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Southend Ways to Wellbeing

A DfE Community Learning | Mental Health Research site (2015/18)

Final Reflections from Southend-on-Sea


Working within a prescribed research methodology was operationally fine for us; we knew what we had to do, to gather the data. We learned so many things from learners, the national team, ourselves and partner agencies that it will take some months (perhaps years) to reflect on it all.

We learned that mental health means different things to different people and a free course holds different pull factors for individuals. We learned that the medical model of mental health prevails (we knew that, but we were very much reminded that people do better once they become active participants in their own recovery). People need time to learn and embed the skills for recovery first.

We intentionally recruited staff with lived experience. This reminded us that mental health problems raise no barrier to working successfully, but it needs to be 'good work'. Control over working patterns, and good support and clear expectations, is vital. The most powerful learning from the Southend project is that if you train, support and trust people and create space for them, they will do the work beyond expectations.

We learned that a partner is always a competitor (especially the best partners) and that this is OK. We learned that without partners your organisational reach is limited.

The project design and offer will not continue in Southend as a separate entity, but the brand and offer will be carried forward in some form. One positive outcome is that both our IAG workers were offered learning support roles in the new academic year, as the college recognised the need for people with their experience in the organisation, to support new and existing learners.

Speaking personally, I still maintain that phase 1 of the project set the blueprint for the mental health commissioners to see a model for a collaborative recovery college locally in South Essex. Having chaired the consortium board for a year, I am now stepping down.  We have co-produced an induction to recovery college which I hope will be taken forward by community learning in the coming year.

A film of the project has been scoped out and should be filmed in 17/18 to showcase learner journey and success. 

Involvement in the project has increased our confidence in collecting data on a large scale. It has reinforced an existing belief that learners digital resilience increases when the tools are in their hands with a task to do, embedding digital skills across the broader curriculum.

Jessica Russell.

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