Jeremy and Richard

Peer support enables those affected by bipolar disorder to discuss the condition independent of medical professionals, allowing for therapeutic benefit by peers for those attending. We have been trialling alternative methods to bring our community together and reach out to individuals who need help in these difficult times.

In this interview, Jeremy Clark speaks to Richard Mager who led a project to transition the Bipolar UK Central London Peer Support Group onto the Zoom video conferencing platform. 

I was delighted when I was asked to interview Richard because I knew he had put a massive effort into setting up the Central London support group on Zoom. I also knew that he is really keen to share his experiences and learnings with other groups, so they can also make the transition. We had a really engaging phone conversation talking about the process he led and I hope I've captured the essence of what he shared with me. A lot of the learning is distilled into the Code of Conduct for Zoom groups and other materials that he and the team produced, working collaboratively with colleagues at Bipolar UK, and of course with the community of service users. But this is more about Richard's personal journey with the project. Please enjoy 60 seconds in the company of Richard Mager, co-facilitator of the Bipolar UK Central London Peer Support Group on Zoom – Jeremy. 

What motivated you to translate the Central London group meetings on to Zoom?

The co-facilitators wanted to reach out to the group with coping strategies during the Covid-19 period. The idea of using Zoom came from the need to share and exchange ideas and struck the facilitators as a friendly medium. 

Could you briefly describe what a Zoom peer support group consists of?

The meeting follows the usual group format with a brief 'go-round' of introductions followed by a facilitated discussion of topics that people raise, all chaired by the co-facilitator. 

What advantages did you find with the technology?

The tech cuts out the need to travel to meetings and gets rid of venue hire costs, but we found it was worth paying a subscription for an enhanced version of Zoom that costs £12 a month.

What challenges did you come up against?

Modifying the documents used by groups required a lot of collaboration. Supporting individuals with IT set-up at the start of the meeting was tricky but we got there in the end.

How did you ensure that what you were doing would go down well with your group?

We invited group members to opt-in to an experimental session and provide feedback afterwards. Feedback was positive on the whole with some great ideas to make the sessions better.

What support did you get from Bipolar UK?

The Peer Support Team at Bipolar UK worked with us to ensure the safety and security of the sessions, as well as helping us to amend the Code of Conduct. We also had input from two of Bipolar UK's trustees.

How have you helped other groups to take up the technology?

We've held individual coaching sessions with other co-facilitators and shared the Code of Conduct and email templates for invitations.

What's the most important thing you learned from the process?

Getting everyone to work collaboratively from the beginning led to rapid development, implementation and refinement of the idea.

If you could start again from the beginning, what would you do differently? 

We did the very best we could and we were delighted that it worked. Without wanting to sound arrogant, we delivered what we intended to, and those willing to take part provided great feedback. I think our community has reacted really well to the challenges and uncertainty of Covid-19 given the coping strategies they already had.

Do you think you've found a sustainable model?

The format of the meetings is well established and anybody attending for a second time knows what to expect.  The format of the group online didn't change much from the real-world groups of the past. Some of the features on Zoom are particularly useful for managing the flow and pace of a meeting.

What have you done to evaluate the project?

We hired a company to evaluate the service in the same way as an evaluation of peer support services they carried out in 2019, so results would be comparable and give us useful insight.

What advice would you give to someone setting up their local group with a Zoom meeting?

Practice first with a few trusted people who know the score and take on board their feedback. When you get it right, it really gives you a boost that what you are doing is working.