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Two-year study shows benefits of ‘education, not therapy’ model for people with experience of mental health challenges

Published: 13 October 2022

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Professor Nick Rowe on stage at Converge conference

Professor Nick Rowe MBE

“The life-changing opportunities offered by the Converge programme developed at York St John University illustrate the value of opening up university campuses to local communities,” said Professor Nick Rowe MBE, the Director of Converge and Professor in Arts and Mental Health.

One of the country’s leading advocates for partnerships between universities and mental health services, Professor Rowe was speaking following the Converge Evaluated: Findings and Responses conference, held at York St John University. The evaluation puts forward Converge – a university-run programme of free educational courses for local adults with experience of mental health challenges – as a valuable, evidence-based model of good practice for other universities as they work to support wider society.

The conference discussed the findings of the independent Converge evaluation project 2020–22, funded by the Office of Students and Research England. These show that Converge has far-reaching and lasting impact at both individual and strategic levels in both York and Newcastle, the two cities where the programme is currently offered.

“Converge answers national need across the agendas of social justice, research impact, student employability and universities’ civic engagement. It is also an effective model for Personalised Care and Integrated Care Systems, as launched by the NHS in July 2022, as part of a national move towards a more community-based model of mental health support services,” said Professor Rowe.

Launched in 2008, Converge offers education, not therapy, to people with lived experience of mental health challenges, who are as centrally involved as possible. The model rests upon the convergence of interests across education, health and social care, with university students involved in all aspects of the work.

Professor Rowe said: “I work in a university that is driven by a commitment to social justice, with a focus on promoting understanding and achieving educational outcomes for the benefit of all. Through Converge, we open up the campus to the local community and welcome in people with mental health challenges.

“Many Converge students feel a strong sense of belonging, and are reassured by there being no limit to their engagement with our programme of creative courses. Embodied in the form of open access to the university setting, resources and staff, these values and practices together offer a model for how to strengthen and embed a sense of ‘Place’ within healthy communities – a key priority within the new Integrated Care Systems.”

Another benefit of Converge is that it provides student volunteers with work-related placement opportunities and examples of how to self-manage their own mental health. They also gain communication, collaboration and leadership skills. And Converge students regularly demonstrate a growth in confidence, self-esteem and self-care skills. This growth then often leads to further progression into work, study or volunteering.

“The results of the Converge evaluation project demonstrate that we have developed a model that opens up access to learning and progression, effectively sharing public sector resources. The two universities that offer Converge programmes at present – York St John University and Northumbria University – are gaining clear benefits from community engagement activity alongside more altruistic motivations.

“This is a proven model that is well worth implementing in similar universities across the country. We are now disseminating the results of the evaluation project to colleagues to show how a relatively simple idea can have a lasting impact on local communities,” said Professor Rowe.

Read the full report (and a summary booklet) of the Converge evaluation project 2020-22 at 

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