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The Buddy Scheme is an initiative that offers students from a range of clinical professions, including mental health nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and IAPT trainees, the opportunity to learn from those with lived experience through a series of 1:1 and small group sessions. Each session is an in depth discussion focusing on various aspects of a persons experience using mental health services and of their experience living with mental illness, within the context of the family, work and the wider community.

Students are encouraged to enquire with sensitivity and respect, seeing the ‘person behind the patient’, whilst at the same time developing their ability to build trust, rapport and develop their listening and questioning skills.

To find out more about the Buddy Scheme, please take a look at the video below.

The team

We have a team of over 40 dedicated volunteers who give their time to share their experiences and thoughts of mental health for the benefit of students.

The Buddy Scheme team

The students

The scheme is run in different formats throughout the year for a range of students including mental health nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and IAPT trainees.

The Buddy Scheme students

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who has supported the scheme so far. Everyone involved has helped shape not only the scheme, but more importantly has helped shape the future workforce and therefore the services that are, and will be, delivered to patients.

In 2014, South Essex Partnership Trust (SEPT), now EPUT, and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) embarked upon a new initiative for trainee mental health nurses, developed at the Kent and Medway NHS Trust. The focus of this initiative was, and still is, to ensure that the education of our future workforce is underpinned by the experience of service users and carers, thus ultimately improving the provision of mental health services.

Since 2014, the Buddy Scheme has continued to grow and develop. From working with five trainee mental health nurses initially in 2014, the Buddy Scheme has grown and today over 75 students who participate in the scheme each year. These students come from a range of professions including trainee occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, mental health nurses and soon IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) trainees.

The Buddy Scheme now includes the experiences and viewpoints of not only service users, but also of carers as well as a ‘holistic’ session that focuses on personal wellbeing and alternative therapeutic options.

Co-production and co-delivery are at the heart of the scheme and it is a great example of the benefits of both and of true partnership working. The team comprises of over 40 volunteer service users and carers, working alongside staff from a variety of teams across EPUT and colleagues from other organisations.

To date, over 600 students have benefited from participating in the Buddy Scheme. Although we have moved to virtual sessions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scheme continues to be highly evaluated by students, achieving an average of 9.3/10 overall.

If you would like to find out more about the Buddy Scheme, or would like to join our team of volunteer service users and carers, you can take a look at our video above but also feel free to get in touch.

Group photos of participants of the Buddy Scheme at the thank you event.

World Mental Health Day – Lived Experience in Education

To celebrate World Mental Health Day, our Buddy Scheme volunteers joined the Digital Education team and training leads for a 'Dragons' Den'-style lived experience away day.

Colleagues representing nursing and AHP students, preceptees, mandatory training, organisational development, digital education and apprenticeships spoke about their area of work and shared ideas about how they can work with our lived experience ambassadors to enrich our training offer with learning from lived experience.

Plans are already being made to take forward ideas and suggestions from the day, including educational videos with the Organisational Development team and 360-degree immersive scenarios and AI-driven 'virtual humans' with the Digital Education team.

One of our lived experience ambassadors who is a carer said: "This was a really interesting day. So much training goes on across the Trust and we're looking forward to getting involved."

Gemma Wood, Mandatory Training Manager, said: "Understanding the patient perspective and hearing their experience can enhance the training we deliver, in particular TASI training. This was such a great day

for ensuring we can continue our work with lived experience ambassadors."

Christine Cantello, Lived Experience Education Lead, said: "It was great to celebrate World Mental Health Day with our amazing Buddy Scheme volunteers and EPUT colleagues, sharing ideas for how we can work together to embed lived experience in training and education across the Trust."

AHP Workbook Review Day
Co-production is at the heart of the Buddy Scheme, and in June we were able to join together to review the AHP workbook, utilising the considerable knowledge & perspective of our team in doing so, to aid future staff by asking less 'clinically-minded' questions.

Our thanks to everyone involved in the process. Our new AHP workbook is almost ready for use!

CAHPO Conference
We were excited to be asked to present at the Chief Allied Health Professional Officer national conference in June 2022. One of our team, Carolyn, presented alongside one of our AHP colleagues and Buddy Scheme coordinator, Heidi Cox. Their presentation was amazing, with comments all over social media and the conference chat ‘room’ lighting up with comments from those in attendance praising the scheme and wanting to find out more. We’ve been told it was the most talked about element of the conference!

To find out more, go to the FutureNHS website or click here.

Celebration Event
On 7 September 2022 we were finally able to come back together again, reconnect with friends and celebrate some of the teams recent achievements. It was great to see lots of the team, catch up, share stories, join in with the usual banter and share lunch together. We heard from Sarah Sprackling, AHP lead for MH & LD, who talked about the positive impact the scheme has on AHP students. And we were joined by Natalie Hammond, Executive Nurse, for the certificate presentation and a lot of laughing! Not to mention the cakes, courtesy of Carolyn… yum…

More photos will be available soon, watch this space!

Photo's from the Buddy Scheme thank you events since the scheme started.

Allied Health Professions (AHP)
Thursday 2 May 2024
Tuesday 21 May 2024
Wednesday 10 July 2024


Hear from our volunteers with lived experience and students about why they took part in the buddy scheme and how the scheme has made a difference to our future nurses.

“Thank you for supporting us on our journey, it has been an honour” Buddy Scheme Student, 2023

“I have been volunteering for the scheme since 2021, it gives me the freedom of speech and feeling valued about my lived experience, where students can understand how important their work is to have the opportunity to learn from carers, whilst gaining insight into improving services. 

The satisfaction of seeing someone learning raises your self-esteem, with a role and purpose of when you’re struggling with your lived experience. There is a social element as you make friends with the other Buddies as personal growth throughout your journey.”  Megan, Volunteer


Volunteers poems

We're looking for people that:

  • Have lived or living experience of using, or caring / cared for a relative, friend or family member that have used, or are using, mental health services.
  • Have a genuine interest and willingness to support our students and apprentices in their education.
  • Are able to share their lived or living experiences (both good and bad) without it being detrimental to their wellbeing.
  • Are able to share their lived or living experiences (both good and bad) in a positive way to enable our students and apprentices to learn and apply good practise.   
  • Are able to sign up as a volunteer as part of joining the scheme which you can do here
  • Are able to join online meetings held on Microsoft Teams as the scheme is currently held online (support with this can be provided).

Expression of interest

Please complete this form if you would like more information about the Buddy Scheme.

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