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Positive Minds Learn Wellbeing phase 2 CLMH research

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Phase 2 professional practice lessons learned by Blackburn and Darwen site.


The area has a population of 147,000. The Borough experiences high levels of material deprivation, rated as the 9th worst CCG area in terms of Health Deprivation and Disability (rank of average scores) according to the English indices of Deprivation (2015). Public Health England's analysis link (2015) of the CCG area record multiple measures significantly worse than the national average in areas including Deprivation, Hospital stays for self-harm and alcohol and life expectancy for both male and female adults well below the national average.

In year 2 (2016/17) of the DfE adult education | mental health research Blackburn with Darwen Council adult learning service is assigned to one of 3 non-equivalent intervention groups. We are in Group A. This means that along with 18 other projects, we recruit research volunteers who self-assess themselves as having mild to moderate mental health problems and offer them the following to see if it can improve their mental health and help people feel able to get on with their lives:

  • up to 3 hours of 1:1 guidance using the Discovering Potential approach


  • courses of 15 hours over 6 weeks that specifically focus on helping research volunteers to manage symptoms and difficulties they experience. These symptoms may typically be linked to changes in peoples’ life circumstances (e.g. bereavement, illness, divorce, redundancy, etc.) or to life-course transitions (e.g. becoming a parent, retirement, becoming a carer, etc.) that triggered their vulnerability to mental health problems, or changed symptoms they were previously self-managing.


  • short (once-a-month) refresh sessions for graduates from our year 1 and 2 research courses

Progressing from year 1 to year 2

Locally our project has faced both a number of challenges and opportunities in transitioning from year 1 to year 2.  

  • In year one we developed a mixed offer with some courses specifically targetting symptoms of mental health whilst others provided distraction opportunities, timeout and the chance to learn something new in a supportive environment using the NEF Five Ways to Wellbeing model. During year one we had also  allowed learners to engage in multiple courses where it was clear from discussion that the learner could benefit further from additional learning on the pilot.  


  • In year two our courses specifically targetted learners self identifying as having mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety, stress, low mood or depression.  This resulted in changes to our marketing materials to ensure we met the criteria for our group (Links to Leaflet Brochure).  

 A flipchart with learners contributions as to how thinking cycles can impact on behaviour

  • Throughout the life of the project locally we have seen a significant turnover in tutor staff resulting in the need to train new staff to feel confident to deliver courses on a number of occasions.  With the introduction of increased emphasis on tackling symptoms and developing coping strategies tutors have been supported to gradually increase their confidence in this area, although this has taken time to achieve.


  • Where courses have maintained an additional learning topic (eg art, cooking or digital photography) we have ensured that there is still a clear focus on development of coping strategies for outcomes for the course. However tutors have found that as learners become more confident in the classroom environment they can have a tendency to steer the session towards the additional topic.  Tutor's have addressed this by embedding mental health outcomes into the topics more effectively.


  • Class sizes have been smaller than hoped due to challenges with recruitment and retention.  It has been evident also that where classes have started with lower numbers they can be prone to further drop out.   Conversely where courses have started with larger numbers there has been greater peer support and improved retention.


  • Retention has been improved through consistently contacting learners between sessions and in particular where a learner has missed a session to help keep them on track with learning and also to help them feel welcome back in the class.


  • Provision has had a positive impact on the learning services wider delivery.  Tutors have embedded strategies used in Positive Minds courses into other delivery where appropriate and have reported the research has enhanced their knowledge and practice in supporting learners experiencing mental health issues.


  • The consistent introduction of pre-course IAG using Discovering Potential model as well as follow up appointments and top up/refresher sessions have helped learners progress back to work, into learning and volunteering.  Learners have reported feeling they have benefitted from clearly identifying the changes they want to make.


 More to follow.....




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