Funding:£49,996
Who

People with mental health needs or social and emotional isolation.

Main activities

Cooking and eating together, gardening, IT.

Where

Canterbury, Kent

Key outcomes

  • Improved social links and ties
  • Increased confidence, knowledge, skills and assets
  • Individual and collective action and control.

When

2017-2019

What has the project achieved?

The Northgate Project, supported by the local charity TakeOff, brought people from the Northgate ward in Canterbury together to share their interests and skills with one another.

People attending the group included:

  • people experiencing social isolation and loneliness

  • people with mental health problems

  • autistic people.

The project was peer-led, and more than 40 participants got involved in facilitating groups.

Outcomes:

  • Bringing the community together

  • Friendships across age groups

  • Improved support networks

  • Better social connectedness.

The project was transformative for people who first arrived at the sessions lonely, depressed and sometimes also suicidal. Many lived alone in the neighbouring estate – the Northgate ward has five blocks of flats in the area surrounding the project – and had been isolated from those around them.

As friendships developed, many of the group began to meet each other outside of the project. Over time, the growth in social connectedness within the group extended to their neighbourhood and created more of a community environment in the area.

"The company is so different here. There is genuine human understanding. I don't even want to think about where I would be now if it wasn't for this." (Participant)

“There’s a kind of fellowship that’s ongoing and developing all the time.” (Participant)

"We are very happy for people to say they don't need to come any more. We want people to make friends and when they do we actively encourage them to stop coming here." (Project staff)

“The area has changed. They now communicate with one another. It is more of a community, a neighbourhood.” (Project staff)

Increased confidence, knowledge, skills and assets

Outcomes:

  • Life skills

  • Training opportunities

  • Work experience.

Cooking and gardening sessions gave group members a chance to develop their life skills and improve their health at the same time. Cooking sessions helped people develop healthier eating habits, improving their physical health. Spending more time outdoors, on their feet and with a common purpose improved their mental health.

Through the Northgate project, TakeOff developed a training model for paid facilitators. After attending a group for six months, members could get mentoring and core training in subjects such as Health & Hygiene Level 2, First Aid, Safeguarding and Health & Safety. All facilitators also completed ‘Influencing powerful people’ training.

The project also helped members to gain work experience. On principle, Northgate Project did not take volunteers: everyone working for them was paid the Living Wage. This made people feel valued and appreciated while potentially improving their job prospects.

“People learn to cook. Isolated people who were previously eating very unhealthily are now cooking healthy food at home and also gardening.” (Project staff)

“People have been in wards previously where they have not been trusted. This is something completely different for them. Trust has given them confidence.” (Project lead)

Individual and collective action and control

Outcomes:

  • Control over project activities

  • Collective decision-making

  • Acting on local issues.

TakeOff is a peer-led organisation, and project leaders involved local people in shaping the project from the start. As the project continued, members worked together to plan group activities by consensus.

This collective control was hugely valuable to members who had faced difficult circumstances, including being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, where control was taken away from them. The project reversed that, giving people the power to make their own decisions and design a project based on their own needs, desires and aspirations.

The confidence gained in the group helped members to have a say about public mental health services in the area. Several members of the cooking group were concerned about a proposal to close the local community base for secondary mental health care. TakeOff launched a petition on their behalf, raising awareness of the issue and urging the health trust to seek an alternative.

"We always get complete choice over what we want to do.” (Participant)

“We call it the 3 d’s. Everything is designed, developed and delivered by the people who are going to use it.” (Project lead)

"If you’re going to do something with people, it must have a value to them. This is where it came from with the groups forming themselves.” (Project lead)

"The company is so different here. There is genuine human understanding. I don't even want to think about where I would be now if it wasn't for this."

Participant

Lessons for other projects

Measuring outcomes is challenging. In statutory mental health services, everything is measured but the benefits to someone's mental health can't always be quantified. This means that qualitative data, such as personal stories and ‘soft outcomes’, is vital. For TakeOff, success meant people leaving the project in a better place than they entered it.

Increased confidence, knowledge, skills and assets

Outcomes:

  • Life skills;
  • Training opportunities;
  • Work experience.

Cooking and gardening sessions gave group members a chance to develop their life skills and improve their health at the same time. Cooking sessions helped people develop healthier eating habits, improving their physical health. Spending more time outdoors, on their feet and with a common purpose improved their mental health.

Through The Northgate Project, TakeOff developed a training model for paid facilitators. After attending a group for six months, members could get mentoring and core training in subjects such as Health and Hygiene Level 2, First Aid, Safeguarding and Health & Safety. All facilitators also completed ‘Influencing powerful people’ training.

The project also helped members to gain work experience. On principle, Northgate Project did not take volunteers: everyone working for them was paid the Living Wage. This made people feel valued and appreciated while potentially improving their job prospects.

Project evaluation

The project was funded through Health Lottery South East as part of People’s Health Trust’s Active Communities programme.

The project was evaluated by Ecorys as part of the independent evaluation of the 2018–2019 Active Communities programme. The evaluation draws on telephone interviews with participant volunteers in spring 2019 and face-to-face follow up interviews in September 2019.

“People learn to cook. Isolated people who were previously eating very unhealthily are now cooking healthy food at home and also gardening.”

Project staff

Individual and collective action and control

Outcomes:

  • Control over project activities;
  • Collective decision-making;
  • Acting on local issues.

TakeOff is a peer-led organisation, and project leaders involved local people in shaping the project from the start. As the project continued, members worked together to plan group activities by consensus.

This collective control was hugely valuable to members who had faced difficult circumstances, including being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, where control was taken away from them.

The project reversed that, giving people the power to make their own decisions and design a project based on their own needs, desires and aspirations.

The confidence gained in the group helped members to have a say about public mental health services in the area. Several members of the cooking group were concerned about a proposal to close the local community base for secondary mental health care. TakeOff launched a petition on their behalf, raising awareness of the issue and urging the health trust to seek an alternative.

"If you’re going to do something with people, it must have a value to them. This is where it came from with the groups forming themselves.”

Project lead

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Northgate evaluation case study

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