peers who volunteer


Recruiting volunteers with lived experience

There are two key issues that people with lived experience of volunteering as peers wanted us to include in the guide. The first is that many people told us they had been unaware of the opportunity to volunteer for some time and wished they had started their volunteering journeys earlier.

We recommended that services who recruit peer volunteers make people aware that there are likely to be volunteering opportunities soon after they start attending the service. While peer volunteering often happens later in people’s recovery journeys, the knowledge that the opportunity will be there was valuable to many. Many people who have been involved in all-consuming lifestyles which have been unhelpful to them, miss this activity when they make a change and want to replace it with a positive routine where they spend time doing constructive activities alongside other people looking to change their lives for the better. 

Moving away from drugs & criminality left me with a huge void in my life. I found supporting others gave me a purpose again – and a much more worthwhile one.

Many people with experience of being in prison said that they had been unaware of the peer volunteering opportunities available on release. This included several individuals who had been involved in a wide range of volunteering work while inside. In the “opportunities” section of the website, we host advertisements from organisations with roles open for people with lived experience, both paid and on a voluntary basis.

The second issue concerned the different attitudes of organisations who recruit and train volunteers. Clearly, to provide a positive volunteering experience with good quality training and support requires organisations to make a significant investment of time and money. It’s important for organisations to think through the benefits and costs in advance of setting up a peer volunteering scheme.

Several people told us that they had been dissatisfied with the recruitment process to become a volunteer. This was mainly when peer volunteer roles were advertised and an individual responded and applied and then heard nothing for several months. This thoughtlessness was often experienced as a further rejection by people who often had multiple experiences of being let down in their lives. Other peer volunteers reported similar experiences after they had been accepted on to a volunteering course but were waiting for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance for many months. Because they heard nothing from the organisation they intended to volunteer for, they were often unsure if the course was still going ahead and this knocked their confidence further.

People told us they appreciated organisations who kept in touch with them about the recruitment process and generally shared the organisation’s work and plans via newsletters etc. which were already going out to staff and volunteers.

Some organisations complain about the turnover of volunteers and the time it takes to train them. Others are proud of how many volunteers go on to paid roles. Same issue, different attitude. I think I know which works best - for everyone.

Recruitment Checklist

For people with lived experience

  • If you are looking for opportunities to volunteer, you can look here on our site where you can search by location or by the field you are interested in (criminal justice, drug and alcohol treatment etc.).
  • If you’d like to volunteer or share your lived experience with a specific organisation, don’t be shy about getting in touch direct – ask for the peer or volunteer co-ordinator.


For providers

  • If your organisation is thinking of recruiting people with lived experience, please do your planning and ensure that you can invest in the right level of support to treat your volunteers with the same consideration you would give to paid staff.
  • Advertise opportunities widely (including here on our site)
  • Discuss with a prospective volunteer the pros and cons of volunteering, in particular the timing of any commitment depending on what else is going on in an individual’s life.   
  • If there are waiting lists or delays while waiting for DBS clearance, please keep in touch with prospective volunteers and start engaging them in the work of your organisation by sending them newsletters etc.       


For commissioners

  • If you are commissioning a service with peer volunteers, please ask for evidence on how providers intend to support their volunteers.

Recruitment Resources

Good practice guides

National Voices Peer Support Hub is an online bank of high quality, curated resources for people looking to measure, evaluate, sustain and grow different types of peer support programmes.

Clinks (2020) Managing volunteers: A guide for organisations working in the criminal justice system (Chapter 2)

 Clinks (2016) Good practice in service user involvement from the voluntary sector working in criminal justice

Investing in Volunteers is the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management for those organisations who want to accredit their practice.

Justice Involving Volunteers in Europe (2016) Building successful partnerships involving volunteers in the criminal justice system: a good practice guide

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations: Recruiting and Welcoming Volunteers

Unlock Recruit:

Disclosing criminal convictions

For people with lived experience needing advice on whether/how to disclose criminal convictions:

Nacro’s Criminal Record Support Service provides criminal record advice to both individuals and we also work directly with employers

Official GOV-UK Disclosure checker is now live, it too helps you know when a conviction becomes “spent”

Unlock – resources and advice on disclosure and criminal records generally

Unlock’s disclosure calculator helps you work out when a conviction becomes “spent”

Using this guide

You can either download the best practice document in full here or browse the different sections of the guide by following the links below.

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