St Giles Trust prides itself on enabling the people we help to progress to become trained, qualified professionals who can share their skills and insights to help others. 44 year old Sanatra works on the Peer Circles project. Funded by the Big Lottery Fund and European Social Fund Building Better Opportunities Programme, it offers support to adults with multiple and complex needs. Peer Circles is 18 months into its three year operation and an interim evaluation has highlighted the positive benefits of its peer-led approach.
Sanatra first came into contact with St Giles Trust in November 2017. She had been referred to us by her advisor at JobCentre Plus for help finding work as she transitioned from Income Support to Job Seekers Allowance.
“My advisor was talking about jobs and I explained to her that I had a criminal record and she said ‘we’ll get you onto St Giles Trust’. “ explains Sanatra. Despite the fact that Sanatra’s two convictions are from many years ago, discrimination exists against people with a criminal record who look for work and both her Job Centre Advisor and Sanatra thought this issue might be a barrier.
“I was initially referred onto a project at St Giles Trust called Pathways to Employment. My support worker helped me build up my CV, supported me to do a disclosure letter and asked me if I would like to do the Level 3 Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) course.” She started the course in January 2018 and the vocational element to it introduced her to Peer Circles where she worked as a volunteer. “The IAG course was a good learning curve for me,” she says. I’d previously worked with clients presenting with complex needs. It helped me to focus and get back into studying again, and at the same time gave me qualification much needed within the support worker field.”
Learning on the job is the best way our Peer Advisors gain valuable skills, knowledge and a great insight when supporting clients who present with complex needs. “In a typical day, I’d be given a client and I would do an initial assessment and find out what the client’s support needs were and how best I could support them to achieve their goals or aspirations they had set for themselves. Whilst at the same time I empower, motivate and monitor their journey, offering continuous support.”
But Peer Circles is different. Although the project is working with them towards gaining training, education or employment it doesn’t stop there. It also addresses and offers added support to clients who may be experiencing other issues, for example housing, welfare benefits and drug and alcohol dependency. ”Referrals can be made internally to other projects within St Giles Trust or to external partnership agencies to enable the clients support needs to be fully met. “A good working environment and having a supportive team behind me helped to achieve the goals I had set myself,” said Sanatra. “My work colleagues and course training kept in close contact with me via emails, phone calls and answered and supported me with any questions I had.”
Alongside course fees, her childcare was also paid. She said ”As a single parent, this gave me the motivation and confidence that I could actually study a course without being worried or stressed of how I would find this financially. Sanatra’s role has recently turned into a paid one as she successfully applied for a job as Peer Circles caseworker. I’m really happy because it’s boosted my confidence and will no doubt inspire others to follow in my footsteps. I think it will be beneficial for other people as well. Getting a job these days can be very hard as sometimes there are challenges or barriers and people may find it difficult and lose hope after a while.”
The learning process is something Sanatra relishes and will not stop just because she has a job. “I not only learn from studying, self-reflection and dealing with clients but also from clients themselves. There are things they have taught me and given me more knowledge on – a greater understanding and insight into their lives and what they are going through. So I am always learning more.”
Sanatra has her own personal experiences to draw on as well. Having grown up in care she brings her own life skills from this to her work with often complex, vulnerable or disadvantaged clients on Peer Circles. She has an understanding and insight and can empathise with people who are facing challenges or struggles within their lives. She also values the fact that St Giles Trust is an organisation which prides itself on delivering its service. "The thing I like about St Giles Trust is that they do what they say they are going to do. There are some organisations out there that don’t give 100% support. St Giles Trust does and that’s what people want.”
Finally she says: “The team at Peer Circles are really friendly and supportive as well and I feel proud to be a member of the team. That’s why I like St Giles Trust as a whole because everybody supports everybody.”