The Recovery college at the Liferooms – Mersey Care – HC – #MHAwards18

The Recovery College started delivering in 2013 from Rathbone Hospital. A small curriculum centred on understanding mental health conditions was offered to Mersey Care service users and their carers. The Recovery College was set up to provide Mersey Care Service Users with recovery focused activities and education, helping people to help themselves and better understand their mental health challenges. We have now revised our aim to provide high quality and varied recovery learning opportunities to all our communities across Merseyside and Sefton. We recognise the need to reduce stigma and increase understanding of mental health support in our communities. The Recovery College curriculum has grown from eight course offers to over fifty courses, experiences, social groups and wellbeing activities.

Highly Commended in Integration of Physical & MH Care Category - #MHAwards18


  • From start: Yes
  • During process: Yes
  • In evaluation: Yes


  • Peer: Yes
  • Academic: Yes
  • PP Collaborative: Yes

Find out more

  • Anthony Muldowney - Chef Lecturer and Vocational Skills lead
  • 0151 479 3992



Please briefly describe your project, group, team or service, outlining what you do and why it makes a difference.

The Recovery College started delivering in 2013 from Rathbone Hospital. A small curriculum centred on understanding mental health conditions was offered to Mersey Care service users and their carers. The Recovery College was set up to provide Mersey Care Service Users with recovery focused activities and education, helping people to help themselves and better understand their mental health challenges. We have now revised our aim to provide high quality and varied recovery learning opportunities to all our communities across Merseyside and Sefton. We recognise the need to reduce stigma and increase understanding of mental health support in our communities. The Recovery College curriculum has grown from eight course offers to over fifty courses, experiences, social groups and wellbeing activities. 2018 has also seen the addition of a vocational offer which will develop further with our new partnership with Hugh Baird College. Our curriculum is co-designed and co-produced with Service Users, Life Rooms members, Partners, Staff and people with lived experience of mental or physical health diagnosis. Our members are supported to develop personal aims and objectives which we try to help them realise. Most importantly with the majority of our staff and volunteers having lived experience, we really do understand. Our team is growing alongside the local demand for more Recovery College provision across our region and looks a little like this at the moment:


What makes your service stand out from others? Please provide an example of this.

In May 2016 The Life Rooms opened and The Recovery College has been based in our community accessible spaces since. The Recovery College has grown significantly at Life Rooms and most importantly is accessible by everyone in our communities. Recovery Colleges should be safe places that offer a supportive and preventative curriculum regarding the whole person. By offering such a varied curriculum that centres around mental and physical health and wellbeing we are able to support our communities to take control of their lives and restore hope through opportunities co-produced and co-delivered by people who understand. We deliver our curriculum offers in beautiful buildings and provide safe non-clinical environments with the latest teaching technologies. We have been able to grow our curriculum offers through our respected partnerships with 3rd sector, charities and community initiatives.

Our students have benefited from a huge range of social activities not normally offered in a Mental Health Recovery College, this has included Volunteering with Dogs in partnership with Merseyside Dogs Home, Feeling Better Through Comedy in partnership with our resident comedienne, Uke n Chill in partnership with MOWLL and Super Sing in partnership with Liverpool Philharmonic. We have recently expanded our team, including a Chef lecturer who is delivering courses focusing around healthy eating, vocational qualification, pathways into work experience and full-time employment. Some of his offering include healthy takeaways (Creating classic takeaways dishes with half the cost half the calories), Weigh to go (A weight management course with a cooking lesson to offer extra support) and volunteer courses offering vital work experience in a safe environment.


How do you ensure an effective, safe, compassionate and sustainable workforce?

The Recovery College has been built and developed around a Peer Workforce model, harnessing the experiences of service users through employment or volunteering opportunities. All staff and volunteers are engaged in Mersey Care’s wider Trust values of Continuous Improvement, Accountability, Respect and Enthusiasm. We have a clearly defined pathway of progression and support for anyone accessing Life Rooms who would like to Volunteer with us. Experienced Volunteers are offered various training opportunities which develop their skills as trainers, including vocational qualifications, which may lead to bank work. Bank workers are offered paid shifts as Facilitators and are also welcome to apply for substantive roles as they come available. Most Recovery College staff have started with us as students and found the experience so rewarding they have pursued development and employment with us. This is encouraged so we can demonstrate our staff really do understand and have experience of mental and physical health diagnosis. Co-production and co-delivery is at the heart of all our work. Decisions about the future direction of Recovery College are discussed as equals across teams of Recovery College staff, service users, experts by profession and experts by experience.


We host bi-monthly Recovery College Advisory Group where anyone interested is welcome to come along and get involved. This group stems from the Life Rooms Advisory Group but focuses specifically on Recovery College development. Staff and Volunteers are supported by the Recovery College Manager by way of one to one meetings, monthly team meetings, reflective practice and professional coaching. Staff with disabilities are supported through organisational policy such as Supporting Staff with Disabilities. All staff are recruited in line with values based recruitment and service user representation is on every recruiting panel. Personal and professional development is supported and encouraged through annual appraisal and business need at all levels of employment at Recovery College. Life Rooms has an identified Safeguarding Lead who all staff have access to. SL provides regular raining and updates to staff and all managers offer real time support to staff and volunteers.


Who is in your team?

Head of Recovery college and integration – Band 8a Chef Lecturer and Vocational skills lead – Band 6 Recovery college Manager – Band 5 4 Recovery college facilitators – Band 4 Assessor -Band 4 College Administrator – Band 2


How do you work with the wider system?

The Life Rooms is a concept developed by Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, designed to provide enhanced support for the mental health and wellbeing of service users, carers, their families and local community through a social model. The first site was opened in Walton’s former library in May 2016, which was originally funded by Scottish- American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1911. It was restored and refurbished and now provides a stunning home for learning, recovery, health and wellbeing. Carnegie’s philanthropic intent was driven by the belief that access to beautiful environments would lift people’s spirits, give them hope, and provide them with the learning and opportunity with which to move forward in life. The ethos of the Life Rooms rings true with this Carnegie vision and maintains his philosophy of a beautiful place to be in recognition of the human significance of being afforded a positive environment.

A second site was opened in Southport in May last year and a third Life Rooms, based at Hugh Baird College in Bootle, opens later this year. It will enable the Trust to provide enhanced support for young adults, their families and communities. The Life Rooms has brought the Recovery College, volunteering services, and pathways and employment support services under one roof; it offers a ‘community hub’ model in response to mental distress. Additionally, it offers a safe and welcoming environment with access to a library service, computers and a café. The Life Rooms is a place that offers support for those wanting to take the next steps in their life journey, whatever that may be. The Life Rooms now sustains and co-ordinates the activities of nearly 60 community based partnerships and initiatives, facilitating a wider system of health and well-being support beyond conventional Health Service models.


Do you use co-production approaches?

Co-production is at the heart of every curriculum ofer at Recovery College. When reviewing or planning development of the curriculum offer we review attendance, interest and demand data to get an oversight of which courses are reaching the widest audience. This data is then shared in a number of ways to ensure decisions are dictated by the co-involvement of service users. Recovery College Advisory Group is held bi-monthly and open to anyone interested in getting involved in the development of Recovery College. At these meetings we will discuss curriculum development and review, document review and enrolment process/ marketing processes to ensure we get a range of opinion and experience of using the service. Meetings are advertised across registered students and volunteers through our database, by way of posters and flyers, through social media accounts and our website.

We also encourage involvement through links across our Mersey Care clinical services and departments. During Recovery College downtime we advertise (as above) specific co-production sessions and build a timetable of programmes/ courses to be considered for review. We chose topic area from feedback attained throughout the term. This may have been collected via course evaluations, discussions and other means of feedback. All feedback is captured by staff and managers of the Recovery College through our downtime notes for review document. We hold Partnership meetings quarterly when all current and previous partners interested in or already delivering in Recovery College meet together to discuss their experiences and future plans. At these meetings we offer Mental Health Awareness training to all external stakeholders to raise awareness of Recovery Learning and to ensure teachers/ trainers involved in the College have awareness of our student population and the difficulties they may face. Professionals and experts by profession are encouraged to co-produce Recovery Learning offers alongside service users, we enable this to happen and offer teaching and education skills to promote this work.


Do you share your work with others?

Developing a North West Recovery Champions group in partnership with The Big Life Group, Pennine Care Foundation Trust and Greater Manchester MH NHS Trust to share good practice and developments throughout the North West. Development of 20+ partnership relationships to enhance our curriculum offer and optimise opportunity to our communities. In return we are able to offer our mental health expertise and training. We have welcomed many Recovery Colleges to visit The Life Rooms and have shared our processes, curriculum offers and insight. We champion the sharing of good practice to improve Recovery Learning opportunities and investment nationally.


What outcome measures are collected, how do you use them and how do they demonstrate improvement?

We are currently implementing SWEMWBS across the Life Rooms and Recovery College service service so will be collecting our first dataset for this over the next few months. We are also in the process of undertaking a qualitative piece of work, working alongside wider Life Rooms users, to explore what ‘outcomes’ mean within the context of the Recovery College. Our aim is to work towards developing a bespoke outcomes measure for the Life Rooms and the services it provides (including Recovery College), based upon a user perspective on the service.


Has your service been evaluated (by peer or academic review)?

Aside from regular service data, we have undertook the following evaluation work: Initial report May 16 – December 16 An initial report documenting the inception and journey of the Life Rooms:

Service evaluation 1 January 17 – December 17 Evaluation led by external researchers. Quantitative work: Looking at a cohort (77) of Mersey Care service users that used either the Pathways Advice service or attended a Recovery College course (or both) between January – March 17. Matching this cohort by gender, age, ethnicity, PbR status who did not use the Life Rooms. Comparing clinical activity costs for both groups 5 months prior and 5 months post the intervention period. There were no statistically significant findings in relation to clinical activity cost for the 2 cohorts. However, this was a small cohort over a short time period. At this time period, there was also no changes made to Trust clinical pathways to acknowledge the support the Life Rooms was providing to service users (i.e. they were receiving treatment as usual alongside Life Rooms support).

Therefore, further work is needed to explore the potential financial impact of the Life Rooms. Qualitative work: Co-produced piece of work (four Life Rooms’ users contributed to all parts of qualitative evaluation process). Semi-structured conversations took place with over 150 Life Rooms’ users and stakeholders. This included conversations with almost half of the quantitative cohort as well as other Life Rooms users. Service evaluation 2 January 18 – July 18 There is a piece of work underway currently that replicates the above approach. The quantitative approach, looking at a 6month and 12month time period. Planning documents submitted to CLAHRC for approval. Life Rooms user involved in planning and implementation of this piece of work.


How will you ensure that your service continues to deliver good mental health care?

Supporting staff and volunteers through continued professional development and a robust appraisal process. Support through reflective practice, regular team and individual meetings and wider team communication. Working closely with experts by profession across Mersey Care to be aware of changes and updates in practice. Continued co-production opportunities to ensure our offer is representative of the people we serve and clinical services needs. Along with continued investment in Advisory Groups to ensure decisions for the future of The Recovery College are made jointly in a safe community environment. Evaluation of our curriculum to keep our offers on track with social and clinical needs/ demands.


What aspects of your service would you share with people who want to learn from you?

The Challenge we faced in the early stages of the project was separating reputation of a non-clinical offering run by a health care provider this took time, with our service users requiring constant reminders that we are here to support not diagnose. We want to share All! We are passionate about our service and witness first hand the impact it has on people’s lives. We actively share as far and wide as we can to promote mental health, physical health and overall wellbeing for our communities. We have worked closely with: Merseyside Police, Lloyd’s TSB Banking Group, Edge Hill University, Hugh Baird College, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and a major construction firm in Liverpool.



How many people do you see?

  • 25,000 visitors to the Life Rooms at Walton • 9,000 visitors to the Life Rooms at Southport • 3,678 registered students in the Recovery College

How do people access the service?

Recovery College is a self-referred community initiative. Everyone is welcome to attend our free to access courses. Our curriculum offers a wide range of courses and opportunities to appeal to everyone regardless of mental health or physical health. The curriculum focuses on raising awareness of social and wellbeing issues and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and disability. By offering inclusive access to everyone in our communities we hope to raise awareness and understanding of health and wellbeing issues and achieve a greater level of social awareness and support. Prospective students are asked to complete an enrolment form which is safely stored on our database. Students can access the enrolment form at our dedicated enrolment events (held over two days every month), by emailing or telephoning the College or by calling in to a Life Rooms site in person where a staff member or volunteer will always be available to support. Staff throughout Mersey Care are encouraged to raise awareness of what Recovery College has to offer. We engage with staff regularly to ensure they are up to date with Recovery College developments and can talk to service users about opportunities available. Staff can help service users and carers complete our enrolment forms or support them in accessing our service.


How long do people wait to start receiving care?

People are able to select courses and opportunities from a timetable developed every month. Our timetable covers a 28 day period so if someone has missed a course they would like to take, it will be delivered again the next month and places will be offered on a first come, first served basis. Anyone can access The Life Rooms at any time before their first course or between courses as there is always social activity available. We have a Community Garden, Arts and Crafts Groups, Walking Groups and daily activities like jigsaws, card games and mindful colouring available at any time. Lots of people access the Life Rooms for a drink and slice of cake to become familiar with the environment before they decide to sign up to enrol.


How do you ensure you provide timely access?

The Recovery College is open to all as a self-referral route. Our Curriculum offer is repeated every 28 days to ensure timely access to courses and opportunities. We host two open day events each month in which students can enrol and get further information on our offers. Service Users of Mersey Care have direct access to course bookings through their care team. Although we are a whole community offer, we understand the need to support clinical services, especially those patients at point of discharge, to ensure service users feel supported through transitional change.


What is your service doing to identify mental health inequalities that exist in your local area?

Both Walton and Southport are areas that have high levels of deprivation in relation to socio-economic factors. For example, the Life Rooms, Walton sits within Warbreck ward within Liverpool, which has a average income and rate of worklessness significantly below the national average (£28,624 vs. £37,476; 13.5% vs. 8,4% respectively) (Liverpool City Council, 2016:4). The Life Rooms, Southport sits with Duke’s Ward within Sefton. The 2011 Census indicated that of the then 9,351 residents aged 16 to 74 living within Dukes, 64% were economically active.


What inequalities have you identified regarding access to, and receipt and experience of, mental health care?

Whilst mental health affects people across socio-economic boundaries, it disproportionately affects those at a socio-economic disadvantage. The particular socio-economic causes of health inequalities that would contribute to poor mental wellbeing are things like poverty, lack of education, poor housing, and high rates of physical health problems


What is your service doing to address and advance equality?

The Life Rooms attempts to address the above problem by providing community ‘hubs’ whereby people can be supported to access the opportunities that are right for them. This may be a course, through peer support, accessing support in relation to housing, debt or employment, or a mixture of many of these different things. The Life Rooms also acts as a community resource, providing access to IT and library facilities to increase opportunity. Anyone who accesses the Life Rooms can use these resources, and there are number of opportunities to get support to do this, for example, IT courses or help from a Life Rooms volunteer. In terms of increasing access to the above opportunities, we have developed links with a number of different organisations that support BAME communities.

For example, Sahir House, MRANG, Kumba Imani, Mary Seacole House, LARA in order to promote access to our services. People in marginalised groups are at greater risk of mental distress (Mental Health Task Force 2016:7), therefore a long term strategy is currently being devised with local community development workers as to how best we can support BME residents to access the Life Rooms. There is no one route into the Life Rooms. Many of those who access the Life Rooms will be Mersey Care service users referred by a clinician. However, people that come to the Life Rooms can also be referred at a Primary Care level, or via a third sector organisation they are involved with. Equally, people can simply drop in and be supported to access the opportunities, without any involvement from an organisation or care provider.


How do you identify the needs of a person using the service (such as their physical, psychological and social needs)?

Our service is self-referral when individuals are ready to take the next step in their recovery journey. We provide a welcoming and supportive environment with staff and volunteers always ready to talk to individuals about how we can meet their needs. Facilitators support individuals to identify their learning needs and social opportunities available through the college; they are also able to signpost individuals to wider Life Rooms teams to address social and physical needs. Students are also offered the opportunity to complete evaluations based on their Recovery College experiences and speak to any of the team in regard to personal goals.


How do you meet the needs of people using the service and how could you improve on this?

Continued curriculum development through co-design and extended partnership activity. We want to continue to offer what we believe to be the most varied recovery learning curriculum available nationally. Increased coproduction and delivery opportunities to ensure we are listening to and working alongside our members. To improve our development pathway for Volunteers at Recovery College through vocational training opportunities such as the Level 3 Education & Training programme. Broaden funding streams to increase commissioned social activity and recovery learning opportunities. We want to welcome more diverse groups of people in our communities through positive engagement whilst tackling stigma around mental health. We will work closely with our Community Engagement Team to ensure our service is developing in an inclusive and conscious direction.


What support do you offer families and carers? (where family/carers are not the service users)

The ethos of the Recovery College is to involve and support everyone. We have specific Carer courses and Groups that have been developed by carers, for carers and understand the pressures felt. To encourage an inclusive view point at development and co-production meetings, we encourage people with different experiences of mental health whether that be as a patient, carer, friend or family member. In 2017 we created a Recovery College Advisory Panel made up of service users, community members, and partner organisations in order to work collaboratively and be responsive to need. We hold regular stakeholder events from which we identified a steering group to develop the direction of the Recovery College provision.

The aim of these events is to: • Allow those using the Recovery College provision to learn new skills and direct the future provision • Build up transferable skills • Improve population health and well-being • Reduce inequalities and social exclusion • Allow staff to explore working differently • Allow staff to develop new skills and resilience • Support transformation partnerships • Explore new models of partnership working • Help with the establishment of successive Recovery College provision The creation of this group has led to the delivery of services with added value; by providing a social offer alongside a recognised clinical pathway this supports all community and inpatient services in planning care from the point of entry into services to discharge from them. The flexibility within the Life Rooms model has allowed us to develop a provision in secure services; high, medium, low and specialist learning disability. This approach makes best use of the Life Rooms’ provision to ensure a smooth transition to conditions of less security and out into the community.


Webpage for service

Hours the service operates *

0930-1630 Monday – Friday


Population details

Brief description of population (e.g. urban, age, socioeconomic status):

The Life Rooms (Walton and Southport) provide services to the people of both Sefton and Liverpool metropolitan boroughs. Sefton consists of a coastal strip of land on the Irish Sea extending from the primarily industrial area of Bootle to the traditional seaside resort of Southport whilst Liverpool is predominantly an urban conurbation also located the north west coast. Age Liverpool (2015) % Age Sefton (2016) % 0 to 15 18 0 to 17 20 16 to 64 68.1 18 to 64 57 64+ 17.1 64+ 23 Sefton in its entirety is in the most deprived quarter of English Local Authorities with 5 of its lower super output areas (LSOA) in the top 1%. However in other parts of the borough are some of the least deprived areas, with two LSOAs being in the least deprived 5% of areas nationally. 71% of Sefton residents aged between 16 and 64 were in employment between October 2015 and September 2016 (62% employees & 9% self employed). This is slightly lower than the North West (72%) and England as a whole (74%) Liverpool is ranked the 4th most deprived local authority with 26 LSOAs in the most deprived 1% nationally and 134 LSOAs in the most deprived 10% nationally which is 45% of the city’s total. Only 63% of Liverpool residents aged between 16 and 64 were in employment between October 15 and September 2016. This is significantly lower than both the North West (72%) and England (74%) figures.

Size of population and localities covered:

Sefton has a population of approximately 274,000 whilst Liverpool has a population of approximately 478,580. The Life Rooms at their two locations are available for access to the population of both Liverpool and Sefton metropolitan boroughs

Commissioner and providers

Commissioned by (e.g. name of local authority, CCG, NHS England): *

Liverpool and Sefton CCGs

Provided by (e.g. name of NHS trust) or your organisation: *

Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

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