It was a happy day the day we heard that we’d been awarded a Department of Health Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development grant focusing on perinatal mental health peer support, in partnership with the Institute of Health Visiting. The grant application had been a labour of love for myself and colleagues, hugely motivated by everything we’d heard from new parents with lived experience of perinatal mental illness and the compelling arguments for improved support.

After a year of no news, I gave up hope – with a gritty resilience built into me during my years competing for funding in an academic research post. But in March, we discovered we’d been successful and we’ve been busy ever since with the early development phase of the project.

The project aims to develop a safe, effective and sustainable model of perinatal mental health peer support. Let’s split those words out: safe… effective… and sustainable. The holy grail! This is an exciting service development project, with user involvement, local engagement and embedding, effective volunteer recruitment and management, evaluation and shared learning, and a focus on cost-effectiveness all holding the key to its success and sustainability.

NCT is not new to peer support by any means. We train breastfeeding peer supporters across the UK, often commissioned within health or community services. And our birth and beyond community peer supporters provide much needed support to new parents within vulnerable communities – as recently featured as a NICE shared learning example. There is therefore much we can learn and transfer from our current services, combined with the evidence, expertise and experiences within the wider perinatal mental health and peer support community.

The recent evidence review exploring how volunteer peer support projects can support early childhood outcomes, and the supporting framework and tools, is a very timely publication. Thanks to Parents 1st for this enormously informative piece of work, commissioned by Big Lottery. We’re delighted that the lead researcher, Jenny McLeish, is joining the Parents In Mind project advisory group.

So why is next week so exciting? 

On the 4th and 5th of July, iHV’s Melita Walker and Rachel Stephens are delivering the first stage of the project: a two day training event for NCT peer support trainers and practitioners, as well as key project staff. We have worked with iHV to adapt their perinatal mental health champion training and resources for this new audience, and it looks brilliant!

The PNMH specialist peer supporter trainers will then go on to develop the training programme for the volunteer peer supporters, with the first cohort due to be trained within NCT’s Warwick and Coventry branches in October 2016. Once trained, the Parents In Mind volunteers will go onto provide individual and group-based support within their local NCT branch and wider community.  In addition, the PNMH specialist NCT practitioners will cascade their learning to NCT volunteers and practitioners more widely, supported by #BigPush fundraising efforts (see my previous post on getting muddy!).

The second exciting thing about next week is that the new Project Manager for #ParentsInMind joins NCT. The wonderful Beckie Lang is taking on this role, and brings a huge amount of expertise, experience and enthusiasm to the project!

Welcome to Beckie and roll on next week!

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