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Posted on Thursday 2 June 2022
Peer Mentors
A community mentoring service that has helped more than 1,000 vulnerable people in four years has scooped the highest award for volunteering in the UK.

The Community Peer Mentor scheme, funded by County Durham and Darlington Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner JoyAllen, has been awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service for its supportto vulnerable or isolated people including victims or perpetrators of crimes.

The award is the equivalent to an MBE and aims to recognise the outstanding work by local volunteer groups who benefit their communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate The Queen’sJubilee and recipients are announced each year on June 2.

The scheme has six members of staff and in excess of 100 volunteers – more than 70 per cent of whom have lived experience of issues faced by their clients including domestic or sexual abuse, homelessness, leaving prison, offending and recovery from substance misuse, gambling or mental health problems.

Its only stipulation is that service users have the will, want and capacity to change and are prepared to set goals –however small.

The project’s support work has led to an 81 per cent reduction in contact with frontline services, reduced offending and hospital admissions and assisted reintegration back into society by helping clientsto gain employment, education, new skills and new coping techniques.

Many have identified that without this support they would have taken their own lives.

Congratulating the team, Commissioner Allen said: “I am extremely proud of the staff and volunteers who provide the Community Peer Mentor project for this prestigious award.

“This honour is a reflection of the fantastic work they do in our communities to support people out of crisis or challenging situations so they can lead happy and fulfilled lives.  This intervention has led to a dramatic reduction in contact with frontline services, freeing up critical capacity for our emergency services workers.

“I would like to thank all those volunteers who continue to keep the scheme running for the people of County Durham and Darlington. The mentors offer unique support to each client, with the aim of leaving individuals feeling safer and inspiring confidence. The difference they bring to our communities is simply immeasurable and I wish them further success in the future.”

The Community Peer Mentor scheme was launched by the previous Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, the late Ron Hogg CBE, in 2015,

The project is one of 244 local charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award this year.

Representatives will receive the award crystal and certificate from Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon, later this summer while two volunteers will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May next year.

Mrs Sue Snowdon, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, said: “Community Peer Mentors provide hugely important support to people across the community of County Durham and Darlington who have become reliant on the emergency services. The assistance they provide for each individual is bespoke and, most unusually, not time limited. I am absolutely delighted to congratulate them on this richly-deserved award.”

Jim Cunningham, Community Peer Mentor Manager, added: “We are extremely excited and humbled by this award which is a reflection of the fantastic work our volunteers do. They are the backbone of our Community Peer Mentor scheme and have been for the past eight years which is the reason for our continued success.

“These fantastic volunteers provide a voice in the formulation of support for the clients acting as advocates; their knowledge helps to educate, challenge, and change professionals preconceived thoughts and approaches. These dedicated volunteers provide a light to those in despair, comfort, hope and inspiration to those in a dark place. They ensure support is unique and bespoke to each client and that their voice will be heard and considered as one size does not fit all, because they have been there.”

More than 20 volunteers with the service have previously been clients and can offer a unique insight into the difficulties service users are experiencing.

In the past four years, the volunteers have provided more than 147,000 days of support – much of which was critical during the pandemic which saw referrals by 260 per cent.

The initiative has previously received national recognition from the College of Policing which identified the approach as best practice for demand reduction and bespoke support for vulnerable and isolated people. It featured a video on YouTube about its services and one ofthe individuals it had helped which can be accessed at: https://youtu.be/-KMqSnp6uZ8.

The scheme is currently advertising for a new area coordinator to backfill a post to create additional capacity for referrals from partners in support of an NHS pilot to support those facing issues with alcohol and substance misuse. This has secured the service an 18-month contract worth £85,000. 

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