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How peer support helped Willen Hospice leader during 2020

IVAR introduction 

Leaders of smaller voluntary organisations experienced a prolonged period of uncertainty during 2020/21 in the height of Covid-19. Wanting to support the sector in a useful way, we offered sector leaders online peer support sessions called Emergency response support: ‘a space for solidarity and solace’.  From these sessions we built a picture of the challenges they faced and what they needed from funders in response: turning these into regular briefings. 

Following a positive reaction to the series of peer support sessions, our learning, and a clear need for continued support, we have re-launched peer support sessions with a focus on Leading in uncertainty. We asked emergency response session attendees to share their experiences of leading during the uncertainty of 2020 and how peer support sessions helped. Here, Peta Wilkinson of Willen Hospice shares: 

1.   What was leadership like during COVID-19 (2020)?


Characterised by ambiguity, uncertainty, fear and uncertainty, it required great resilience, self-awareness and compassion. I think this has amplified the challenges associated with collaboration, decision making and prioritisation. Emotion has been a key feature of people’s response. People have felt vulnerable, which has impacted upon trust ­­– the cornerstone of effective management and leadership. 

Interestingly, as we emerged from lockdown and people saw light at the end of the tunnel, people’s exhaustion and introspection became more acute and it felt more difficult to focus on the broader organisational issues. This manifested itself in people feeling a lesser degree of trust, and to a certain extent, a level of paranoia.

I felt that my role in these difficult situations was to be adaptive and to remain connected to people. I felt that I took responsibility and was transparent but there was still a sense of a lack of clarity about decision making. I think the clinicians have felt that they dealt with the brunt of the situation and that people do not understand.


Constancy and resilience are a key feature of my response and a desire to protect people’s wellbeing and emotional stability. This has not always been easy as introspection needed to be managed so as not to cause a fracture between the clinical service provision and income generation elements of the charity.


Maintaining a focus on moving forward and being adaptive has had to be tempered with an attention to restoration and recovery which remains a challenge.

2.   Why is connecting with peers important for leaders?


It is important to connect with peers to be able to share experiences, reflect on how one might respond and also realise the personal impact it has on you as a person. I have found my connections both insightful and generative, and have valued opinions and support that have helped me to act more positively.

3.   How did peer support session/s make you feel after talking on leadership and organisational challenges? 


Better and more positive, even if it was sharing some of the grimness! I often felt somewhat de-humanised as the person responsible for everything. I felt more confident in engaging and making decisions, and in maintaining my presence, resilience and capability to act.

Leading in uncertainty

We are running 90 minute drop-in peer support sessions for up to 10 charity leaders at a time, every week, from June 2021 – via Zoom.  Join us for some time to pause and reflect, and to hear other leaders’ experiences of adapting to and coping with leading in prolonged uncertainty. Find out more and book your slot at this page: 

About Willen Hospice: 

Willen is an adult Hospice providing specialist End of Life and Palliative care to people with a life limiting condition. We have an in-patient unit providing Holistic care focused on pain and symptom management and support in every area of a person’s life. We have a specialist Willen at Home team providing similar services in people’s own homes in the community. We have a specialist social work team providing support to adults and children, a pre and post bereavement service for adults and children, a specialist lymphedema service, psychological services, specialist therapy and complementary therapies. We also provide a Cancer Care in the Community Service for people on a palliative or curative pathway.  All these services and support work in an integrated way to provide bespoke services to each patient and their family and loved ones.

Find out more about Willen Hospice at: 
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