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A Magazine for Sheffield

The People Focused Group: "Keep your hands off peer support!"

Glyn Butcher shares his stories of deep community connection, shifting power dynamics and empowered citizenship through his work with PFG Doncaster, which exists to connect people through their experiences.

PFG Peer Members Conf

People Focused Group Peer Members Conference, with Glyn Butcher (front left, standing).

This piece was first published on the Neighbourhood Democracy Network website.

The People Focused Group (PFG) are pioneers who are embracing a new way to deliver peer support in communities. Awarded with the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in 2022, from their base in Doncaster PFG have demonstrated the incredible changes that can happen when shifting the power relationships between citizens and institutions.

PFG recognise that the best people to help others are those who need help themselves – this is the essence of peer support.

We spoke to Glyn Butcher, who shared his experiences of 35 years within mental health and drug services and as a carer for four people, what PFG means to him and the impact of peer support and reverse mentoring.

What is it that you are doing that excites you most within PFG?

I'm living now, I'm not existing. I'm a fully functioning adult in the community, where I can give and receive support, but I've got choices that I can make. Good choices or bad choices – they are my choices. I'm able to say yes, I’m able to say no. I'm able to give and receive support for my time when I choose, not when I'm told to. There's no expectations on me to perform.

I'm actually in People Focused Group not because I have to be – I am in it because I believe in it. I’ve had 10,000 hours of therapy. I’ve been through systems – mental health systems, police systems, court systems. I've been in and out of care. I've been in and out of institutions. I've been on every drug known to man. I can name all the tablets that I have been on through mental health services – not one of them have helped. I still have delusional thoughts, I still hear voices. But the difference with PFG is that I'm accepted now for who I am and I’m powerful within my own life. I've got a purpose. I do all the things I love, with the people that I love and the places that I love.

I'm a citizen. I'm a person, and growing from strength to strength. What excites me is that I'm not alone anymore. I always lived on the edge of society, where my fingers are just holding on for dear life. Now I live with the sense of community with people every day like me, and I love my life now. I love being with people like yourself, doing these interviews and talks showing the power of peer support. Day in, day out – miracles happen every day.

I think what you're saying really takes us nicely into what I want to ask you next. What are you most hopeful about in community life?

Right now, there's a real energy that I never felt in 35 years of being in services, an energy that I've never felt in 12 years being in peer support, an energy that I never felt in 12 years of being in community life.

People are rising up all over the country, in our communities, feeling empowered and embodied for change. People are now starting to believe that peer support is the way. Health and social care institutions are coming to communities and saying: ‘I'm not going to do stuff to you anymore. I want to work with you. I want to be an equal partner within our relationship. I won’t tell you how to live your life. I want to lean into communities.’

Before, we had to force them to get them out the front door to come out to meet us. Now they’re running to us. They’re curious and beginning to believe. The movement is here now. We're not going anywhere!

Glyn speaking at Its Our Community 2023

Glyn speak at the It's Our Community conference in Sheffield in 2023.

That's really powerful. How is that making you feel Glyn?

Excited, happy, alive, and bold and positive. It’s making me feel like electricity. It’s making me feel healthy, wealthy – mentally, physically. I don't want to be a ‘problem’ within services. I don't want to be in institutions.

For 30 years I wanted to die every single day. Now every day I wake up thanking God that I am alive. I don't feel stuck anymore. I feel growth.

I've got a different relationship to myself, to community, to people, to services in a way that I've never known before. It's like being born again.

That's really beautiful. In terms of doing the things that you dream about, what are the possibilities that you're seeing?

The possibilities are endless right now. Communities are delivering services. People in communities are getting jobs in services, people are seen as equals. One thing we need to make sure within services [is] that peer support stays and belongs within communities, that institutions do not take over peer support. No institution should employ a peer supporter worker. They should remain within the communities. We don’t want to be ‘professionals’ and we don't want you to be ‘peer supporters’. That is the community's role.

That's what I'm passionate about. That's what I believe in. It's about: how do we fit in this ecosystem together? Just because there is money chucked at it, doesn’t mean that you can go and try and take over something that you shouldn't be taking over. It doesn't belong to you. Peer support belongs to communities. Keep your hands off peer support!

These are the things that make me passionate. These are the things that I believe in. These are the things that I know. Because I've been in institutions and they don't work.

Being in communities, being part of the Neighbourhood Democracy Movement, Citizen Network, PFG and lots of other groups means that I have a choice. I've choices now. In institutions I never had a choice. But being part of my community gives me a choice. Being a citizen gives me a choice. Being a citizen gives me hope.

I put in yesterday to be able to do a TED Talk in Doncaster, a global TED Talk. I talk all around the world with Citizen Network. I speak at the King’s Fund. I speak at Oxford University. I speak at universities. I sit on interview panels, from a community perspective, for Councils, the ICB [Integrated Care Board], mental health providers. I’m reverse mentoring with very powerful people, but now we share that power together.

I’m really interested in everything you said. What you're very much talking about is choice, and about the agency that peer support groups have, and about not taking this away. ‘This is what we do well and we can see it working.’ You mentioned reverse peer support. Tell me about that. What the possibilities are of reverse peer support?

Peer support with powerful people in our institutions. Basically, I'm reverse mentoring them around disability, compassionate care, relationship building with communities. What it means to be a person with a disability, what it means to be in services, what it means to be in community, about the power dynamics that professionals have, known and unknown. When I work with people with disabilities, it's about the shared power. It's about shared knowledge. It's about shared answers.

How do we sit and fit and work together in the same ecosystem? You're trying to help me, and I'm trying to help me, but you've got to understand anybody that has ever tried to help me in my life has only hindered me.

So it's about not taking over the things that I need to do, so I don't get entrenched within mental health services. It's about enabling people within services to ensure a better way, a different way of getting recovery, and also about the myth that everything that people do is medicalised. Stop medicalising everything! If somebody dies, I'm going to grieve. I don't need a tablet for it. What I need is some time to get over grief.

Toby Lewis CEO OF Rdash FT

Glyn with Toby Lewis, CEO of Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, who he has reverse mentored.

I can't tie my shoelaces, but that doesn't mean that I'm not more than a mental illness. I'm a son. I'm a father. I'm an uncle. I’m a granddad. I'm a poet. I'm a public speaker – and many more.

Working with people with authority is about reverse mentoring – showing that there's a life after mental health services. We don't need eight people in the group to make it a function. It's about person-centered care. I talk a lot around co-production. Well, if you started something and you bring me in at the middle or end and tell me what you've done, that's not co-production.

So my job within reverse mentoring is being the agitator, and asking why, and holding people to account.

I really like what you talked about in terms of the medicalisation of conditions and about wanting to be seen as a person and not a condition. Tell me, what do you think is the courage needed to travel in that direction of sharing power? That might be courage on both sides – the courage of people doing the reverse peer support, and the courage and the people who are receiving.

The courage to be vulnerable, the courage to be curious about one another, and the courage to lean into community.

I see it as a garden – setting the scene, nurturing, watering, feeding the environment, the land that we laid, being in conversation with each other, sharing that trusted bond, seeing where we can focus on what's strong and not what's wrong. Yes, we have differences between us. I have to change too so my part might need to change within that.

So, again with reverse mentoring is understanding my position in that, and me looking at it from a different lens, and the courage that we need to be able to sit in that place and sometimes, sit with that irritableness and that awkwardness. Instead of running away from it, run to it. Be able to challenge each other without fear of ridicule, of mockery. It’s about being able to say, ‘I don't understand that.’

With that in mind, what's the best thing that could happen?

People, communities rise up, coming together in one voice, one powerful voice and say: Not in my name, no more. Togetherness is the key.

All organisations – different values, different principles – having one voice, saying, we can do this. This is in our power. Look how powerful we are – and look at the power within our communities and our connections. Give people the opportunities and platforms to speak out, like we are doing today, enable them to understand and educate them on what their rights are and what their responsibilities are, and about how they can take control back within their own lives.

We have power. Stop giving your power away to institutions who think they've got power. Teach people that it's okay to say no and challenge.

I believe it's our time now. That's why we're doing this and there is certainly a shift towards community life. And what I think we need to do is capture this momentum, and have more of this – like this interview we're doing tonight – or more events, but on a bigger scale.

What would you like, want or need from the community to make your next steps as wonderfully successful as they possibly could be?

Believe in yourself. Believe in us, believe in each other. Believe. Come and be curious. Come to us and find out what we're doing.

It might not be your time now. It might be your time a little later, but come and see. Feel the power of community. Feel the power of citizenship. Feel the power in your life and in your family's life. We welcome you.

Find your own identity. I'm not asking everybody to do what I do. We're not all meant to be public speakers, we're not all meant to do what we're doing tonight, but that doesn't mean we are not equally of value. Find your own north star.

What came up for me there was about finding yourself, and the belief in that. Just tell me a little bit more. Why is that important to you?

Because it's about coming home. We come home to our houses, or to our flats, or to our caravans, or wherever we come home to, but do we really come home to ourselves?

I never came home to myself when I was in institutions, in hospitals and police cells. But when I come home to community, I come home to myself now. I come home to a purpose. I come home to peace, I come home to happiness, I come home to fulfilment. I come home to enrichment. I feel so rich being in community life.

Why? Because of the relationships. I have people around me to comfort me in that, nurture me and hold my hand. I'm not alone anymore. And I think that's why I want all communities to rise up – to not feel alone. That's where the power lies.

PFG Christmas Party prep 2024 01 08 182554 rgje

Preparing for the PFG Christmas party.

I’m coming to the end of the questions now, but the one I want to ask next is: what, if any, meaning was made for you through the course of our conversation?

That I’m right. That we're right. That we're on the right path. That we need more of this.

I feel so excited, alive again. So I know that I'm in the right place, I know I’m with my tribe. A community is not necessarily a community where you live. A community is where you run to, where you can't wait to spend time, a community makes you feel alive. And that's what the Citizen Network, the [Neighbourhood] Democracy Movement, Opus, and PFG does.

I could spend all eternity in this, because it's where I feel safe. How can anybody not want this?

I love that. So the final question is, who do you know who is working on something that you admire whose story deserves to be shared?

I would say our community wardens, who go out Mondays and Thursdays – old fashioned wardens who go to people's houses who can't get out for physical or mental disorders or dementia. They go out and get the person’s prescriptions or check if they need their COVID or flu jabs. They go and take them shopping. They do whatever is necessary to enable that person to live a healthy and fulfilling life with the support of the community, not in institutions.

Our tagline with the People Focused Group was, ‘Get a life, not a service,’ and now these people are getting a life through the community that they're living in. Now they feel part of that community, which only helps their mental health and wellbeing to grow and flourish every day. That’s the power of citizenship.

Thank you ever so much for this conversation. That was beautiful.

Learn more

PFG meet up in the real world at the Wellness Centre in Intake, Doncaster. Join them and find out how you can get help – and help others.

The Wellness Centre is locaed at 45 Montrose Avenue, Intake, Doncaster, DN2 6PL.

by Sam Moon (he / him)

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