Peers in Action

PA logoBack in April 2010, Richard Generway, along with Paul Harrington and Steve. A discussed the lack of a HIV+ social support group, specifically for men in the 45 year old and above age group. Although there were the very successful groups run by THT South and other independent run groups like, Lunch Positive and Outdoor Positive whose aim has been to to break down the isolation and bringing together all those affected by HIV, the team behind Peer Action were keen to find out if there was enough enthusiasm for a social peer led group that could compliment what was already being offered. By talking to existing service users of these groups, the message that came back loud and clear was yes, there was very much a need.

 I have used the other HIV groups, but was interested in what Peer Action had to offer, particularly through their social outings. Since then I have become very much involved, I now help run their website and have organised some of the theatre outings. Along the way my partner and I have made new friends and got a lot of support from everyone who use Peer Action.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Jimmy. Peer Action 

Another factor that became clear in the early stages of discussing the group’s needs was how those living with an HIV+  diagnoses, particularly older gay men, felt there was still an unwelcome stigma attached to their positive diagnoses which added to many feeling excluded or reluctance to participate in the gay scene. This had led to many of those living with HIV to slip into  routines that gradually isolated them from their peers to a degree that they weren’t sure how to reach out and to whom for help and support.Further feedback found that many of those living with HIV in the older age bracket had moved away from the gay scene or found the idea of going to a pub or an event on their own a little depressing, but were keen to help establish a social group that would be supportive of their HIV+ status, but wasn’t the main focus.

“I work full time and sometimes I am exhausted either because of the effect livening with HIV has on me or because of the day I have at work. To have somewhere like Peer Action where you don’t have to explain the how’s or why’s takes away a lot of stress while allowing you to just be yourself within a social environment.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Paul. Peer Action

 Since its original concept, Peer Action’s social groups and services are open to all those living with an HIV+ diagnoses and particularly welcome their partners and friends, while acknowledging the need for closed talking support groups for specific age groups and genders .

Over the last nineteen months, Peer Action has been actively listening to what people would like from the group and equally encouraging those who come to the varies activities to get involved. This in turn has encouraged more people to come forward and to utilise their skills culminating in a number of diverse projects, including: trips to Leeds Castle, in Kent, Sissinghurst Gardens, Bingo nights at the Gala, a private viewing of the Biba exhibition at the Brighton Museum, hosted by a peer member, while two Peers’ screen alternate monthly film evenings in their homes.

Following on from some very popular trips to the theatre in 2012, a number of peers are also organising a variety of trips to the theatre, including The Rocky Horror Show on the 5th January at the Theatre Royal, comedy night, Bent Double on the 3rd February at the Komedia and a not to be missed trip to The Brighton Dome for this year’s alternative Panto, Peter Pansy; with further activities to be announced throughout the year

Peer Action has gone from strength to strength, listening to what people want and encouraged those who use its services to get involved, is very empowering, and I’d say it is this that is what lies at the heart of Peer Action’s success.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Dan. Peer Action

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 Through the activities offered at Peer Action, their aim is help all those affected by HIV; be it, physically, mentally and emotionally. One of the ways they do this is via the weekly yoga sessions at St. Mary’s Church Hall at the top of St. James Street. The sessions are run by Yoga practitioner, Dan, for people of all abilities and at just £3.00 per session, making it affordable for everyone to get involved in improving their health and well being. The project has become one of the staples of Peer Actions repertoire and a signifier of what Peer Action had hoped to establish in the beginning: a group that brought people affected by HIV together, break down barriers, while empowering them to break away from negative routines.

As one regular to the yoga workshop put it: Through going to Peer Action yoga sessions, I feel fitter, I feel better, I feel far less isolated and a whole lot more connected to my community.”

With the success of the Yoga classes, Peer Action sort to expand on these services with the support from local holistic practitioner’s Pathways, offering monthly  free ear acupuncture as a drop in service on a Saturday at THT’s building in Ship Street, alongside Brighton based complementary therapies charity,   Active Lightworks who supply much of the holistic therapy equipment, as well as most of the qualified practitioners offering a  wide range of holistic therapies at a reduced cost of £5.00 for a half hour treatment. These include: deep tissue massage, reflexology, shiatsu, no hands massage, (plus more to be confirmed which will be advertised on the website (see below for more details)

Holistic therapies have long been associated in helping those living with HIV and reduce stress, stimulate appetite and restore a feeling of well being. These factors are key in helping many people living with HIV to create a balance in their lives and to get on with living which is at the core of what Peer Action are continuing to strive to bring to those who use their services.  

 Over the last year and a half, Peer Action secured valuable funding from the National Lottery, and continue to hold varies fundraising nights at the Bedford Tavern, allowing them to expand on existing group activities within Peer Action, giving those who use the services an opportunity to come on board and start up a new project for the benefit of everyone who want to get involved.  

 Since starting Peer Action we have found people with a great number of skills, but for any number of reasons have stopped using them. Together as a   collective we can support and empower each other. For example one of our peers has retrained as a massage therapists and is now involved with our therapy days, while another Peer has put his past training as a graphic designer and helps with our promotional posters.         

Richard Generway. Peer Action

Although HIV has been around for the last thirty years, there is still much to be done to break down the stigma that many people living with the virus face. It is for this reason that many of Peer Action groups, including the monthly therapy sessions, weekly yoga sessions and social trips out are for everybody affected by HIV. It is hoped that in doing so Peer Action will do its part in changing people perception of what a person living with HIV in the Twenty-First Century is about; as one peer member put it:

 “Living with HIV is no longer about surviving, but thriving; sharing ideas, skills and breaking down the stigma that many people living with HIV have to face through other people lack of knowledge about the virus.”

For more information about Peer Action, how to get involved or access any of its groups please visit their web-page, peeraction.co.uk 

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