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Improving opportunities for people with mental ill-health

Kirsty Giles, Manager of the South London and Maudsley Recovery College, blogs about how the college is arming people with mental health difficulties with the skills and knowledge to have the same opportunities in life as those without.

Kirsty GilesRecovery Colleges (RCs) are a recent addition to healthcare, where the clinical and personal mental health, self-management and recovery and wellbeing narratives meet within an educational setting.  There are 77 Recovery Colleges in the UK, with more developing internationally, several of which we have been involved in developing.  RCs are based on a concept initially developed by Recovery Innovations in Arizona called a ‘Recovery Education Centre’ and are guided by the Centre for Mental Health’s ‘Implementing Recovery Through Organisational Change’ (ImROC) programme.  The emerging evidence base about recovery college outcomes for service users, carers and staff is encouraging, highlighting the impact this type of education can have on wellbeing and clinical practice.

Developing our Recovery College

South London and Maudsley’s Recovery College is a success story about people with lived experience of mental ill-health or distress, carers and people employed within health, social care and the voluntary sector within south east London working in collaboration.  In 2013, Gabrielle Richards, Professional Head of Occupational Therapy and Trust Social Inclusion & Recovery Lead at South London and Maudsley, worked with David Blazey, Head of Grants, Maudsley Charity, Tony Holmes, Volunteer at South London and Maudsley, and Nash Momori, Service User Consultant, to co-develop a business plan to develop a Recovery College for the Trust. The Maudsley Charity generously funded a three year start up grant to develop and establish South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust ’s own Recovery College.  An initial pilot programme led to the employment of service users and clinicians within the teaching and administration teams within the college in early 2014. 

Sitting outside of the traditional power and clinical boundary structures within mental health care, the concept of co-production underpins all of the activities within the Recovery College.  All courses and workshops offered are co-produced and co-delivered by a ‘peer recovery trainer’ (a service user or carer) alongside a ‘practitioner trainer’ (a member of the healthcare team).  The co-produced, shared learning environment and collaboration between service users, carers and clinicians (both as trainers and students) are what set Recovery Colleges apart from other types of education. Clinicians and service users are employed by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust within the teaching, administration and management of the programme working collaboratively to co-produce and co-deliver more than topics on recovery, self-management and wellbeing, to more than 500 students each term. An extended team of nearly 70 paid peer and practitioner trainers offer their expertise to the college.  South London and Maudsley Recovery College has become a significant employment pathway for people with lived experience to develop skills and knowledge that they ‘may struggle to get elsewhere’ and several have moved on to train as healthcare professionals.

Transforming how we deliver care

Research into this approach is demonstrating that service user and carer students say they feel more welcomed and safe to attend and simply ‘be themselves’ at the Recovery College. Learning from other students and trainers with lived experience provides hope and inspiration that they too can recover and live as well as possible.  Those in clinical roles attending as students report feeling more able to recognise service user and carer strengths and their experiences which has a transformative effect on day-to-day practice.

The curriculum is delivered across all of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust’s geographical areas and within partner organisations including Dulwich Picture Gallery, The Horniman Museum, Mind in Croydon, Mosaic Clubhouse, Southwark Wellbeing Hub and Arts Network in Lewisham.  A ‘Forensic Campus’ operates at River House in, medium secure unit at The Bethlem Royal Hospital in collaboration with the Occupational Therapy team.  The forensic campus enables service users who may not otherwise have access to this type of support, to engage in both co-producing, co-delivering and participating in courses. Three ‘Train the Trainers’ have been delivered at River House with staff members and service users within this setting, learning co-production and facilitation skills together.  The programme has been successful with two former service users of River House, now living well in the community, returning to the forensic campus as peer recovery trainers, providing a source of inspiration for the students who attend the college.  Within the South London Partnership, South London and Maudsley’s Recovery College team have also provided a training package to develop the pool of peer and practitioner trainers within Oxleas forensic service at The Bracton Centre.  In recognition of it’s place within a leading mental health organisation, our College has provided consultation and support to the development of more than 30 Recovery Colleges in the UK, Jersey, Australia, Ireland, Denmark, Japan and Hong Kong.

The use of co-production wasn’t wide spread within South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust before 2013. As a team, we believe we have had a positive impact on this by demonstrating that with time and understanding of one another’s strengths, knowledge and experience service users, carers and staff members can collaborate on a truly meaningful level.  The team now regularly delivers our ‘Working Together: Co-production in Action’ workshop both within South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust to clinical and corporate services and to other organisations, having a positive influence on the way these staff members engage with and involve service users and carers within their day to day work.

Offering hope, control and opportunity

We have learned that offering ‘hope, control and opportunity’ (our motto!) is key to supporting our students to participate in workshops and courses that are of their own choosing, rather than being referred by someone offering them care and support.  Having the ability to make choices is empowering and helps students to develop confidence, which they often feedback is a positive outcome of their participation.   The college team has continually sought feedback from students and trainers along the journey of developing the Recovery College. A variety of ways to enrol, student support options and more opportunities for people to get involved in co-producing and delivering new workshops have been developed as a result.

South London and Maudsley Recovery College continues to grow, develop and increase the number of workshops on offer.  In 2018/19, a focus is being put on co-producing several courses that address the interaction between mental and physical health and encourage students to increase their physical activity to support their mental health.

South London and Maudsley Recovery College would not be able to effectively use the co-production model without the incredible support from the clinicians across King’s Health Partners who contribute their skills and knowledge as an add-on to their day-to-day work.  The team send a warm thanks to all of these staff members for the way they have enthusiastically embraced a different way of working and contributed to health and wellbeing of the service users, carers and other staff within the trust. South London and Maudsley Recovery College is funded by The Maudsley Charity and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. 

Visit the King’s Health Partners Mind & Body programme website to find out more about how we’re driving integrated mental and physical healthcare.

Visit the South London and Maudsley Recovery College website for more information, or get in contact at or Kirsty Giles at