Tyneside Recovery College/Mental Health Collective

We are unique in that we are a recovery College that is entirely peer led and peer delivered within a framework of collaborative working with multiple third sector and statutory partners. We have evolved over 2 years with a budget of 6k and a staff team of 2.


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


  • Peer: Yes
  • Academic: No
  • PP Collaborative: Yes

Find out more

What We Did

Winners of 2016 Positive Practice Partnership Working Award

We are unique in that we are a recovery College that is entirely peer led and peer delivered within a framework of collaborative working with multiple third sector and statutory partners. We have evolved over 2 years with a budget of 6k and a staff team of 2, which has consequently seen the resourcefulness of peers take centre stage in creating an effective, cost efficient service that’s used by 150 plus people each week. We have recently moved to a city centre venue within a building filled with wellbeing centred charitable third sector and community interest groups, further increasing the range of opportunities for students.

Our multiple partnerships and our results make us completely different to any other Recovery College click over here now. We take pride in this difference, as it means that we haven’t been created with an off-the-shelf, nationally-dictated blueprint, but have emerged from the people and communities in Newcastle, Gateshead and surrounding areas: we dance to the tunes we collectively create, not We have built a community of insightful and resilient survivalists who heal, support and strengthen each other without the need for clinical assumptions, dogma or pathology.

The best thing about having no money is that nobody can tell you how to spend it and so we have been allowed to evolve into something truly organic that belongs to the people who use it. Partnership development has been natural and necessary. Not having the funds to pay facilitators or contributors has meant that the 200 plus courses and workshops delivered so far, have had a very personal investment from those people delivering it. A peer perspective from having used the skills and knowledge themselves in their own recovery and a passion for recovery and its cathartic effect as the motivation, not money.

Our teaching methods are collaborative. Everybody in the room holds the same status and every experience adds to the richness and diversity of survivalism. People have coped in different ways and every single one of them is valid. Because mutuality and support between students, volunteers, staff is continual, informal and incidental anybody has the opportunity to utilise their understanding in a very powerful and affirming way by helping others. Realising their abilities, taking control of their lives and educating others.

People continually tell us that we are very different to traditional mental health services, and we don’t take that as a criticism but as an accolade: we’re not trying to do or deliver what they do, so there’s no need to resemble them. We start from the premise that if someone is still alive despite the trauma, abuse, disadvantage that they have experienced, then they are already resilient. They are survivalists and their strengths and insight are added to our community of warriors and super humans. Fostering such a natural and genuine sense of acceptance, recognition and belonging are what makes the greatest difference to our students. We measure and collect with diligence quantitative and qualitative feedback, which has given us the evidence we need to demonstrate to anyone, that what we do has a life changing impact on the people who come to us. Within weeks of starting, students increase their understanding, recognise their resourcefulness and resilience and find the confidence to connect with others. Our collaborative working brings multiple opportunities and interests to explore in safety and allows students, quite often for the first time, to aspire to be their best self and work towards the life that they want. Please take the time to listen to what Tyneside Recovery College means to our students by watching them talk about the impact the college has had in their own words. We haven’t edited the enclosed narratives as we don’t feel that that is our prerogative. Their honest interpretation is the only true validation of what we do here.

The current prospectus is available here, but doesn’t reflect all of our current activity as many options were added after it went to press. Future versions will be less NHS in design and style to better represent the wealth of 3rd sector activity input and ownership in the collective enterprise.

Wider Active Support

The Tyneside Recovery College and Mental Health Collective is the crucible for the forging of a new way of working and a new approach to mental health, centring on community development and peer support skills, to improve user-led capacity in Newcastle, Gateshead and beyond which also provide a platform for service users to experience employment. Our flexible space and open access and collaboration with all of the mental health voluntary and community sector allows service users to both gain paid work, and to operate as leaders in user-led and developed initiatives in a non-proprietary, supported and accommodating environment. We have buy-in from the whole membership of Volsag, the mental health voluntary sector network for Newcastle and Gateshead and the transparent, mutually-assistive way in which we operate is open to all-comers, and every mental health group (interpreting mental health in a broad inclusive fashion, thus acknowledging cross-overs with drug and alcohol services, family services, learning disability and autism spectrum agencies) is positively welcome to use the space, its rooms and resources.

This aids peer support in three distinct ways: Up-skilling and boosting capacity for existing peer support groups; Allowing interested service users to establish new peer support groups; Working with service providers to embed peer support and user-led principles in their activities. 
The keys to the proposal are that it not only centres on user-led peer support, but also that it is “open source” or non-proprietary, working across organisations within the locality.
It gives the most supportive, progressive yet flexible way for service users to utilise their lived experience for the benefits of other service users, and to empower themselves in doing so, working across different agencies and communities without barriers. This rewards and gives an entry to paid work, plus opens the door for opportunities for more such work with partner organisations and/or those in which workers may become embedded. 
Being in the same place brings systemic benefits and synergies: improving the connectivity and networking between services, bringing them closer to user-led initiatives, thus lowering the barriers (be they ones of culture, business, outlook or other) between organisations and promoting whole-system, whole-place, user-centred and user-led working. 
The space is ideal for collaboration, pooled/shared training, joint events, for larger organisations to buddy/assist smaller ones and also to act as an incubator for service users who wish to start something (be that a group or a business opportunity) within a supportive, understanding and assisting environment.


As an entirely peer led service, involvement and influence is a pre-requisite of our existence. We are confident that in every sense, the predominant perspective is a peer perspective but we are not complacent. We evaluate everything and more. We continually give students and staff the opportunity and confidence to have a voice.
Every session of every course is evaluated from the students’ perspective. Any changes or suggested amendments come from students and every student has the opportunity and support to develop and deliver a course that they feel would benefit others.
We create an environment where there is no dictate from a superior or prescribed body of knowledge. No hierarchy of insight or validity. Where it is safe enough to challenge or accept. Peers own and direct all aspects college ethos and activity.

Looking Back/Challenges Faced

On reflection we would probably streamline the enrolment process. Negotiating typical NHS bureaucracy within a landscape of innovative evolution probably meant that our initial insistence that all students re-enrol at the start of every term was more of a nod to statutory system compliance rather than being in the students’ best interest or what was necessary in relation to risk. We would also have more realistic timeframes in relation to how a huge organisation like NTW can react to meet the technological needs of an emerging service.

As a service that sits in the 3rd sector, whilst being staffed by NHS staff we have encountered systemic and practical challenges. The lack of substantive funding or staffing has allowed us freedom from any kind of prescriptive dictate from the trust but it’s been difficult to utilise the advantages of working for a statutory organisation. We existed in our new premises for two months without a land line phone, we are still awaiting the delivery of computers that were ordered through the NHS six months ago. We recruited an administrator last week after two years of asking and demonstrating the need for one. Input from clinicians isn’t backfilled so we still have professional’s co facilitating courses on their day off. We have had discussions with clinicians who have insisted that a student’s non-attendance be reported to them so that they can enter the information onto their case notes and arguments with risk averse senior managers who have suggested they want to impose formal risk assessments instead of the safety planning that we use.

The challenges have virtually all arisen from having a foot in both the third sector and the statutory camps. Genuine collaboration to this extent is brand new and it is perceived as alien, uncomfortable challenging by traditionalists. We have been in the mind-set of “let’s just do it, and the systems will eventually catch up”. The benefit of this way of working is that the systems have caught up and are more useful in that they can complement the landscape that has been created rather than prescribing how that landscape should look. It also makes more sense: we are constantly told that the current health and social care system is unsustainable, unaffordable and that something new is required, and yet traditionalists still cling to the old way of doing things, those very systems and procedures that can’t sustain themselves, let alone improve the lives of service users.


We have the wholehearted backing and full endorsement of Newcastle and Gateshead CCG, NTW NHS Trust, and Newcastle CVS (which also covers Gateshead). The first two have provided much support, financial or in kind and have pledged to do so for the immediate future, while all three are working together, with us, to design future legal entities and constitutional forms to allow for a diversity of income streams. We have secured pro bono assistance from a law firm and likewise free branding and design work from a design agency (actually themselves a collective) which will ensure a vibrant new look, website and mother materials. We have also had several rounds of preliminary discussions with Big Lottery, to ensure that the direction in which we are heading aligns with their refreshed aims and plans. We have good practice within our ranks at bid writing and have secured several smaller charitable grant awards, so believe we are relatively well positioned for the future. We are also enormously experienced at making a little go a long way, on surviving and flourishing on a shoestring, which puts us at a distinct advantage over the kind of initiatives that require heavy and continued investment and are now as a consequence suffering.


We evaluate everything and more. If there is no measurement for what we deliver then we create one based on what is most helpful to the students whilst providing us with the evidence that what we are doing is working and changing lives

In the absence of a measurement that could demonstrate the powerful impact of peer support, we developed the Empower Flower. In relation to individual empowerment, the flower acts as self-reporting, visual, representation of a student’s strengths and needs.

Feeling hopeful, feeling connected, keeping yourself safe, having purpose, taking responsibility, recognising strengths, self-worth and taking control are the aspects that students measure themselves in before and after courses and every single one of our students feels that they have made improvements, grown stronger and more hopeful about the destiny that they are in control of.

We also use SWMWBS on enrolment and at the end of courses, ‘soft educational’ targets, friends and family test, exploration of secondary service usage and GP attendance and continual feedback on the content and impact of the courses and of attending the College. We also have a wealth of evidence of how important connection and opportunity is in fostering hope. Students self-actualise over time to realise that what has been pathologised as something to be fixed or eradicated can be valued as an area of expertise that can be utilised through the multiple vocational opportunities that we are able to support them to access. The human impact is demonstrated through narrative and even the most shy of students commonly request the opportunity to video record their views, such is the strength of feeling they have about how attending the college has impacted on their lives.


The breadth and depth of our partnership working, and the inherent nature of the way in which we work gives us a tremendous range of avenues for dissemination: there are the Trust’s own internal and external networks, plus those of the Newcastle and Gateshead CCG, and in turn the clinical senate and networks (with whom we work directly too). We also contribute to the regional Vanguard (through committee chairing, membership etc) and to the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria. Much of the organisations that comprise the Collective’s work is directly for and with Universities (indeed we have our own service user researcher cohort attached to Northumbria University) and so we have ready access via Northumbria, Newcastle, Durham and Teesside Universities to spread lessons to be learned across future health and social care workforces and academic researchers alike. To this same end we also have representation on HENE committees, and regular presentational slots at their events.

Is there any other information you would like to add?

We are incredibly fortunate with the premises we occupy, as the rest of the building is filled with voluntary sector organisations, with whom we either already work, or with whom we’re beginning to collaborate. While they may not necessarily have a mental health focus, their knowledge and expertise have proved invaluable and most relevant: Victim Support, Rape Crisis, HealthWatch, the Volunteer Centre, Helix Arts and others have joined in our concept of the Collective, and allow service users to receive guidance and assistance, or to pursue interests outwith that that might be provided by regular mental health services, and this can all be done As the whole building operates on a collective basis, this allows for truly rounded, whole person working to meet all needs and interests without anyone having to stay in a narrow mental health pigeonhole.


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