National recognition for pioneering mental health partnership in York

A partnership between York St John University and the NHS has been awarded national funding to evaluate the impact of its award-winning mental health programme.

Converge gives people who access mental health services the chance to take part in free creative or sports-based courses, to build confidence, resilience and self-esteem. It has been running at York St John for over a decade, with courses run by staff and students who volunteer their time and skills. The initiative was subsequently adopted at Northumbria University in 2015, which will also form part of the evaluation.

Now the Office for Students (OfS) and Research England (RE) have jointly funded a new project to evaluate the impact that Converge is having. Announced today, this funding is part of a wider programme by the OfS and RE to explore the benefits of universities working with businesses, public sector organisations and communities. Together they are looking to learn more about best practice, what works and how students who take part benefit.

Director of Converge, Nick Rowe said: “We are delighted with this opportunity to explore the impact that Converge has had locally on people who take part in the courses and on the students that run them. Since its inception in York in 2008 we have increasingly become aware of the enormous benefits that come from the project. Both from inviting people, who ordinarily wouldn’t have had that opportunity, into the university community, and the learning that our students gain from working alongside Converge participants. This grant gives us a fantastic opportunity to understand more about the project, improve its offer and to share our findings with a wider audience.”

Converge is held is high regard by the NHS, which funds its work. It has been praised for breaking new ground in terms of exploring the therapeutic potential of a partnership between the health and education sectors.

Emma McKenzie, Clinical Lead Occupational Therapist said: “Not only has Converge been transforming the lives of people with mental health difficulties locally, offering them an innovative and creative path to recovery, but it has been adopted elsewhere, including outside of the UK, and has been identified as an area of good practice by NHS England.  It has demonstrated that within the university, the very language of mental health can change attitudes, and to all intents and purposes eradicate mental health stigma on the campus. At Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, we cannot value this partnership highly enough. It not only sets the foundations for connecting people with their community, but it promises an equally invaluable opportunity to develop an unprecedented level of connection between the hospital that we are building, and the communities that it will serve.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Converge team has adapted to bring mental health resources to the community in accordance with social distancing guidance. The team is working in partnership with the NHS to offer telephone support to Converge participants and is running a wide range of activities and courses online for the general public. These are aimed at helping people remain active and focused during this challenging period and can be accessed through the Converge Facebook page, Converge York twitter and the Converge instagram account.

Location: