“Getting a smile from someone I’ve helped makes my day”

Bernadette Kelly gives us an insight into her work as a peer navigator at Johnson Fold.

For 34-year-old Bernadette Kelly, helping her neighbours on the Johnson Fold estate was always second nature. So when an opportunity came up to do it as a full-time job, she jumped at the chance.

“I heard that Bolton at Home was looking for customers to work as ‘peer navigators’, to give support and advice to other local residents,” says Bernadette. “I was encouraged by the local community development officer to apply for the job, but I wasn’t sure at first.

“Then there was an open day about it at my local UCAN centre, and my sister encouraged me to go along. After finding out more, I began to think that this job would be perfect for me. I said I was interested, was called to interview, and got the job.”

Bernadette, who has two children – Elliot (10) and Ava (4), is one of three peer navigators working in and around Johnson Fold. Sara Fearns and Shelley Butler make up the rest of the team. Together, they give invaluable support to the local community.

The groundbreaking initiative – which has been recognised in a number of awards – was launched in March last year. Since then, the peer navigators have helped 152 people with issues such as money problems, finding work, addiction, loneliness and family breakdown. Strong relationships with local partners such as Bolton Community Mental Health Team and Age Concern are crucial to the project’s success.

Bernadette gives support to people in their own home, at the Johnson Fold UCAN Centre or at the Storehouse Pantry where she works every Thursday.

A familiar face

“Who better to give advice than those who’ve had the same problems and come out the other end?” says Bernadette. “I think the reason why the peer navigators have been successful is because people feel comfortable talking to us. We’re that familiar face; we’ve all been through difficult times and we’ve learned how to cope.

“I was a single parent and I know how hard it can be bringing up a family on your own. I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety. I’ve felt the horrible pressure of being in debt. But with the training I’ve had and, by working with other local partners, I can help people get on the right path to sorting out their problems.”

In the last year, the team has held 12 community events on topics like drug awareness. They’ve also set up new residents’ groups, including a healthy living group, a women’s wellbeing group with crèche facilities, and a ‘men in sheds’ project aimed at tackling social isolation.

“Who better to give advice than those who’ve had the same problems and come out the other end?”

Work experience

Bernadette goes on to say how the job of helping other people has also helped her too. “I had to give up my last job because I couldn’t afford the childcare costs. I felt that I’d lost my sense of purpose and my confidence hit rock bottom.

“Now, through this new work experience, my life is very different. Getting a smile from someone I’ve helped makes my day – my confidence is through the roof now. Even my family have benefitted. My children are happier. My mum, who has depression and anxiety, goes to the women’s group every week and has started volunteering. It’s been a positive journey for everyone.”

If you’d like to talk to a peer navigator, contact Lisa Bradley, community development officer, on 01204 329568.

The peer navigator project has been set up by Bolton at Home in partnership with Bolton Council, the Placed Based Integration Team and Bolton Community and Voluntary Services.

See the Person

Bernadette joins to national committee

Bernadette has lived on the Johnson Fold estate all of her life and is proud of the strong community spirit she’s been brought up with. That’s why she decided to get involved in the See the Person campaign, which aims to challenge the negative stereotypes and stigma that social housing tenants experience.

The campaign is led by tenants and employees from social housing providers around the country, including Bolton at Home. Bernadette has joined See the Person as a member of its committee – the new governing group that’s been set up to run the campaign.

“I wanted to get involved because I’m tired of the perception that some people have about social housing tenants. I felt this early on, when I was at school. The other kids used to ask me if it was rough where I lived and if my dad worked. As a child, I felt embarrassed telling people where I lived. Now, I see things differently. There are lots of talented people living on the estate with skills, knowledge and with a good education. I’m looking forward to getting involved and using my experience to try and change these perceptions.”

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