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Our history

Information about the history and development of Converge.

Converge was established in 2008 by Professor Nick Rowe MBE, Professor in Arts and Mental Health.

It began with a simple idea: to offer a course in theatre to local people who experienced mental ill health, and to involve University students in the delivery of the course. 

One of those University students, Gemma Alldred, was committed to the course. She started Out of Character Theatre Company and played a crucial role in Converge for the next 5 years. When Gemma left, Hilary Bailey took over and enabled us to grow and offer courses safely and effectively.

The idea began to take shape. We would offer courses in the University to adults who experience mental health challenges and involve University students in the delivery of the courses and the support of people who take part. We continued to offer theatre, then we began to add courses such as dance, song writing, creative writing and, with the help of a psychology lecturer, Understanding Happiness. A music lecturer, Chris Bartram set up the Converge choir (Communitas) in 2009.

As these courses developed, the principles of Converge emerged and were clearly expressed by a Converge student in this way: "Students not service users, education not therapy". These ideas were crucial. People would be regarded as students, and we would offer education in a university environment.

We were looking for a name for what we were doing that would express the coming together of the interests of a university (to educate and give real world experience to its students) and people with mental health problems looking for non-stigmatising opportunities for education and development. This convergence of interests suggested the name Converge to Hazel Rowe, so we called it that.

Emma McKenzie joined us in 2015 and set up the Discovery Hub which became the support service for Converge students. This was a crucial step forward: we were now working closely with the NHS, and we could offer professional support to enable people to make the most of the education we could offer.

In 2016, Northumbria University in Newcastle began to offer Converge courses in theatre and fashion design. We now work together to deliver online courses through Converge Connected.

Also in 2016, we set up a Research Methods course, which developed through the determination and ability of Ruth Lambley into the Converge Evaluation and Research Team (CERT). CERT now carry out commissioned internal and external research and evaluation.

In academic year 2022/23, almost 15 years on from that first theatre course, we enrolled a record number of 265 Converge students and ran 53 Converge courses.