9 October 2023

I’m speaking the same language as them” – How Peer Mentoring Changes Lives

Young adults
A group of teenagers standing side by side looking at the camera

We spoke to Anthony Reid, Community Violence Mentor at St Giles Trust, about how his lived experience helps him mentor young people.

Anthony is part of a team of mentors that work with young people from the age of 13 up to the age of 25. The young people he supports have either come into contact with the criminal justice system or are at risk of becoming involved.

Young adults have a tremendous capacity for change, and Anthony is keen to share what he’s learned to help the young adults he meets.

“I have been on the wrong side of the law. I’m 41 now, and I’ve lived and learned a lot. I’m straight up with them. What I tell them is that it’s a jungle. There’s a lot of snakes and lions out there. It’s no joke.

Anthony’s experiences in the justice system are key to building a rapport with his mentees.

“I help them to see what the consequences of their actions might be. That’s the benefit. I have lived it, and I can show them where they might end up. They’re not seeing the negativity of the life they might be pursuing.”

“When I tell them about myself, my background, we see that we’re not too dissimilar. They know that I’m not chatting rubbish because we speak the same language. That’s how important lived experience is, you’ve seen the good and bad of that life.”

Referrals to the mentoring service come from a range of sources: social services, police forces, probation services, or schools. Young people can also be referred to the service by their family members or themselves.

Mentoring can be assigned to a young adult as part of their license conditions, but Anthony stresses that they need to be open to the process to gain the benefits.

“You’ve got to want to change. It has to start with you. That might mean changing your circle. You’ve often got to change your environment to move forward.”

Once a rapport is established, Anthony wants to understand what has brought the mentee to this point.

“I try to mentor each client for their individual needs. If something is happening, why are you behaving this way? What’s made you go out and sell drugs? Are you struggling at home? Do you not have enough money?

“I don’t bring it up directly, I drop it in smartly. I get to know them, talk about their environment and what they like to do. Eventually, we get down to what makes them behave this way.”

Anthony uses a strengths-based approach to help his mentees identify their skills and what a different pathway could look like.

“I focus on positive things that they can do. Basically, I had one client who was into motorbikes. He used to go out on a bike with a balaclava on because he wanted to get chased by police. It was an adrenalin rush.

“I tried to find a plan to see where I can get him to stop doing this. I said to him, ‘Why not get a mechanical internship?’ So, we found someone through one of our partners, and he signed up for an engineering course in bikes. I now communicate with him, his social worker, his mum, and have regular check-ins. That’s progress.”

Every time a young adult has a breakthrough is a special moment for Anthony.

“It’s massive for me to see someone take a different path. I had a kid, and his head of year messaged me to say that he’s doing well. He told me that he’s coming to school, he’s not getting into trouble, and it’s down to the work I’m doing.

“I thought I’m having a conversation, but I’m realizing it’s not just that, and that it’s having a positive impact on life. It’s those moments that make me feel like I’m doing a good job.”