and reflect on what has happened that had been positive and therefore can work again. Creativity engages students and our feedback shows they really enjoy that. Furthermore, because they are enjoying the learning, there is a tendency to get more from it and a willingness to keep using it after they leave the college.

Sheryl: What does it feel like to see students grow and progress?

Debbie: Seeing the students grow and progress is what this job is all about. As a Peer, it is fantastic to witness that progression. I’ve seen students who have left college from time to time, like in the supermarket, and they always say hi and are excited to explain how they’re getting on and how the college really helped them. That really is the best bit, and that understanding that most of the work came from themselves. Their willingness to learn and move forward. That’s magical and what really makes our job worthwhile.

Sheryl: Has the Recovery College helped you?

Debbie: Yes, the Recovery College has helped me. I came here as a student about seven years ago, after being in intensive therapy for around four years. I felt safe and welcome, and found the courses were interesting, and I learned techniques that still help me today. As a staff member it has helped me grow in all areas, but mostly by understanding myself and just what I can achieve. Anything is possible if you keep going.

Sheryl: Thank you.

We hope to interview more members of the Recovery College Team going forward. If you have any questions that you’d like us to ask please let us know.

If you are interested in any of the courses available at the Recovery College, please see our prospectus for more details. If you would like to enrol on a course, please note that Nottingham Recovery College courses are only available to people who are under secondary mental health care in Nottinghamshire, their supporters and staff members of Nottinghamshire NHS Trust. If you are unsure about our eligibility criteria please contact us.

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