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Pioneering apprenticeship provides bright future for peer support

Posted onPosted on 7th Feb

This National Apprenticeship Week (5-11 February 2024), West Nottinghamshire College and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are celebrating the success of their ground-breaking peer worker apprenticeship programme.

Launched in May last year, the programme is the first of its kind in Nottinghamshire and provides a unique opportunity for individuals with lived experience to develop essential skills for supporting others.

The partnership between the Mansfield college and healthcare trust aims to create a progressive career pathway for peer support workers – professionals who use their own experiences of health or social problems, and of using services, to provide empathy and support to others facing similar issues.

People in peer support roles work directly with individuals, enabling them to find their own ways of understanding their circumstances in order to access support, navigate a range of services and move forward. Peer workers often join other members of someone’s care team to help support their wellbeing.

Developed in collaboration with a national ‘trailblazer’ group led by Nottinghamshire Healthcare, the 18-month programme from the Institute for Apprenticeships covers a wide range of peer support roles in health, justice, charitable and education sectors.

The college is one of only four in the country appointed to provide the training element.

Twelve 12 apprentices  make up the first cohort in Nottinghamshire. Eight of them work in peer support roles in the healthcare trust, two are employed by the college, and a further two work for the Hepatitis C Trust and Nottinghamshire Mind respectively.

In addition to gaining on-the-job experience, the apprentices have a proportion of their time dedicated to learning, training and study time while working towards the Level 3 Peer Worker Apprenticeship Standard. This includes attending monthly classes at the college’s Derby Road campus, in Mansfield.

The peer worker apprenticeship is not just shaping careers; it is fostering hope, resilience, and a brighter future for mental health support in Nottinghamshire.


One of the apprentices blazing a trail in this programme is Joe Robinson-Durant, a peer support worker in Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust’s personality disorders hub, covering the Mid-Nottinghamshire area, including Mansfield, Ashfield, Newark, Worksop, and Bassetlaw.

Joe’s role is as diverse as the individuals he supports. From establishing safe and supportive relationships for people facing personal difficulties to facilitating access to external services, he tailors his approach to the specific needs of each person.

He said: “Every relationship with the people I work with is different. Some just want to get out of the house and go for a coffee once a week. Others want to get back into employment or return to education.

“The goals of somebody’s personal recovery are so varied. That’s why my role never really looks the same from day-to-day.

“I usually start by seeing people in their homes and we identify what their goals are. This is where the relationship is formed.

“I’ve accompanied people to Probation Service meetings, job interviews, therapy appointments – whatever they need support with.

“I’ve been hiking in the Peak District with some, played football or basketball with others, or accompanied them to the gym. I’ll throw myself into whatever they’re passionate about. This is all about recovery – and recovering is deeply personal.”

The 31-year-old’s journey to becoming a peer support worker started when he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and other associated conditions, in his 20s after struggling with his mental health since his teenage years – experiencing numerous job changes, homelessness, a battle with drugs and multiple suicide attempts.

Joe said: “Life became unliveable. I got very unwell and was very angry and depressed. I’d spend weeks at a time like that.

“I couldn’t hold down a job. I had 130 jobs in the engineering sector in a five-year period, mainly working for employment agencies – but I wasn’t able to work, due to my mental health. I didn’t see the point in anything.”

Through a decade of treatment, Joe experienced a transformative recovery, finding unwavering support in his partner, Gabrielle, now his wife.

Mental health nurse Gabrielle’s understanding of personality disorders inspired Joe to pursue a career in supporting others with similar challenges. After attending a one-day introductory course by Nottinghamshire Healthcare, he realised that peer support work was his calling.

“I wouldn’t have got better if I didn’t have somebody in my life who understood what was happening. So I want to be that person for other people,” he said.

Joe’s involvement in the peer worker apprenticeship came soon after he joined the trust in February 2023, eagerly enrolling when the opportunity arose.

The programme provided a chance for Joe – already a qualified engineer – to revisit education with the intention of progressing to higher-level qualifications in peer support.

The apprenticeship structure includes monthly college attendance, six hours of protected independent learning each week, and practical experiences. Joe values the extensive knowledge provided by the teaching team, composed of senior peers within the trust and teachers from the college, and appreciates the course’s practical focus on building networks and collaborative efforts.

He explained: “We’re learning about the psychological models that underpin our role and where peer workers sit within the healthcare system.

“I’m also learning from the way other people on the apprenticeship do things, because everyone’s got different methods.

“And as well as physically doing the job, I try and do as much shadowing as I can with peer workers in other teams within Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust.”

Joe’s aspiration extends beyond personal development; he aims to showcase the value of the peer worker apprenticeship and hopes to see more individuals formalising their skills through this programme. Already actively involved in this first phase, he envisages the evolution of the apprenticeship to higher qualifications and encourages others to seize the opportunity.

“As one of the early adopters of the programme, I’m keen to show the value of it for my team,” he said.

“I’ve come on this course with the intention of progressing to a higher-level qualification. Longer-term I am hoping to see a level 5 qualification in peer support. As Nottinghamshire typically leads the way on peer support in the country, it’ll probably be pioneered here.”

Joe’s experiences bring an important perspective to his role, having overcome significant personal difficulties on his own route towards mental health recovery. He sees his job as a chance to help others navigate their individual challenges while providing a non-judgmental understanding.

He said: “The feedback I get most from the people I work with is ‘you understand’. There’s no judgement when you’re talking to someone who’s had similar experiences.

“A lot of people say that seeing me hold down a full-time job in the NHS, married, and with a child on the way, shows that absolutely anything is possible for them too.”


Supporting young care-leavers is giving Chloe Martin (also pictured top), peer mentor apprentice at West Nottinghamshire College, great pride and a rewarding job role, which she was recommended for while she was a student at the college.

Having spent most of her life in foster care until recently, 19-year-old Chloe is now supporting others going through similar experiences.

Chloe was just three-years-old when she and three siblings were taken into care, due to parental neglect. She lived with three different foster families; the last one for 12 years.

Chloe said: “Growing up I struggled as I didn’t know how to process my emotions. In school I was disruptive when I didn’t understand something. I wasn’t a naughty child – I was traumatised, and people didn’t understand that difference.

“Living with a great foster family helped me be independent and learn how to live on my own, which I did once I turned 18.”

Chloe’s empathetic nature didn’t go unnoticed by her support coach at the college during her studies on a health and social care course. Recognising her potential, Chloe was introduced to the peer support apprenticeship, which she found appealing and subsequently pursued after completing her college course.

She said: “My coach told me about the peer support apprenticeship, thinking I’d be ideal for it. I thought I’d enjoy it, so I went for the interview and was accepted.”

After completing her health and social care course, Chloe continued with her studies at the college, progressing to a 10-week NHS support programme before beginning the peer worker apprenticeship last year.

“Now I support care-experienced students alongside their support coach, preparing them for life after leaving care and starting college, using my own past experiences,” she explained.

Chloe works full-time while having six designated hours each week for study, involving self-research, observing others, writing a reflective journal, and logging activity supporting students, with assessments each term.

She said: “It’s helped me to work in a professional environment, using the recovery-focussed approach and learning in a person-centred way. I see myself as a ‘professional friend’, helping students to find their voice.”

Chloe’s empathy towards students with a similar background to hers shines through strongly.

“I knew that a job like this could be upsetting and I had to come to terms with the possibility of hearing things from students that could make me think of my own childhood,” she said. “I made sure I had a good network of support in place, just in case anything did bother me and I needed to talk.”

Chloe finds many rewards in using her life experiences to help others.

She said: “My job brings young people together to make them realise they’re not alone and that there are others in the same situation. I love to see how much progress students make after just a few months.”

Alongside her impactful work, Chloe is also helping to break down stereotypes of what a child from a care background can achieve.

She added: “There’s often a stereotype that people from foster care might not be capable. At school, some teachers said I wouldn’t get anywhere, due to my behaviour.

“But at college I had the opportunity to prove myself. Somebody thought I was capable of being a good peer mentor. I like being a role model, showing students that I too didn’t have a great start, but I’ve used this to help others.”

Part of Chloe’s role is about facing traumas of her own. She’ll soon be confronting another part of her past because she’ll be gaining access to her files from social services and using this experience to empower herself.

She said: “I’ve decided to access my files because of the type of career I’m pursuing. It may be hard to sit and read 5,000 pages as there will be things that I didn’t know about. I’ll feel sorry for the little girl that I was, and it will be hard to realise this happened to me.

“People in care are like a library of people. There’s a book out there with every detail of your life in it that you don’t know about. There are people who know more about me than I do, and I hate that. It’s about me taking back control.”

Looking ahead to her career goals, Chloe said: “I’m always working towards something new. I love that I have gained so many skills which are transferrable to any future job, and I’ve gained plenty of confidence by speaking to people.

“I’ve been successful in being accepted onto the Working with Children, Young People and Families foundation degree at Nottingham Trent University, starting in September. I’ll be based at the Mansfield hub and it will last for two years, with the option of topping up to a full honours degree on the third year, focussing on social work.

“After that I’ll be looking for a job working with children in foster care, and I’d like to concentrate on helping new-borns and children up to the age of 10.”

Chloe’s outlook on her role is very mature and her sense of pride is evident.

“The joy I get in making a difference and a positive impact to people is brilliant,” she said. “It’s a real privilege. I see myself as someone who isn’t taking control of others’ lives but helping young people to take back control of their own lives.”

Jen Guiver, executive director of people and culture at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As we mark National Apprenticeship Week 2024, I am thrilled to celebrate the remarkable success of our peer support worker apprenticeship in partnership with West Nottinghamshire College.

“This trailblazing apprenticeship, the first of its kind, provides an opportunity for individuals with lived experience to draw on their own mental health experiences to support others.

“As an organisation, we currently employ over 75 peer support workers, across many of our services, each contributing a wealth of valuable experience.

“Through collaboration with the college and peer support workers, we are proud to see the journey of individuals like Joe Robinson-Durant, whose dedication and commitment reflects the very ethos of the NHS – I extend my best wishes to all 12 apprentices as they continue their studies. “

Louise Knott, vice-principal at West Nottinghamshire College, said: “The college prides itself on having strong partnerships with local employers and this apprenticeship is a perfect example of how these can have such a positive impact.

“We are so proud to have worked with Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust to get this unique apprenticeship up-and-running. Whilst we originally had planned for this to have a real focus on mental health services, we soon realised that the potential is far wider.

“Chloe, as our peer support worker apprentice, has been an invaluable asset to our welfare team in providing support and guidance, and bringing her own lived experience, to help our care-experienced young people.

“We are exploring other areas where these roles may add value to the service we provide to our students and I am excited to see where our pioneering work will take us in the future.”

For further information about the peer worker apprenticeship visit