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Peer Mentoring Art Groups

Spotlight on a co-production story. Peer Mentoring Wales (PMW) aims to support current and ex drug and alcohol users to achieve economic independence.

Most of DrugAid’s peer mentors, both paid and voluntary, are ex drug and alcohol users. The experience and understanding they bring is invaluable – no-one knows better than they do just how hard it can be to overcome substance misuse, and how easy it can be to slip back in to dependence.

One of our big successes has been the creation of an Art Group within the Peer Mentoring scheme. Looking for ways to keep mentee ‘Joe’ busy and engaged in something other than drinking, our peer mentor discovered that art had once been an abiding passion and suggested that Joe could set up an Art Group with the support of the Peer Mentoring Team.

The idea energised Joe. His enthusiasm, inclusiveness and hitherto untapped know-how meant that the group grew rapidly, attracting participants with a whole range of skills and experience. Some revealed hidden talents; most had never picked up a paintbrush in their life!

The outcomes from this simple starting point have been extraordinary. We’ve held exhibitions and auctions across South Wales to great critical acclaim and run joint ventures with local community groups. We’ve produced Christmas cards with revenue used to support the Peer Mentor scheme. Community events have been centred around the work of the Art Groups and on Europe Day 2012 when Peer Mentoring Wales celebrated their participants’ and their own spectacular successes, the Art Groups facilitated a hugely popular ‘live’ painting. Friends and families of our participants, curious shoppers coming in off the streets of Pontypridd, as well as invited dignitaries all contributed to this piece of uniquely collaborative artwork! The original now hangs in our Ebbw Vale office.

Fundamental to all of this is the realisation that our mentees are not just people with problems, but assets, people with abilities and skills who can make a contribution – a core principle of co-production. Participants are now valued as central to the delivery of a whole range of informal services which support the official objectives of Peer Mentoring, recognised for the mutual support that they give each other.

Perhaps most significantly, participation in the Art Group builds confidence and assists personal growth – not least in the case of Joe who became a full time volunteer and subsequently a paid Peer Mentor in Ebbw Vale where he promptly replicated the popularity and success of the Art Group. Merthyr and Pontypridd have picked up the baton and all three groups continue to prosper.

All this from a simple notion of recognising the possibilities of the receiver as a giver!

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