PRAXIS: Peer Navigator Programme - how we developed volunteer roles for people with lived experience of the immigration and asylum systems

Praxis took part in our EBE Project Development mini course, we spoke to them about their experience of the course and how the project they designed has worked in practice

Organisation Profile

What were you hoping to achieve with this project? 

The aim of the project was for Praxis to provide more accessible and meaningful voluntary roles for people with lived experience of the immigration and asylum systems.

We wanted to create opportunities for EBEs to use their knowledge and expertise to help guide others, whilst also gaining further skills and experience to be able to prepare for future employment. 

The additional aim was to increase the Welfare Project’s casework capacity and support more service users to navigate complex systems. We also wanted this project to be the starting point for further EBE roles and focus on lived experience within Praxis. 

What were the key steps and milestones? 

  • We planned a 12 week project cycle, with time scheduled for project planning, volunteer recruitment, inductions and training. 
  • We recruited one Peer Navigator in August and after their initial induction and shadowing, they are now taking on casework themselves, and focusing on compiling resources around the cost-of-living crisis.
  • The Peer Navigator has been attending lots of training- e.g coping with the cost of living, working with people with NRPF, among others, and is doing a 12 week course on ‘Learning to advise’ with Island Advice.
  • The project has continued after the 12 week period and expanded to include a ‘Move on Project’. This has required resources and planning, and will be co-facilitated by our current Peer Navigator.
  • We will continue to recruit more Peer Navigators in the new year. 

What impact did it have or is it having?

The Peer Navigator programme has been a driver in expanding further roles and opportunities, and formalising a ‘service user volunteer policy’. This procedure ensures that there is adequate support for service user volunteers while also loosening some of the current barriers to volunteering. 

The Peer Navigator roles will now play a central role in the 'Move on' project. This project aims to increase service user involvement, build capacity, resources, and partnerships. 12 Peer Navigators will take part in workshops facilitated by our current Peer Navigator and the welfare team, to compile resources which map out the different stages of the immigration/asylum systems; exploring what steps need to be taken, and the services to access, once leave has been granted. These resources will then serve as guides to train the Peer Navigators to become Peer Mentors, working directly with clients navigating these systems. 

We are working on establishing a volunteer exchange with other organisations. This idea was proposed after some of our group members raised concerns about confidentiality and the proximity and need for boundaries between group members becoming Peer Mentors.

What were the main challenges with this project?

When consulting on this role, concerns were raised by group members around privacy and data sharing if fellow members volunteered with the Advice or Welfare team. Our current Peer Navigator is an NRPF Action group member. We have overcome this issue by using a Record Template instead of the database. Peer navigators also only support clients who are from a separate group. This limits the casework capacity, but we want to ensure everyone is comfortable and that this role does not create new barriers to people accessing support.

There are some challenges in terms of the work being difficult and potentially triggering. We have open discussions around this, and have regular check-ins. We also have formal supervision every 6 weeks, where we discuss the impact and how we can adjust the role to make things more manageable. We also have a working document to note down any issues or things to consider or change.

What practical tips would you give to others setting up a similar project?

  • Having a budget to pay for the Peer Navigator’s travel and food expenses for the day helps to remove some of the existing barriers to volunteering. 
  • Regular check-ins and formal supervision are important to ensure that the role is supportive and that the volunteer is gaining useful experience and benefiting from the role.
  • Having a working document to record challenges and learning is very useful, and also helps to share learning 

How does this project change the way your organisation involves people with lived experience?

Praxis already involves people with lived experience across our services, in different capacities. This project has expanded our volunteer roles, and cemented our policy and procedure on volunteer roles for service users, and those with lived experience. 

This project has provided us with vital experience and learning, and means that we can continue to grow service user involvement and increase roles (both voluntary and paid) for people with lived experience across our services, and continue to learn and share our experiences.