During the pandemic many local organisations have suffered hardship with many services temporarily closing. But we'd like to shine the spotlight on those who've worked tirelessly for the Darlington public in keeping their community safe. Today we are featuring The Communty Peer Mentors who are an initiative set up by Durham Police and Crime Commissioners Office with the aim of supporting those suffering from anti-social behaviour or neighbourhood disputes, whether it be perceived or real.
Jim Cunningham, The Community Peer Mentor Coordinator in the Office of the Durham Police Crime and Victims Commissioner kindly shares how the community peer mentors have been making a difference during the pandemic.
Can you tell us about your group, service or organisation and how it started?
The Community Peer Mentors were the wonderful and visionary initiative of the Durham Police Crime and Victims Commissioners (PCVC) Office. We have been running since 2016 when we started in Darlington, after a short period of time we were asked to provide support across the whole of County Durham.
Our great success has been largely due to the unique and bespoke approach to support we provide those referred to us, and mainly due to our amazing volunteers. The PCVC Office agreed to take the brave and forward thinking approach to allow us actively recruit people with lived experiences, or colourful past, as we identified that some people were frustrated by officials and statutory services, and that on occasions these are compounded by feelings of rejection, being ignored or the constant request to repeat ‘their story’ to professionals who may not have the time to engage and cannot fulfil the person needs. This has a negative impact on a person’s feelings of worth and wellbeing.
Our mentors are motivated and enthusiastic volunteers from the local community with life experiences who support vulnerable, isolated people affected by significant life changing events, crime, anti-social behaviour, neighbour disputes; who through unfulfilled needs become reliant on the emergency and statutory services.
We have trained over 300 volunteers from all types of backgrounds and experiences, including those with previous convictions, those in recovery from drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, survivors of crime, domestic and sexual abuse, as well as professionals and others from all walks of life. The average age of our volunteers is 43 years old, and are aged between 18 to 82; 69% are Female, we are also privileged to have the knowledge and experience of 1 binary and 2 transgender volunteers.
I am also extremely lucky to have 6 outstanding and dedicated paid team members, who coordinate our volunteers, those referred to us and the referrers; they work tirelessly to ensure the very best outcome of everyone who is referred to us who wants to start on that journey to change their lives.
Can you share how your group, service or organisation is making a difference and who you have helped?
In the last 4 years we have received over 1000 referrals to the Community Peer Mentors; and we have provided support to 68% of those referred to us.
We will support anyone who wants to change whether they are victims, survivors, perpetrators or the forgotten; this approach helps support the PCVC plan; to inspire confidence in the police and criminal justice system, support victims and the vulnerable. We have also shown that we significantly reduce the severity and frequency of their calls to the emergency services and statutory services; this in turn helps to empower those we are supporting and thereby reduce their vulnerability.
We offer a non-time specific support, so we will provide support for as long as a person wants it, we believe every persons experience, story, fears and feelings are different, and therefore one size does not fit all. All we ask is that a person has the will, want and capacity to change, they must set goals, however small, they must ‘bring something to the party’; we are not there to just do everything for them.
Analysis of 150 people, who had been fully supported, showed 56 of them never felt the need to call the emergency service again. Whereas others showed a significant reduction in the number of calls and interactions as they had learnt new skills to deal with situations in their lives, felt that there was someone there to support them and they were listened to and given the support they wanted, and not what others thought they needed.
Thinking about the pandemic and who you have helped, have you learnt anything from your experience?
As I have previously mentioned we were extremely grateful for the support from the #NETCoronavirusAppeal, the County Durham Community Foundation and all those who donated to the appeal should be commended for the difference they have made.
We would have struggled to support those who needed it most, especially with the 260% increase in referrals and demand. In this increase there were 113 people the majority of whom were unknown to emergency or statutory services; we helped to provided telephone support to break the social isolation, helped provide links, advice and signposting; the feedback was amazing.
We have learnt so much in a short period of time, accepted and adopted practices that previously we had not considered, streamline our referral process and found new ways to provide support. We have also seen that lots of people suffer in silence and rarely ask for help. We have also seen that in situations such as lockdown the negative effects are felt greater by those who were previously very active and have had their friendship groups and activities taken away from them. We have also seen that the average age of those referred to us is 55 years old, with 62% being female and 48% male.
The changes we have made will certainly help us in the future.
What has been a highlight for your group, service or organisation so far?
Thanks to the amazing volunteers, staff and those we support we ensure we are constantly learning, reflecting and improving the service and support we provide; we constantly look for best practise and new initiatives and for that reason we have received acknowledgements locally, nationally and internationally as a different and unique approach of support.
The College of Policing have identified us in their ‘Top 10’ best practices for demand reduction and the unique way we support vulnerable and isolated people. They produced a case study on their website; ‘Laura case study’ video on YouTube- https://youtu.be/-KMqSnp6uZ8
We have be awarded the:
- Durham Constabulary ‘POP’ (Problem Orientated Partnership) award 2017-18
- The National ‘Tilley Award’ for problem solving and demand reduction 2019-20
- Finalists at the International ‘Goldstein Awards’ for problem solving and demand reduction 2019-20
- Finalists in the ‘World Class Policing Awards 2019-2020
These awards acknowledge that the support we offer works at a practical level and academic level.
We have also received:
- Durham Community Action’ kite mark for excellence in supporting volunteers.
- One of our volunteers received a national award from NEPACS (North Eastern Prison After Care Society) for supporting ex-prisoners
- Another volunteer has achieved runner run in the National ‘Lord Ferrer’s Award’ presented by the Home Office for the outstanding Police and Crime Commissioners volunteer.
We have had an external, and independent, evaluation of the ‘Community Peer Mentors’; which highlighted the amazing results we can achieve when working hand in hand with the referring agency and the clients, by using volunteers to reduce demand and make people’s lives better.
What are your hopes for the future?
That we will continue to learn and improve the offer of support that those in the most desperate times in their lives need and deserve. That the vulnerable and isolated people who feel they have been rejected by society will know that there are people out there who just want to help.
That we can continue to attract and training new and exciting volunteers who just want to give something back; they make such a difference and we can help you as a reward for your time and effort.
That we can continue to reduce demand on frontline emergency and statutory services so they can concentrate on their primary roles.
Do you have a message or words of encouragement for anyone who needs help or may be worried about lock down restrictions easing?
On our logo it states; ‘You Are Not Alone’; whatever your circumstances, or past, if you want to change the way your life is going, or if you are in a dark place and you want to reach out, we are there for you. All we ask is that you have the will, and want to change.
Our core values aim to ensure everyone is EMPOWERED to make life changing choices:
E = Encouragement
M = Mutual Respect
P = Positive Approach
O = Openness
W = Wellbeing
E = Empathy
R = Realistic and Honest
E = Equality and Inclusion
D = Dignity
When supporting people we will:
• Be a listening ear
• Help you learn about themselves
• Help by establishing trust
• Provide new skills and confidence to resolve matters amicably
• Signpost to other services if appropriate
• Support forming new friendships, interests or hobbies
• Robustly challenge inappropriate behaviour
• Act as your advocate
With any referral, The Community Peer Mentors would rather say ‘Yes’ than ‘No’. Therefore no referral forms are needed. Just email:
Community.PeerMentors@durham.pnn.police.uk or Jim Cunningham at;
When making a referral they will need the name, age and address of the person plus a contact number, and a brief description of what the issues are and how The Community Peer Mentors may be able to help. Currently they will accept a verbal confirmation that a person wishes to engage.
- Person MUST be aged 18 or over
- The person MUST have the ‘Will’, ‘Want’ and/or ‘Capacity’ to change, this includes those in recovery.
- We will conduct our risk assessment and this will be followed up by a call by an area coordinators to discuss exactly what support the person would like. We will then decide if we feel the engagement with the Community Peer Mentors is appropriate.