In 2016, Steve had a stroke which led him to retire early from work. As a former MD of a company he was keen to use his skills and give something back. So he started volunteering with the Stroke Association and he now runs a peer support group in Birmingham for stroke survivors and their carers.
Steve’s aim is to make the group as active and stimulating as possible, running quizzes, inviting in external speakers and going on outings together. The group has moved from passive meetings to sessions that give them more stimulation. ‘You can see over a period of time all the members improving,’ says Steve. ‘You see it in their confidence, their communication skills, their mobility. And those three things then become a virtuous circle.’
Steve runs just one of more than 600 stroke support groups nationally, which support the 152,000 people who experience strokes in the UK every year.
Quality peer support is a powerful intervention for individuals affected by stroke. Peer support groups enable stroke survivors and carers to connect with others in their local community with shared experiences and access knowledge and information to understand how to manage their condition. People find being with others who share their experience, and can validate it, reassuring, supportive, helpful and encouraging. Peer support groups create safe and non-judgemental spaces to make sense of and adjust to life after stroke.
‘It helps being with other people who have been through a similar experience. It’s helped me a lot, speech-wise and communicating.’Stroke survivor
The Stroke Association’s most recent evaluation, conducted by the Nuffield Trust, found that both stroke survivors and carers can benefit from stroke peer support groups, and groups appear to offer an important ‘natural’ environment for recovery, where informally delivered mutual support, enjoyment and laughter all contribute.
With an ageing population, rising obesity and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the burden of stroke is set to double by 2030. Nesta is supporting the Stroke Association through Accelerating Ideas, which is a partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund to grow self-funded community groups, run and supported by people affected by stroke that meet regularly to provide ongoing accessible, safe and relevant social and peer support.
Peer support has been a core element of Nesta’s work in health for a number of years. The Stroke Association’s work is a great example of a more people powered health system – a system where we equip people with the confidence, knowledge and skills to manage their own health conditions on a day-to-day basis, and connect people to one another in social networks that support positive behaviour change.
‘Coming to the group, I’m more outgoing. I don’t feel as embarrassed as I did when I was in the wheelchair. Coming to this group, I’m up and down to the shops now. And before, I never did that. I was just sitting in the home and waited till someone else went down the shops. But now I’ve got the confidence.’Peer support group member
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