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Significant benefits of partnership between education and mental health sectors, new report reveals

Published: 25 August 2022

  •   Research
Group stand behind piano and infront of sign with CONVERGE logo
Converge, a university-run programme of free educational courses for local adults with experience of mental health challenges, has been identified as “a unique model of knowledge exchange and community engagement”. A two-year independent evaluation of the programme, funded by the Office of Students and Research England, has now published its final report. 

Converge has been offered at York St John University since 2008, with easy-access courses run by students, staff and people with particular expertise and their own experience of mental ill health. Converge students either receive current support for a mental health issue or have experienced mental health issues in the past. 

The programme works in partnership with Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust and is also home to the Discovery Hub (a team of staff seconded from TEWV to support the community of Converge learners at York St John University). The model was subsequently adopted at Northumbria University in 2016. 

The evaluation project explored the impact that Converge has had on people in York and Newcastle who take part in its courses, the people who run them and its external partners. The research team’s methods included interviews, group workshops and autoethnographic research, such as journaling, arts, music and more. In total, 174 participants contributed their thoughts and reactions. 

Dr Harriet Barratt, Senior Research Associate, leads the research team that designed and delivered the evaluation project, in collaboration with the Converge Evaluation and Research Team, a group of researchers with lived experience of mental health challenges. 

She said: “Our report highlights the ways in which the Converge approach offers clear opportunities to be used more widely as a national case study. One of our key findings was that Converge offers an innovative model of reciprocal knowledge exchange and community engagement, which jointly benefits universities, students, people with experience of mental health challenges, healthcare partners and community partners.”      

Director of Converge Nick Rowe MBE, Professor in Arts and Mental Health at York St John University, said: “The evaluation report identifies how Converge promotes educational arts outreach, and the role of space and place in non-clinical mental health support. 

“We are turning the University inside out, opening it up. 

“It is an act of hospitality, inviting people in, in pursuit of common goals. The mix of social participation, teaching and research provides an extraordinary, effective learning experience. 

“We have discovered that rich, creative things happen when you bring university students together with people who access mental health services. 

“The Converge model is a simple idea that has opened up so many possibilities and, as the report recommends, it should be easily reproducible elsewhere, developing communities of learners with a shared understanding of mental health to the benefit of all.” 

The report of the Converge Evaluation Project 2020-22 demonstrates how Converge: 

  • helps build confidence, resilience and self-esteem in people who access mental health services by taking part in free creative courses 
  • provides students with work-related placement opportunities and examples of how to manage their own mental health 
  • fosters universities’ commitment to social justice and community engagement 
  • offers healthcare providers with ways to support their service users within the community 
  • provides policymakers with clear models of evidenced, on-the-ground delivery. 

In a joint statement, Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Vice Chancellor, York St John University, and Brent Kilmurray, Chief Executive, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Together, we have created an environment where people are identified as students as opposed to patients or service users. Pre-conceived ideas of mental ill health and higher education are being challenged. 

“The opportunity for independent evaluation of Converge has been welcomed by both our organisations. We are committed to supporting the recommendations to further embed and strategically grow Converge as a best-practice model.” 

Read the full report (and a summary booklet) of the Converge Evaluation Project 2020-22

The Converge Evaluated Conference takes place on 5 September 2022.

Converge is proud to be a finalist in the Arts and Health category of the Royal Society for Public Health’s Health and Wellbeing Awards 2022. 

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