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Peers and Allies for Living

PALs is an exciting innovation that gives people with mental health problems the chance to act as paid allies and supporters for people with personal budgets. It is a model with a dual focus - providing high quality support, and great work experience, for people with mental health problems.

PALs is being developed and implemented by Real Lives, a Community Interest Company set up in Nottingham by Sue Thornton and Nicole Hunter. Nicole and Sue have both left long careers in the NHS mental health services with a belief that the only way to provide high quality support that truly helps people move towards their dreams, goals and ambitions is outside of statutory services.

Real Lives works to support a community of people who have experienced distress to come together and find new and innovative ways to support each other. This support is defined by the group itself and Real Lives seeks to reduce the central role that statutory services plays in people's lives.

One of the first initiatives of Real Lives is PALs – Peers and Allies for Living

PALs are people with personal experience and expertise in the area of mental health who use their knowledge to support others to find ways of pursuing their dreams. 

PALs are engaged by people who receive personal budgets (including personal health budgets). They can do this directly or with Real Lives as the intermediary and employer.

The aim is to create a vibrant and interactive way of promoting choice, opportunity, hope and control. 

It offers an alternative to the current approach to personal budgets in both social care and healthcare: 

  1. Currently too many people are placed on 'managed budgets'. It is wrongly assumed that people have no ability to think for themselves about how to creatively solve their own problems.
  2. Brokerage has become a form of gate keeping where power is wielded through brokers who only promote services that they like or have used in the past.
  3. Frameworks for contracting for services to the most vulnerable citizens, those on managed budgets, are very complex, open only every 4 years and preclude new, vibrant micro-providers entering into this arena. 

Too often those with the greatest needs get the least choice. 

Decisions are made for them, rather than with them. People cannot choose who comes into their homes and who plays a central and powerful role in their lives. Real Lives aims to challenge these practices and to ensure that services leave power and control where it should be – with people themselves.

PALs also gives people with mental health problems the chance for high quality and well supported employment. People who have experienced mental health challenges are often excluded from employment.

Learning how to work and manage your mental health sometimes requires support, understanding and an environment that openly and warmly embraces you for all that you are and your many experiences. 

Real Lives offers:

  • A strong wellness planning approach. 
  • Skills and confidence to be successful in the world of work. 
  • Surplus money generated by Real Lives from employing PALs will go to providing bursaries.
  • Assistance to identify courses and experiences that will help them grow and develop and move on towards other employment opportunities.
  • Continue support to the person even when the person has moved on to new forms of employment.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Peers and Allies for Living (PALs) © Real Lives 2013.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.