Blog: Working with the VCSE sector to deliver mental health support

We know how much of an impact poor mental health has on individuals’ and communities’ lives.

Whilst GMCVO isn’t a mental health provider, over the past few years, we have managed several projects that work in partnership with local mental health providers from the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector to support mental health, wellbeing and living well.  

During the early stages of Covid-19, VCSE mental health providers experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for mental health support, both from professional signposting and self-referrals. GMCVO worked with the Greater Manchester (GM) VCSE Mental Health Leaders Group to create the Mental Health Surge programme; a suite of initiatives that concentrated funds on creative ways of getting mental health support to where and when it was needed most, and on building collaborative approaches that would harness the strengths, specialisms, expertise and diversity of the VCSE sector. 

Three projects were identified that would maximise the impact in response to the surge in demand and at the same time create a more robust and resilient infrastructure of support to deal with future delivery:

The Greater Manchester’s Hidden Talent projects that ran from 2019-2022, supported young people who were not in education, employment or training.  ‘Talent Coaches’ hosted by VCSE organisations were able give holistic 1:1 support so that young people across Greater Manchester had more opportunities to progress into apprenticeships, volunteering, employment or return to education.  Added to this support was access to mental health counselling from VCSE mental health providers within Greater Manchester.  

Of the ~450 young people who engaged on the programmes, one third of them accessed mental health counselling.  This offer differed slightly on the two Hidden Talent programmes.  On the initial Hidden Talent project, a dedicated Mental Health practitioner was employed through 42nd Street, who then worked 1:1 with the young people on Hidden Talent if they asked for support.  After feedback from the Talent Coaches and young people themselves, on the follow up programme, young people had a personal budget with which they could buy up to 12 counselling sessions from a mental health provider of their choice.  GMCVO and the Talent Coaches used their existing networks so that young people had access to a range of mental health providers to choose from.  Locality and ease of access was often the main criteria for their choice.  Read about Joshua, a young man on GM’s Hidden Talent.

There are a number of characteristics for young people from a range of backgrounds and demographics that can be barriers to education, employment and training.  These are commonly found to be care leavers, carers, disabled young people, young people with long-term health conditions, learning disability, neuro-diversity, ex-offenders, lone parents, vulnerable to substance misuse and have experience or experiencing homelessness. An independent evaluation of Greater Manchester’s Hidden Talent by Dr Fiona Christie, Manchester Metropolitan University, found that the biggest barrier to young people progressing into education, employment or training was poor mental health. Read the report here

From our experience on GM’s Hidden Talent, in January 2023, GMCVO contributed to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Youth Employment report on Mental Health, and visited parliament for its launch.  The report was presented and GMCVO, along with young people and other contributors, had the opportunity to question the Minister for Youth, Mims Davies MP, about the government’s plans on Youth Hubs as well as access to timely mental health support.  

GMCVO has also worked with GM Integrated Care Partnership (GMICP) to increase the number of VCSE mental health providers in Greater Manchester who are able to provide 'Improving Access to Psychological Therapies' (IAPT) services.  Funding from GMICP enabled students from VCSE mental health providers to study for their Postgraduate certificate in Primary Mental Health Care at The University of Manchester.  

The aim of the project was to have more mental health VCSE providers delivering IAPT to communities who traditionally did not access  support. Two of the organisations, Pure Innovations and African and Caribbean Mental Health Services (ACMHS) have now been commissioned by GMICP to provide IAPT services in Manchester and Stockport and four students are now qualified Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners.   ACMHS supports individuals predominantly of African and African Caribbean descent or culture as well as other minority groups including white Europeans, and Pure Innovations will be working with autistic people, people with a learning disabilities and additional needs.  We are extremely pleased with this outcome and wish ACMHS and Pure the best of luck!

Not all of GMCVO’s work in this area relates to long-term mental health conditions.  We also offer Mental Wellbeing Grants to small VCSE organisations to run a variety of sessions for their communities and/or members, distributing ~£200,000 of grants last year. Bolton Hindus' Age Inspiration received a £750 micro-grant to deliver 'sound bath' sessions as part of their wellbeing offer to their local community. Read their case study here.

We are also providing opportunities to become a trainer in the Living Life to the Full programme. The Train the Trainer course trains people to become Community Trainers and deliver one of two courses across Greater Manchester on a non-commercial basis:

•    Living Life to the Full - for low mood and stress
•    Reclaim Your Life - for those living with long term health conditions

Further information on Living Life to the Full can be found here.

As an employer, GMCVO has trained Mental Health First Aiders for its employees as well as ensuring all managers and staff have completed mental health awareness training. Our wellbeing leads host regular mental wellbeing sessions for staff as well as planning events to bring staff together.  

If you would like to talk to us about working with you to support delivery of a programme or initiative that aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people and communities in Greater Manchester, please contact Gavin Owen ( .

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