The Severn & Wye Recovery College was developed by the 2gether NHS Foundation Trust in close partnership with mental health service users and partner organisations. Anna Burhouse is Director of Quality at the West of England Academic Health Science Network (WEAHSN) and a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at 2gether. We spoke to Anna about how the college developed and asked for her advice for anyone thinking about improvements they want to make.

Designing for and with local people

The success of recovery colleges in Nottingham and South West London inspired the team behind the Severn & Wye Recovery College and they knew they wanted to use a similar model. But, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire have a very different landscape, covering a large rural area, meaning they had to think creatively about how to provide something a bit different which would fit the needs of local people.

The first thing they did was to get lots of different people involved. The team worked in partnership with people who had personal experience of mental health problems, carers, people who provide adult education, people who work in the voluntary sector and clinicians. The group worked together over several months to come up with the design.

‘Developing the college was an exciting process,’ says Anna. ‘As soon as we got the enthusiasts in the room, it started to build itself. There was a lot of joy in that process, because we suddenly felt liberated to work in different and innovative ways.’

Building a business case for mental health

Following the success of the initial pilot, it was vital for the Severn & Wye Recovery College to make sure it had funding in place to keep it going.

One of the challenges has been finding ways to show the impact of the college and convince others that it makes good financial and business sense to fund the work long term.

‘The benefit for the individual is undoubted,’ Anna says, ‘but how do you quantify the potential benefits at a population level and link it back to the things you did – that is a very complex process and is hard to achieve without longitudinal data (where you track the same group of people at different points in time). Writing a business case for creative and innovative approaches such as this is really very challenging.’

Anna praises her colleagues at Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for supporting the process and the college, and says this was a key learning point for her. ‘If I was doing it again I would start thinking about sustainability from the beginning.’

Anna’s tips for finding ways to improve care

If you’re feeling inspired to start an improvement project, Anna says there are three key ingredients.

  1. Support people to feel confident using basic quality improvement methods: Learn some basic tools for improving quality and help people who have never used them before to realise that they are not scary and not ‘just for experts’. (The Recovery College project used Experience-Based Co-Design and Plan, Do, Study, Act.)
  2. Have passion and curiosity: Question why you are doing things the way you are now, think why they have evolved and what could be improved. Then start to explore small-scale tests of things you predict will make positive changes.
  3. Be open to new ideas and perspectives: Open yourself up and move out of your comfort zone to explore other people’s ideas – particularly those from patients and the public.

Anna says, ‘This is one of the most person-centred, joyous projects I’ve ever been involved in. The peer trainers, the students, the clinical staff… I can’t quite describe how amazing people have been.

‘People have given their time, for free. They have innovated in so many ways. It’s been such a fundamentally creative and energising process. It has been inspirational, it really has.’

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