Multi-Stakeholder Retrospective Acceptability of a Peer Support Intervention for Exercise Referral

Robert Portman*, Andrew Levy, Anthony Maher, Stuart Fairclough

*Corresponding author for this work

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Perceived social support opportunities are central to successful exercise referral scheme (ERS) client experiences. However, there remains a lack of guidance on how ERSs can embed social support opportunities within their provision. This study presents retrospective acceptability findings from a 12-week social-identity-informed peer support intervention to enhance perceived social support among clients of an English ERS. Five peer volunteers were recruited, trained, and deployed in supervised ERS sessions across two sites. Peers assisted exercise referral officers (EROs) by providing supplementary practical, informational, motivational, and emotional support to ERS clients. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with peers (n = 4), EROs (n = 2), and clients (n = 5) and analysed thematically. The analysis identified three primary themes. The first theme detailed how EROs utilised peer volunteers to supplement the ERS client experience. This theme delineated peer roles within the ERS context and identified salient individual peer characteristics that contributed to their success. The second theme described peer acceptability among the various stakeholders. Peers were valued for their ability to reduce burden on EROs and to enhance perceptions of comfort among ERS clients. The final theme presented participant feedback regarding how the intervention may be further refined and enhanced. Peers represented a cost-effective and acceptable means of providing auxiliary social support to ERS clients. Moving forward, the structured integration of peers can improve the accessibility of social support among ERS participants, thus facilitating better rates of ERS completion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1720
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Feb 2021


  • Exercise referral
  • Peer support
  • Qualitative
  • Social support

Research Groups

  • Politics, Pedagogy and Practice Research Group


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