Wednesday 14th June 2017

WEA offers learning to young people and adults via partners who refer or directly recruit on our behalf and often also provide community-based venues.  We provide the learning – they provide access to communities we could not reach without their help.  By working in partnership we are able to extend the ‘reach’ of our work and make sure it targets the most vulnerable people in local communities.

WEA knows that engaging in learning has an impact not just on the individual who is learning but provides wider benefits to family, community and the wider world.  We have also long recognised non-formal learning can promote health and wellbeing.  Our programmes in Nottingham include ‘health and wellbeing’ as a theme with learning outcomes related directly to this topic.  We also know, anecdotally and from declarations on enrolment forms, a consistent number of students on our courses experience mental health problems and report increased wellbeing when they evaluate their experience of learning.  In 2015 we were selected to be one of 60 national partners on the national Adult Learning Mental Health research project  – the purpose of this was to prove whether specific ways of offering informal learning can make measurable improvements to the health and wellbeing of people with mild to moderate mental health problems.  We’ve learned a lot from this work and we want you to help us take this work forward in the city by becoming a recruitment/referral partner.

Why focus on this target group in Nottingham?

We know mild or moderate mental health problems are associated with disability or long term sickness, unemployment and deprivation.

Overall Nottingham is one of the 20% most deprived districts in terms of public health (PH Profile 2016) with about a third of children living in low income families.  It is a social mobility ‘coldspot’ (Ref? date of paper) meaning it is one of the worst local authority areas in England in terms of offering a child from a disadvantaged background the chance to do well at school and get a good job.  This is reflected in higher  than average national percentages of children living in poverty, children in care, family homelessness and 16-18 year old first admissions to the youth justice system

Higher than national or regional average of unemployment (NOMIS Labour Mkt. Profile Nottingham quoting 2016 Jan-Dec = 7.6% – regional 4.3%, UK 4.8%)

Long term sickness levels for the unemployed  (NOMIS, as above – 25% compared to 23% (region) or 22.3% (national)

Higher levels of Students  (NOMIS, as above, 39.4% compared to 26.3% nationally)

You may already be involved with ‘Wellness in Mind’ the city’s mental health and wellbeing strategy (2014-17) or seen the Nottingham Health and Wellbeing Board’s Healthier, Happier Lives 2016-2020 .Both strategies focus on wider social/environmental interventions to help develop positive mental health and support recovery.  The priority we can address, in partnership with you, is ‘promoting mental resilience and preventing mental health problems’.

Do we know learning makes a difference to mental health?

As yet unpublished data appears to indicate that WEA learning can make a significant difference to some learners and support reliable recovery from mild to moderate mental health conditions.   Published research on non-formal education suggests leisure-related learning positively impacts on later life wellbeing (Duckworth & Cara, 2012) and may engender twice as much self-confidence as being employed (Fuijiwara & Metcalf 2012).  Community learning can support higher levels of wellbeing than other activities and this wellbeing can persist for 18 months to 2 years after the learning (Harding et al, 2014) and, in more detailed but earlier research (Mental Health Foundation 2011) learning can reduce anxiety levels and depression to mild or sub-clinical levels. Any learning we offer will embed key principles about how, when and what to offer in terms of learning which we have learned from  recent experience on the research project.

We have learned it can be helpful for students to discuss the how and why of learning and how it fits into the context of their lives before joining a course.  Usually WEA learning, like all formal or non-formal learning for young people and adults,  embeds some 1-1 support during the first session of a course – we want to sustain our action learning for living workshops  that offer 1-1 and group support about developing resilience alongside giving people a chance to practise a new, informal skill.  (Read how one student found the process here)

A programme of tasters/short courses offers the scope for 1-1 and group dialogue about how students can be motivated to persist in learning and  discussion of practical ways to link what they are learning to mental  resilience and sustained wellbeing.  So we have the concept and we’ve tried it out during the research project – but we need student referrals and recruitment to make it work and establish it as a starting point for other learning pathways in the city.

What’s the benefit for me?

1. We know what students want from learning and what drives them to participate and succeed

We take a student-centred approach which means we consult and embed what students have told us about what ‘works’ in learning for them.  This is particularly relevant for this target group.  We can draw on the case studies and feedback we have received from several hundred students during the lifetime of the project about what works for them in Nottingham; we can also shape what we offer to any recommendations emerging from the national research report itself when it’s published in the autumn.  The health sector is a fast moving complex sector which focuses resources and tendering on evidence-based practice – we will have evidence of the impact of learning interventions.

2. We have the workforce expertise

Because health and wellbeing has been on WEA’s agenda over time we have developed expertise in our workforce related to teaching and supporting students with mental health problems.  Our tutors and information and advice workers are the asset students value most.

3. We have funding

We have access to education funding which means the majority of students we work with who receive a range of state benefits can access the taster course without paying for the course.  What you are offering as a partner may be a local venue – so people don’t have to pay expensive travel costs or the reassurance of going back to learning in a familiar neighbourhood building.

4. Partnership adds value

Our experience on the research project has demonstrated once we recruit a student they stay and thrive on a learning course.  Our challenge is finding as many ways as possible of reaching people with mild to moderate mental health problems so they know what our learning offer is and how it can boost health and wellbeing.  We would like to work with you to provide a more consistent offer; then the partnership can highlight that offer to Clinical Commissioning Groups and Integrated Care Communities as well as to the community mental health services that offer direct care to people with mental health problems.  There is a great deal of added value for both partners in offering tailor made solution to present to these health and social care organisations

5. We know there is a need in Nottingham 

We have the commitment to try and do something about it. We are the largest provider of adult education in England and mental health is one of our strategic business development areas so we have buy-in for this work at Trustee level in our organisation.

Can you help us?