Our Place Cheltenham – helping Cheltenham community to take control and support each other

Bernice Thomson, manager at Cheltenham West End Partnership, My Community Champion and designer of the Cheltenham Inspiring Families Community Training discusses how the Cheltenham Our Place project is helping local people to support each other and deliver services their neighbourhood wants and needs.


Some of you might remember a time when communities were the first port of call in providing support for those who were not coping too well with life’s day to day problems. Subsequent governments have encouraged more reliance on the state to provide this support, and then more recently argued that individuals and communities need to do things for themselves. The problem with this is that during the ‘state will provide’ years people forgot how to do this. They forgot that they had permission to do things for themselves.

Our Place Cheltenham – part of the Inspiring Families project – grew out of a desire to give parents and other family members safe places where they could come together to re-build that idea of people finding ways to support each other. In basic terms, the Cheltenham Our Place project is about developing peer support groups, but it is also much more than that. Whilst we believe that any person attending an Our Place group is capable of being both a receiver and giver of peer support we also want the groups to be self-sustaining. Therefore, it is also about giving group members the skills to organise their own groups and some of the skills needed to be a peer supporter or peer mentor.

This desire, with the help of the Our Place funding, has culminated in a Level Two Award, through the Open College Network, entitled Cheltenham Inspiring Families Community Training. This training provides seven credits at level two and two credits at level one in three different disciplines which together prepare participants to be proactive members of the Our Place groups. The training is interactive, with plenty of activities, games, role-playing and discussions.


Training is split into three units:

About You

This first unit is designed to encourage participants to talk about their own aspirations and work through a process of identifying those things that can help or hinder them achieving the aspirations. It then helps them find ways of overcoming the negatives and building on the positives. This results in a comprehensive personal action plan and contributes to increased confidence.

About Your Community

The aim of this second unit is to give an understanding of issues facing communities and who is responsible for providing which services. It also helps in understanding equality, diversity and human rights.  The reason that this is important is that this information can be passed on to people attending the Our Place groups thus giving them a sense of what they should be doing for themselves and what they can expect public or voluntary sector services to provide for them.

Being a Peer Supporter

The last unit gives participants some of the skills they need to lead an Our Place group.  Firstly it is about understanding what peer support is and secondly, it introduces skills needed by a peer supporter. It also provides an introduction to peer mentoring. The aim is that participants know not only what should be expected of a peer supporter but also what they should avoid doing. The unit includes active listening, reading body language, and group leadership.


The combination of these three units results in confident peer supporters who have appropriate knowledge to enable them to lead an Our Place group themselves.

The training is suitable for anyone and is not reliant on having good English skills. One of the participants from Poland was identified as having what examiners call ‘additional requirements’ which meant that we were able to get work translated for her.

The training has been well received by those participating and so far everyone has passed and gained their award at the first attempt. Some of the comments received in feedback are:


“The course made me feel useful and good about myself.”  Corinne

“The course made me feel worthy.” Kim

“I think the course is very interesting. It made me realise that I am capable to do a lot of things. It taught me about my community and gave me knowledge about where I can go for help and also help others. I enjoyed learning techniques on how to be a good peer supporter so I can use in my everyday life. This course is brilliant, it gave me confidence and knowledge.”  Rosalba


The next stage for us is to make the training more sustainable by training other trainers to be able to deliver it and also to be able to share the training more widely, including outside of Cheltenham. A toolkit of the training is being prepared and ‘training the trainer’ workshops are being held to pass on both the training resources and the ethos of the training.


Cheltenham Inspiring Families

Cheltenham Inspiring Families was set up in 2010 and is a partnership project bringing together agencies from the public, voluntary and private sectors to help families reach their aspirations. It provides support to families based on the premise that all families have ups and downs and everyone sometimes needs the support of someone they can trust to help them find a way through challenges, situations and services in their lives.

Visit Inspiring Families Cheltenham's Facebook page

Cheltenham West End Partnership

Cheltenham West End Partnership is one of the voluntary sector partners in Inspiring Families. Working primarily in the town centre It is a community regeneration organisation promoting and enabling partnership initiatives that enhance the area’s social, economic and environmental wellbeing.

Visit Cheltenham West End Partnership's Facebook page

Image: Bernice with some of the students who have completed the training