Community development

Peer work involves individuals, relatives, families and wider social networks.

Peer support programmes are closely linked with active community involvement and are largely about creating possibilities that enable communities in active participation and decision-making.

Peer support programmes are embedded in approaches that address root causes of marginalisation, exclusion, and the discrimination of vulnerable communities in terms of essential rights, opportunities and resources.  The programmes strive for the social inclusion of these communities, especially by supporting and strengthening peer initiatives in the community.

Peer work covers a whole range of factors that influence marginalised individuals:  it does not simply hand over a message of what to do.  Peer programmes can benefit from individuals’ existing social networks and the (informal) infrastructures within a community.

Peer support is bigger than the sum of the individual relations or social network.  It is about supporting community action and strengthening community networks and relations.

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) League list some specific areas of community action in their document on peer work:

  • strengthening drug user peer networks to enhance communication and mutual support, so as to create social environments in which health-promoting behaviours become less difficult
  • connecting networks of users to health resources, services and programmes, and increasing users' confidence in using them
  • advocating on behalf of users with representatives of health services and programmes, to increase their openness and sensitivity to users’ needs
  • reinforcing aspects of the norms within user networks that have a positive influence on wellbeing and influencing change in those that don’t
  • providing skills and, if necessary, resources to train and empower drug users to do any of the aforementioned themselves.