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A Day in the Life of a Peer Worker

During 2023 we will continue our series featuring articles that focus on a ‘day in the life’ of people working in a variety of services and organisations across Ayrshire, whose dedication and efforts are key to reducing reoffending and improving outcomes for people in contact with the justice system and the wider community who are impacted by justice issues.

We would like to thank Barry for sharing his story with us.

The Role

Barry is a Peer Worker, with the Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP) and Justice Social Work services who work in partnership to promote better outcomes for individuals involved with justice services.

Barry has not always been a professional.   He got to where he is today after getting into recovery 7 years ago, after 25 years of active addiction and all the behaviours that are associated with that.

A big part of where Barry is today is down to the ADP and RecoveryAyr – their peer Volunteer Peer Worker Project and recovery community.   Barry progressed through the peer programme and completed his SVQ3 in Health and Social Care while volunteering within the ADP, learning his trade.

After this Barry secured employment as a Sessional Recovery Worker with RecoveryAyr and also started undertaking some sessional work with the Housing First and Housing Options Teams, working in the hostels in South Ayrshire. Barry then moved on to full time employment with, then, Addaction.    Barry wanted to keep developing his skills and challenging himself as a professional support worker, so after two years, his time with Addaction came to an end and he secured his current role as a Peer Worker.

Barry’s role is to engage with people coming through the justice system, including those who are affected by alcohol and/or drug issues, this can involve working with people in the community on a statutory order or working with someone in prison who is due to be liberated and offering continued support in the community on release.  Building therapeutic relationships is key to Barry’s role.

Once relationships have been built, Barry will begin to introduce people into the recovery community where they can connect with their peers and build on their recovery journey within groups, which he and colleagues from the ADP and RecoveryAyr facilitate.   There is a wide range of peer led recovery meetings and activities taking place, one of which is PING (Peer Involvement Networking Group), which is a group specifically for people who are currently or have been involved in the justice system and Barry co-facilitates this with colleagues.

Barry also facilitates the Medication, Recovery and Me group with ADP colleagues.  This group is designed to help people navigate a reduction or increase in their medical assisted treatment to enable them to get to a place of stability.  The group create a safe space to listen to stories of HOPE, where people share their journey into recovery and explore how they can sustain this.  Barry states that some of the Justice Social Workers in South Ayrshire have attended the groups to help to break down barriers within the community – highlighting he has a lot of respect for the Justice Team, who try to find new ways of working and eradicating any barriers.

“I love sitting, listening to people, learning where they have come from and working collaboratively to find solutions to their problems.”

A Typical Day

What’s that? One of the favourite things about my job is that there isn’t such a thing as a typical day, not in the sense where it is repetitious, and the same thing happens each day.  Usually, my day would start with a massive cup of STRONG coffee (can’t function without it) to prepare me for the day ahead.   I make sure I do not leave the house without my earphones. I love my music and it gets me ready for my upcoming day.

I then make my way to McAdam House in Ayr or the ADP office to prepare for my one-to-one key work sessions with people who have been referred to me by Justice Social Workers. As an ADP employee I would work closely with my colleges from the ADP and RecoveryAyr due to the strong connections within my team and seek advice and guidance for better outcomes for the people we support.  I would also always try and have some discussion with the referrer to identify any problems or issues and look at how we can both achieve positive outcomes for the individual. A massive part of my role is to network with the Social Workers in the team and build good working relationships, as we all try to find different ways of working for and with the individuals coming through the service.

The best part of my day is when I have back-to-back appointments all day and everyone shows up.  I love sitting, listening to people, learning where they have come from and working collaboratively to find solutions to their problems. I am the kind of guy that thrives on the pressure and like to be constantly busy, it’s when I have nothing to do I struggle.

Other days I can be here, there, and everywhere. It ranges from visiting different prison establishments to meet people who are due to be released or attending reviews in residential rehabilitation centres across the country, to make sure people leaving these institutes have proper plans in place for their release.  I can at times support people along to Court appointments to ease their anxieties with this process.  A big part of my role is partnership working and to build good relationships within Justice and the Health and Social Care sector.

Challenges affecting my work

I do like a good challenge. I might be a bit sick that way!

To be completely honest, what I thought would be my biggest challenge was going to be trying to navigate the Social Workers in the team (probably my own prejudices, coming from where I have come from) but I have found that here in South Ayrshire the team are a brilliant bunch of people who go that extra mile to make sure the people they support are having all their needs met.  They are very welcoming and open to what I can offer their service.

There are some challenges around partnership working, trying to get people’s needs met can be difficult sometimes, especially in the field of addiction, mental health, homelessness, and other complex needs. This is changing slowly but surely here in South Ayrshire, something I am grateful for.

Other challenges can be the individuals coming through the service themselves. Trying to navigate people with complex needs is testing to say the least and trying to get people to trust you can be difficult, due to their past experiences. But as I said, I do like a good challenge, and it can be very rewarding at the same time.

One thing I always try to remember

I think about the small part I have played in people’s lives to support them into recovery. This stops me from getting frustrated. Picturing their face and seeing how well they are doing keeps me driven and it reminds me that it is at their pace not mine.  I am here to support them where they are at and NOT where I want them to be. I am here to see them through not see through them.

“We had to find different ways of reaching people during the pandemic and took our groups online so that we could ensure we were still able to connect with people.”

The impact Covid had on my work

This had a massive impact on what I do, and I personally hate the word COVID.

A pandemic puts people in isolation, and the opposite of Addiction is connection. People do NOT recover in isolation, this is why we have groups, courses, and face to face sessions.

We had to find different ways of reaching people during the pandemic and took our groups online so that we could ensure we were still able to connect with people.

What I love about what I do

I do love my job, even if I moan about it sometimes!

I am very passionate about what I do and love the challenges that come along with this job. It is also very rewarding, especially when people grasp their recovery journey. To watch someone come from a life of chaos and trauma, completely turn their life around and become a productive member of society is where it is at for me.

I just love seeing people do well and being a small part of someone’s journey fills me with a whole range of different emotions. I like to get in there with them and it feels as if I am going through the journey with them – I suppose in some sense I am.

If there was an extra hour in the day

I would have more than one!

Addiction and mental health are not a 9.00am – 5.00pm gig.   People need support around the clock. I would love to see more resources to ensure people’s needs were met out with core times.  I would love to be able to do more for people but I am always being reminded by colleagues to take care of myself, or as they would say “get your Superman pants off Barry”!

“We need new systems in place with service providers working in new ways to eliminate this label.”

If I could change anything

Where do I start here!    I would change a lot.

Due to the number of drug deaths in Scotland it is clear that the systems we have in place, along with policies and procedures are not working the way they should. I would love to see massive changes across the board – this is a systematic problem.

For me there are simple solutions, and it all starts with better partnership working and working in a multi-disciplinary way to make sure people’s needs are being met.

I would love to see addicts NOT being punished and imprisoned for having mental health and addiction issues.

I would love to see the stigma around drugs and alcohol eradicated. I don’t like that our beautiful wee country has been labelled the ‘drug death capital’ of Europe and the world per population. We need new systems in place with service providers working in new ways to eliminate this label.

Where do I see myself in 5 years??

I honestly try not to think that far ahead. I’m a one day at a time kind of guy!

I do want to progress though, for me that’s what it’s about. Coming from where I have come from, I feel as if I owe it to myself, my family and everyone who has supported me to continue working hard on myself and to develop and learn new skills as a worker.

I would not change anything and would choose this path again if I could.

I am eternally grateful for where I am at in my professional career and sometimes must pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

What would I say to someone considering this career path

As a Peer Worker we promote this with the people we support massively.

We see people coming through the recovery community on their recovery journey and once the foundations for this are laid, we encourage progression and the upskilling of individuals by attending the courses the ADP / RecoveryAyr team offer, like Steps for Excellence, Stepping Stone and then the Volunteer Peer Worker Project. People are given the chance to complete an SVQ in Health and Social Care and hopefully move into employment, giving them the best chance possible in changing their lives.

The thing I would say to anyone considering this career path is to always make sure that they look after themselves. Being a worker in this field can be difficult, but always remember if you are navigating a recovery journey and mental health problems it can be twice as tricky.

Peer Worker