The Waterloo Health and Wellbeing Peer Education Program
In 2021, Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) participated in the IFIC Autumn School. Over the week, a group comprising SLHD staff, NSW Department of Communities and Justice Housing staff, non-government agencies, social housing tenants and other community members were tasked with designing an integrated care intervention to better support the health and wellbeing needs of residents of the Waterloo social housing estate, in inner Sydney NSW, and improve communication between services and residents. Social housing residents tend to have poorer health outcomes than the wider community in their cities. This is related to many factors, including social isolation, intergenerational disadvantage, poverty, stigma and poorer health literacy, and barriers to accessing resources such as employment, services and amenity.
The Waterloo social housing estate is also about to undergo significant redevelopment. Residents expressed an interest in finding out more about health and wellbeing, and ways to share this information with other community members. A peer education model was collectively selected as an appropriate way to connect the community with Health services, and the model was drafted.
Implementation of the Waterloo Health and Wellbeing Peer Education Program commenced in July 2022, with significant interest from the community. Interviews were held for Peer Educator roles, with 21 residents from the local community enrolled to deliver health and wellbeing information sessions to others in their community. The residents are a culturally diverse group and range in age from 25 to 75 years old. They know what it’s like to survive with an income that is below the poverty line and their tips on healthy living are inspiring.
Engagement with the program by Peer Educators’ is exceptional. They have attended weekly workshops on topics including drug health, mental health, blood borne viruses, oral health, and the Australian healthcare system. The group have also explored the barriers to good health and how to access General Practice and primary care services.
The next phase of the program will see the Peer Educators designing strategies to deliver information to others using both traditional workshop forums, online workshops, social events, and other creative means. They will then go out into the community to deliver the information sessions to others with the support of health professionals, and they will receive an allowance for each session their deliver.
The program is being evaluated to assess the impact it has on Peer Educators, community participants and key stakeholders. The evaluation will also seek to understand how, why and in what circumstances the program contributes to individual, collective and systems change, including impacts on health literacy, social engagement (for Peer Educators and community), empowerment and self-management of health and wellbeing, and feedback mechanisms from community to services.
Anecdotally, the Peer Educators report that the program has given them new knowledge about health and wellbeing, and has already started to impact their health behaviours and the health behaviours of their neighbours and networks. Some Peer Educators report that the program provides important social connection, and that they enjoy the opportunity to learn new information and skills.