York St. John: Converge – a community of learners

Converge is a partnership between York St John University and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust delivering educational opportunities to people overcoming mental health difficulties. Students and staff teach our courses and support those who participate. The project is driven by two imperatives:

  1. The need for recovery-orientated, non-stigmatising educational opportunities for people who are experiencing mental health problems.
  2. To provide opportunities for university students to learn through working alongside people who use mental health services.

Accordingly, the aims of the project are:

  1. To offer high quality educational opportunities to people overcoming mental health difficulties.
  2. To challenge the dynamics of social exclusion that make it difficult for people overcoming mental health difficulties to access good quality educational and employment opportunities.
  3. To provide an opportunity for university students to work alongside people overcoming mental health difficulties, enhancing their employability and ‘real world’ experience.

Universities remain privileged and relatively well resourced institutions.

The aim of Converge is to harness the university’s knowledge, expertise, goodwill, and forward-looking energy for the benefit of local people who use mental health services. Our aim quite simply is to create a healing campus. Importantly however the benefit is reciprocal: students and staff benefit as much as our visitors.

Development and Delivery

Converge offers courses in sports/exercise, music, theatre, dance, fine art, creative writing, psychology, life coaching, research methods and storytelling. We run a choir with over 40 members and a theatre company, Out of Character (19 members). We employ 3 members of staff, 13 graduates on casual contracts and work alongside 4 secondees from the NHS.


What distinguishes Converge is that it offers a model of collaboration between a university and a mental health service provider that can make a real difference in the lives of users of mental health services, full-time students and the university community. Each can learn from and alongside the other. It matches the ‘core business’ of its key providers: the university educates its students; the health service has a valuable provision for its clients; and full-time students complete their modules.


“The Community Mental Health Teams have developed excellent partnership working with York St John University through the ‘Converge’ partnership.”(Care Quality Commission Report, January 2015)

Winners: Non-Clinical Team of the Year, 2016, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust.

Shortlisted for Health Service Journal Award (2015) in the category ‘Acute or Community Service Redesign’.

Winners: Medipex Innovation in the NHS Award, 2014: http://www.medipex.co.uk/events/nhs-innovation-awards-2014/

The project is cost effective because of the ‘convergence bonus’ that derives from a provision that benefits both the university and the NHS Trust. The Trust contributes a portion of the full costs and the university contributes staff and student time, rooms, utilities, library and office provision.

Converge contributes significantly to mental health provisionthrough opening the university and its resources to mental health service users and providing educational opportunities that promote hope and aspiration for the future and challenge the corrosive effects of the mental illness identity.

Converge increases social inclusion. Social isolation is one of the most intractable problems for people who have experienced mental illness. Converge students tell us that engaging in the project promotes a sense of belonging and increased social integration. One Converge student recently said: “Converge has been the best thing to support me, it has helped me to stay out of hospital by providing engaging activities which engage me as a whole person. It also gives me a community to be part of.”

Converge offers valuable opportunities to university students. In the academic year 2015-16 85 students were involved in Converge either helping to deliver courses or by supporting participants. This is experience that enables students to develop an understanding of mental health that will enhance employability on graduation.

Details of publications related to the project can be obtained from Dr Nick Rowe

Impact Measurement

We have developed a range of outcome measures:

  1. We carefully record attendance and retention
  2. Distance Travelled Interviews: ‘Distance travelled’ is a term, which seeks to convey the development of person over a particular time period. Each interview is kept as open as possible asking the interviewee to speak about their involvement in Converge, and their mental health and then reducing prompt or subsequent questions to a minimum. These interviews are available on request.
  3. Review of mental health service use: With the help of staff from the Trust we are examining the medical history of a range of Converge students who have been involved in the project for over 18 months. We are seeking to discover if there has been any change in use of NHS services. In pilot study of 6 participants, 5 had reduced their use of mental health services between 30-60% since involvement in Converge.

Course feedback; the standard way in which universities measure student satisfaction.

Entrepreneurial Organisation

The Converge model- offering courses in the university to people who use mental health services and involving university students in delivery and support – is now being taken up in Leeds universities (Trinity, Beckett, Leeds University and Leeds College of Music) and in Newcastle (Northumbria). We have trade marked the logo and name and we provide consultancy to these universities and the mental health providers.

Next steps?

  1. To further develop and embed the Converge model in the region
  2. To extend the employment of people with lived experience as tutors, mentors and evaluators.
  3. To develop Discover course which will aim to reconnect people with mental health problems to the cultural resources in the area.


Contact Name

Dr Nick Rowe

Contact Email Address