This #PeerSupportMeans interview features Liz Palmer, National Volunteer Manager for The Hepatitis C Trust.
What did you do before joining The Hepatitis C Trust and how did you get involved?
When I left school I had an apprenticeship to be a hairdresser. I had my children and started volunteering in the probation service, with a paid place in university to do a degree to become a probation officer. But then I picked up drugs and I never went to university.
Over the years I was in really bad active addiction. I had lots of barbering jobs because it was flexible and I made lots of money, but it was mainly to support my habit. Then I came into recovery in 2012 and I just focused on that for three years, getting myself right.
I got a job at Change Grow Live (CGL) as a recovery champion for six months, working in HMP Liverpool. I just went from strength to strength and was promoted and while working there I also met someone from the The Hepatitis C Trust. The peer programme really interested me and I started with The Hepatitis C Trust in 2020 as a prison peer support lead for a year. Then the role of National Volunteer Manager came up. I looked at the skills needed and I realised I had done the job on a smaller basis, so I went for it.
I’d had hepatitis C and I’d had the old Interferon-based treatment in 2013. It was also really close to my heart because my sister, who had the same lifestyle as me before recovery, died at the age of 46 because of untreated hepatitis C. I was so affected by this, by losing someone I loved immensely, it really felt like a worthwhile thing to do. No one needs to die of this disease any more.
And what a gorgeous job! You get people treated and save them from real health consequences later in life, consequences that could be fatal. I really feel like I am making a massive difference to people’s lives.
What is it like to work at The Hepatitis C Trust?
Wow! It’s like no other job I’ve ever had in my life. I mean that in a good way because it’s such a caring organisaiton. Everyone looks out for each other, people are genuinely interested in how you are, mentally, emotionally and physically, and that connection we have together is second to none. I don’t have to hide and pretend, I don’t have to perform, I can actually tell someone how I am and I’m not judged. I think there’s a lot of integrity and honesty within The Hepatitis C Trust which makes it a really nice place to work.
Can you describe what your role entails and the objectives of your work?
I oversee the peer support program nationally. I support the Peer Support Leads and Co-ordinators with the peer projects running in their areas. I provide training for the staff around the peer volunteers. One of the things I’ve done recently is training for supervision of peers and how to engage them and how the peers can take a lead in their own supervision.
I deliver a three-day induction for peers and keep in touch with them. I always make sure peers have my phone number and email address and try to be hands-on even though it is such a wide area – I cover England, Scotland and Wales. I still know peers on that level and like to put a face to a name. I’ve met them and I’ve had that interaction with them and it builds up that relationship from the start. Once a year I arrange a peer away day for team building and to celebrate achievements.
I like to think that we offer our peers a springboard, a helping hand onto that rung of the ladder that will help them gain employment.
Why is having a peer-based model so important for hepatitis C?
Historically there’s been a lot of shame and stigma around blood-borne viruses and the peer-based model helps. If you look at the peer education workshops where a peer goes in and tells their personal story of hepatitis C, you get the key messages out and smash all the myths. Anyone can have the treatment. It doesn’t matter what you use or where you’re living.
There’s a lot of old information out there about treatment and so to give out the correct information about the new antiviral treatments is really powerful.
What are the most fulfilling and challenging parts of your job?
The challenging part is just probably that my work covers such a wide area – I like to keep contact and have those personal relationships.
The most fulfilling part is how we can enable learning. I like to think that we offer our peers a springboard, a helping hand onto that rung of the ladder that will help them gain employment.
Our peers receive certificates after their training and I get quite emotional because these people have been skilled up and they’ve now got something real and concrete that they can take with them.
I see people coming in when they are really nervous and their confidence is low, and then I’ll meet them in three to six months and they’re completely different people. That’s such a beautiful part of the job. I especially love when people go on to get employed by The Hepatitis C Trust and then suddenly I’m speaking to them on the phone or over email as a paid employee.
This interview was conducted by Vincent Condron, one of our peer researchers.