Community learning boosts mental health

6 November 2015

In Northamptonshire, Northampton town contains the highest reported number of people with a common mental disorder, making up 32% of the county total.

Our county-wide Learn2b programme, coordinated by Sue Bennett, is enabling adults to engage in informal learning, equipping them with the tools to support their recovery from mild to moderate mental health distress, such as anxiety and depression. All courses are delivered in the local community and are free to attend.

In 2014/15 our specialist tutors supported around 600 adults through classes like Arts and Crafts, Creative Writing and Physical Fitness, which also provided them with strategies to maintain good health.

Adults on the Learn2b programme can also progress to a range of opportunities from NCC Adult Learning Service (NCCALS), which support wellbeing and help people to continue learning, seek work and sustain their recovery. The opportunities on offer include Family Learning, Personal Community Development Learning, Functional Skills, Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities and a Leisure programme.

Commissioned by Northamptonshire Health Foundation Trust (NHFT) in 2014/15 and subsidised by NCCALS through Community Learning grant funding from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), Learn2b had a £100k budget and captured the significant outcomes for learners.

The data highlights that Learn2b contributes significantly to recovery and supports meaningful outcomes for people, including gaining new skills and better self-care, as well as increased leisure and social participation.

Learn2b learner outcomes data in 2014/15:

  • Over 90% retention rate of both male and female learners on 160 courses.
  • Over 88% success rate of non-accredited learning outcomes.
  • Based on feedback from 49% of the learners, the 3 most frequently reported benefits are: Feeling useful and learning something new, feeling interested in others and making new friends, and feeling more relaxed.

In the current academic year, the programme is co-funded by NCCALS and Northamptonshire Public Health. A bigger budget has led to an extended programme and the launch of an exciting new pilot project with Northampton Job Centre Plus, called Pathway2b. The extended programme is anticipated to support 1,000 adults of working age living with, or recovering from, mental health problems, of which approximately 300 will be engaged in Pathway2b.

Pathway2b is designed to support the economic wellbeing of learners and also contribute towards the local economy. This is particularly important at a time when figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are reporting that of the 7,000 current ESA claimants, approximately 3,600 have been diagnosed with poor mental health. Likewise, mental ill health is reported as the most common reason for claiming health-related benefits, and the cost to employers nationally is estimated to be £26 billion a year.


Alison Lyon is the Northamptonshire County Council Adult Learning Service Manager.