What happens outside of group sessions? In many cases, members will at some point feel the need to keep in touch with their peer group and there are some relatively easy and effective ways that a peer support network can stay connected with its members outside of group sessions.

There are a range of considerations when planning and delivering opportunities for your peer group members to stay connected outside of the peer group sessions:

1. Key ways of keeping in touch and staying connected

  • Put together a regular newsletter, providing members with information about other peer group members, upcoming sessions, and perhaps even items of interest from other organisations. Consider if one (or several) of your peer group members may be interested in being editor/writer, and how this may be possible utilising free or low cost email packages available online (eg. Constant Contact offers special not for profit rates, and MailChimp has free options available).
  • Hold an event, providing your peer group members with an additional opportunity to meet each other and share a social experience. For organisations running multiple peer support networks, these events could be open to all members, enabling further social opportunities to all members.
  • Send reminders, a good way to maintain connection is to contact peer network members to remind them of upcoming sessions. For some people living with disability, particularly neurological disorders or brain injury, managing their own schedule and remembering about sessions can be something that needs to be supported. Low cost ways of keeping in touch include reminder emails or even a quick phone call. These not only ensure you have good group attendances, but also give members a sense of being remembered and valued outside of the group experience.
  • Other opportunities. There may already be opportunities for members to engage with each other in the mainstream community that you can suggest to your group members. For example, perhaps there is a community morning tea or low cost lunch available at a local Community Centre on a regular basis. You can suggest to peer group members that a number of them may want to attend this and see each other outside of the group.
  • Build informal social networks within the group. For example, where members give permission, produce a member contact list and distribute this to all members. Include any notes about when and how (preferred method) members want to be contacted including hours appropriate for them.

2. Resources to stay connected with members of your peer support network

There could be existing activities that your organisation undertakes that can be adapted to include your peer group members. For example, do you have a Facebook page in which members could play a role? Do you already prepare a newsletter that can include a peer group section? Do you already run an event for another purpose that could be opened up for peer group members? What about other community groups – will they assist you in delivering an event (e.g. a local Lions club may be willing to deliver a BBQ for your group(s))? It is important to only take on ways of staying connected that are sustainable, but often some creative thinking can bring about great opportunities to do so.

3. Determine your peer group members needs or wants to stay connected.

It is important to always ask your peer group members about what would work for them and, if staying connected outside of the group is something they are keen to do. To do this:

  • Ask questions about staying connected using a format appropriate to your peer group members (i.e. using a surveymonkey online questionnaire or the doodle.com booking app isn’t going to work for an target group that do not use computers regularly).
  • Give members the chance to get involved in planning and/or delivering any ‘staying connected’ attempts. These opportunities could be as a volunteer which can also open up other life options for the peer group members.
  • Give feedback – if you do ask for members’ opinions and idea, ensure you give them a summary about what the overall feedback has been so that they know you have taken their comments and the overall evaluation seriously and value their input.
  • Dream about options even if you do not have the resources to put in place the mechanisms to enable their success. However, be cautious about talking to your peer group members about ideas you have that you are not able to provide as you do not want to build expectations that cannot be fulfilled.

4. Bringing in new funds for staying connected events and activities

The four core sources of funding for any community group are shown below, and each may enable you to bring in additional help in delivering and running the methods of staying connected that are appropriate for your peer group members:

  1. Grants: many local and some federal government and other grants are regularly available for application, though you may need an auspicing or host agency;
  2. Sponsorship, In-Kind and Other: are there local businesses or organisations to assist?;
  3. Donations: your members, contacts and even strangers may support your idea; and,
  4. Fundraising: can you and your members raise the funds from the huge number of opportunities available, from go-fund-me pages to selling Entertainment Books!

Useful information and resources

The Community Tool Box, from Kansas in the US, has significant information on peer groups and additional community group opportunities, such as: http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/structure/training-and-technical-assistance/workshops/main

The Centre of Excellence in Peer Support – Mental Health has great resources about Peer Support and offers good advice about keeping momentum and sustainability relevant on page 8, see: http://www.peersupportvic.org/index.php/2014-12-15-22-42-49/2014-12-16-02-22-27/Resources/CEPS-Setting-up-a-Peer-Support-Group/

The MailChimp free entrepreneur easy to use templates and other information on these newsletters are available at: https://mailchimp.com/pricing/entrepreneur/.

The Constant Contact online newsletter options, including low cost not for profit options and links with Facebook and other apps, can be viewed at: https://www.constantcontact.com/pricing.

co-authored by Jennifer Farnden


The information on this page is also available as a downloadable Quick Guide, by clicking below. There are PDF and word versions.