The Project – Axminster, Devon

The Project runs peer support groups in which focus on activities which help young people (aged 13-24) with mental health issues to develop life skills and increase their ability to cope. It’s an inclusive early intervention service and young people don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to attend. Based in Devon and Somerset, supporting up to 80 young people at any one time.


  • From start: No
  • During process: Yes
  • In evaluation: Yes


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

Find out more



What We Did

The Project runs peer support groups in which focus on activities which help young people (aged 13-24) with mental health issues to develop life skills and increase their ability to cope. It’s an inclusive early intervention service and young people don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to attend. Based in Devon and Somerset, supporting up to 80 young people at any one time, we take a holistic approach to mental health, refusing to view our young people as merely a set of symptoms: we empower them to manage their mental health better and achieve their goals.

We educate young people about mental health in order to promote a greater understanding of their issues and introduce them to a variety of coping strategies and life skills, including mindfulness, nutrition and exercise. We take an informal approach, and this is frequently mentioned in the positive feedback we receive from our young people. They also participate in discussions about mental health and what works for them, providing each other with advice, empathy and support.

A recurring message we get through feedback is that The Project gives young people hope. Many of the young people who have attended our peer support groups have accessed higher education and/or found work, which some had previously thought was an unachievable goal. Learning how to manage their mental health opens up new possibilities and enables our young people to live full, satisfying lives instead of feeling restricted by their mental health issues.

The Project also delivers mental health awareness workshops in schools, working closely with staff and students to create interesting and informative sessions. Part of our mission is to get people talking about mental health in similar ways to physical health, acknowledging the importance of developing healthy habits and seeking support as soon as it’s needed. Our feedback indicates that the inclusivity of the workshops are appreciated by both young people who have experienced mental health issues and those who haven’t had any personal experience. We often get comments which emphasise what our workshops have taught young people, including: “Be more considerate of others suffering from mental illness and think about what they are going through” and “I will be more aware of how I talk about mental health and mental illness.”

Wider Active Support

Since The Project opened in September 2013, we have worked hard to work collaboratively with other services involved in the care and support of young people, and where possible to build partnerships to create a joined-up approach, share best practice and make best use of resources.

Being referral based, it has been important to build our reputation as a quality, professionally run service, which people are confident in accessing. We receive referrals from GPs, schools, children and adult mental health services, as we as from parents and young people themselves. An important part of working collaboratively has been our willingness to engage with statutory services, and to inform commissioners and service providers about what we can offer, and many have attended our support sessions to see for themselves the work we are doing. Without exception, we have had positive feedback, and we know that in signposting to our service, we are enabling more young people to get help and support, particularly those who fall below thresholds for care from statutory provision.

In opening our second support group, we partnered with social housing organisation, Yarlington Housing Group, who provided us with full funding to run a successful one-year pilot. Despite them subsequently withdrawing continuation funding due to cutting their community budget, the group has continued to thrive, securing funding from Somerset CCG, Chard Town Council, Somerset Community Foundation and local donations and fundraising. We have also partnered with third sector organisations (OpenDoor, Ottery Help Scheme, Ottery Hospital League of Friends and Young Devon) to enable new support groups to be opened, with one already having opened and two more in the pipeline.

In delivering our mental awareness workshops to young people, in addition to partnering with local secondary schools, we also work in partnership with National Citizen Service, to reach 15-17s. We also deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid Training in partnership with a MHFA England trainer, who runs training across the West Country to raise awareness and promote understanding of mental illness.


The Project actively and regularly seeks feedback from young people, their families and people who work with them, using it to determine how to improve and expand our services. The original concept for The Project came from young people affected by mental illness and their families, so the service has been shaped and fits around these needs, with young people at the heart of all we do.

The young people attending our support groups have one-to-one sessions with our Mental Health Worker to assess progress and how we can adapt our services to better meet their needs. We have also implemented a comments box, in both physical and digital formats, so that young people have the opportunity to give anonymous feedback at any time. Young people often emphasise the activities they find most useful and enjoyable, such as cooking, mindfulness and arts/crafts, so we ensure these activities are prioritised.

Everyone attending our mental health awareness workshops is encouraged to fill out a feedback form, which incorporates a measurement of how it has improved their understanding of mental health, questions about whether they feel better equipped to support a friend with mental health issues or access support themselves, and comments sections asking for constructive criticism. The data we receive is used to alter and refine our workshops, making them more effective in educating young people about their mental health and how they can support their peers through reducing stigma and discrimination.

We also listen to what parents/carers say, in the monthly support group we run for parents and carers and via other channels, ensuring we are tackling the issues which most affect young people experiencing mental health problems. This has led to us highlighting topics like social media and body image in our workshops. Earlier this year, we presented an information evening for parents and carers at Colyton Grammar School, which was requested by the school following our workshops with students. This provided us with a lot of written feedback from parents, including how they feel we can support young people both directly and through supporting their parents and families.

Looking Back/Challenges Faced

The Project has become a hugely respected and integral part of local mental health provision. The Project was born out of a local parent’s experience of caring for her daughter, and the care and support they wished they’d been able to access when she was a teenager. The service developed out of conversations with CAMHS, teachers, youth workers, school nurses and psychiatrists, who unanimously acknowledged the need for early intervention support in the community.

Our biggest challenge has been the success of The Project. As a small grassroots organisation, we have grown quickly in response to need, supporting over 200 young people, 60 parents/carers, and thousands more through our talks and training, social media and website, since opening 4 years ago. The Project receives no statutory funding, despite young people being signposted and referred to us by all statutory services. We are entirely funded through grants, donations and fundraising, including part-funding through Comic Relief.

As The Project has grown, so has the amount of money we need to raise each year, which now stands at just under £100,000 per year. However, what has also grown is the need for our service, with more and more young people being referred to us- and despite this being a lot of money to raise, in reality it amounts to around £1,200 per young person per year.

Raising money is a huge challenge, as it is for everyone. However, this has never deterred us from developing our service, as we believe that the outcomes we achieve for young people are well worth the effort. However, in growing further, this needs to be in partnership with other groups and organisations who have funding, or though being commissioned.

We have continued to learn and develop our service in response to feedback, so there have been things we have changed as a result. However, in essence we know that our approach is effective, but we know we can continue to improve if we listen to young people.

We had no idea that, in starting The Project, it would grow so quickly. It has been extremely hard work, but we have a small but committed team who go the extra mile to make everything work. Would we have done it if we knew how much work it was going to be – yes, probably!


The Project was started by a local mother, whose daughter experienced severe mental illness as a teenager. At present, she continues to be the Project Manager. The Project sits under the umbrella of a local charity Action East Devon, but has its own Advisory Group who help to steer The Project and ensure it meets its aims and objectives.

It is now a well-established service, with strong policies and procedures and a well-documented set of guiding principles, aims, objectives and outcomes. The Project’s model has been documented in an Operations Manual, which sets out referral pathways, evaluation and monitoring, reporting, safeguarding and detailed ‘how to’ sections which enables others to replicate what we have achieved. This has been packaged into a model for social replication, which has been successfully piloted by a local charity who purchased our model to set up their own group. We therefore know that The Project works as a model that can be run by others, and is not dependent on the Founder being involved. This has been important learning for us, as we now know The Project can be successful with others leading and developing services to meet the needs of young people in different localities and settings.

In regards to financial sustainability, our training and workshops are generating an increasing income to help fund our support groups, and we are working to provide evidence of effectiveness to commissioners, with a view to potential commissioning opportunities in the future or funding/partnership working with statutory services. Our model for replication also has the capacity to generate income through sales and licencing. Otherwise, we continue to rely on grant income, donations and fundraising.

Evaluation (Peer or Academic)

Our service has been extensively evaluated since we opened. We have, over this time, altered the tools we have used to collect and collate evidence from our service users, parents and referrers, but for now are satisfied with the methods we use, which are as follows:

-Warwick Edinburgh Measure of Wellbeing Scale. Young people complete this on joining, and at quarterly intervals. This is used to provide quantitative data around their progress, or otherwise.
-Feedback from young people, collected quarterly, through questionnaires and anonymously as outlined above
-Parent and referrer surveys
-Anecdotal evidence from young people, parents and referrers.
-Case studies, and information from 1:1 sessions

Results from all our evaluations are recorded in our annual review and impact summary, which are made publically available. This is not something we are required to do, but rather something we choose to do, as we are very proud of our achievements.

In 2016, The Project underwent an external review by a Research Fellow at UWE, whose findings helped us to adapt some of the ways we collected data, and some of our processes, rather than any significant change to the service we provided. Young people, parents, referrers, staff, volunteers and members of our Advisory Group were involved in the study. We have also developed a Theory of Change model.

Our young people and parents have frequently been consulted by other organisations, from local authorities to national charities, for their views on how mental health services can be improved for young people.


The Project’s outcomes are as follows:
• Young people have increased confidence and self-esteem
• Young people have improved aspirations for the future
• Young people, and parents, have greater emotional resilience, tools, information and resources to cope with stressful life events
• Young people, and parents, feel less isolated by mental and emotional health issues
• Young people, parents and the wider community have increased understanding and awareness of mental health issues

The data collected from the young people who attend sessions regularly, shows that since coming to The Project:
93% reported feeling more optimistic about the future
91% reported feeling more cheerful
91% reported that they have been dealing with their problems better
And 63% reported an increase in their self confidence

All young people who have attended the sessions during the year (75) will have been introduced to tools and resources that will help them to cope with their emotions, both during sessions and in their 1:1s.

Quotes from young people:
“I really enjoy coming to the sessions just to chill and talk and it’s definitely helped with my self-confidence. You offer help if we want it and you provide interesting and productive activities which we can take home J. All the volunteers are so welcoming and lovely.”
“It’s relaxing and I love the focus on mental health and how it isn’t taboo.”
“The Project for me personally allows a different outlook on life that I previously lost. To be able to talk to like-minded people is really nice. I am not judged or stigmatised and instead just treated as me”.
“Completely no judgment here – you can say what you really think and feel.”
“I kept wondering why I seemed to act so different here than I do anywhere else. Then I realised that this is actually where I am able to be myself and I don’t feel I can do that anywhere else! “
“I can escape from the struggles of every day life and I really need that.”

For our training and workshop participants:
Out of the 350 young people who completed evaluation forms following delivery of our Mental Health Awareness Workshops (year to 1 April 2016):
95% – better understanding and awareness of mental health issues
85% – feel more confident in supporting someone experiencing mental distress.


We are really keen to share our learning with others, and have done regularly over the past 4 years. This has been done in a number of ways:

– We have invited commissioners, service providers and funders to attend our support sessions, to see our groups in action and invite comment and feedback;

– We have taken part in numerous surveys and consultations, including Association for Young People’s Health’s national survey on the role of parents in supporting a child with mental illness, Devon County Council’s consultation around tendering for CYP MH services and the Government’s Health Select Committee Report into CAMHS and young people’s mental health.
– The Project’s founder has spoken at local and national events, including being invited to showcase The Project as an example of best practice at national level at a DfE event in London; this has also involved speaking at Public Policy Exchange Events, and local seminars around young people’s mental health, and social franchising;
– The Project’s founder has documented the model into a manual/package to enable others to replicate the innovative and successful approach we take with young people. This will be marketed over the coming year, and whilst costing money, it is designed to offer a model for early intervention peer support ‘in a box’, so that others can take it and set up, benefit from our learning, experience and best practice, without having to reinvent the wheel and make mistakes that we have already made and learned from;
– We offer consultancy and advice at preferential rates, and in relation to other charitable groups, have offered this free of charge;
– We network extensively with other groups and individuals, to share best practice.
– The Project’s founder gives talks free of charge to many local groups and organisations to raise awareness around young people’s mental health.

Is there any other information you would like to add?

The Project’s founder was awarded the Deputy Prime Minister’s Mental Health Hero Award in 2015 in recognition for her outstanding work in supporting young people’s mental health. She was also invited to attend The Queen’s Garden Party in 2017 in further recognition to her work. The Project was shortlisted for a National Diversity Award in 2016, and Mental Health First Aid England Youth Award for, respectively, the inclusive nature of their service and their work in promoting positive mental wellbeing in young people through their training and workshops.
The Project’s achievements in just 4 short years have been incredible. Locally CAMHS have acknowledged the huge benefit to having a service such as ours, that they can signpost young people to, and schools also share this opinion. With statutory thresholds being continually raised, so many young people are ineligible for support, often leading to an escalation in their issues, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Early intervention is effective, not only from a cost-saving point of view, but also in achieving better outcomes for young people and their families. It is better to step in early and avoid the more serious problems that come with escalating levels of distress, including, tragically, suicide.
The Project is part of Action East Devon, registered charity no. 1134611.


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