Better Mental Health Fund: Leicester

Leicester, with a population of an estimated 355,000, is a city in the East Midlands. It has an ethnically diverse population; over half are from racialised communities. It also has a relatively young population – 20% of Leicester’s population are aged 20-29 (versus 13% across the whole of England) – many of whom are students. 12% of the population (43,602) are aged over 65 (versus 19% across the whole of England). Around three-quarters of the population express a faith and 4% are LGBTQ+.

Leicester is the 32nd most deprived local authority in England. Local inequalities have worsened due to the impacts of Covid.

For information about local health needs and community assets: Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (

Identifying the focus of Better Mental Health Fund

The city’s public health team had established their priorities for action, formed by a city-wide mental health needs assessment conducted in 2019. It identified the mental health needs of the population across all communities. The assessment showed that access to mental health services was poor and that targeted approaches were needed with children and young people, working age adults, carers and older people.

How was the Better Mental Health Fund used?

The Better Mental Fund resourced eight projects, including: supporting victims of domestic abuse; supporting family carers; and working with foodbanks to engage people living in poverty in mental health promotion activities. The funded projects were:

  • Digital support for unpaid carers
  • Leicester foodbank plus
  • Live Well: Healthy Lifestyle
  • Mental health and domestic abuse project
  • Mental health prevention and promotion: anti-bullying Mental health prevention and promotion: supporting Further Education
  • Neighbourhood services – health & wellbeing for working-age adults
  • Support for neurodiverse people.

Tackling stigma relating to neurodiversity and offering support to families

Many families experienced high levels of anxiety during the pandemic. This was especially true for families who were awaiting assessments with children and young people’s mental health services to establish whether children and young people were neurodivergent or had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Better Mental Health Fund helped build capacity of ADHD Solutions, a voluntary sector organisation, to develop its offer and support families struggling to understand the behaviour and needs of their children. It provided information and support while they were waiting, which brought relief to worried parents as well as practical help.

Unlike other services, families could self-refer, which created a pathway for vulnerable families that wasn’t there before.

Through their consultation with local communities, they heard that for some families from racialised communities, children and young people with autism and ADHD can be stigmatised by their communities and excluded by their peers. The funding created a step change in support for these families.

ADHD Solutions also worked to raise awareness and counter the stigma. One of the ways it did this was through an ADHD Kitemark for schools – a standard that makes school better for everyone, not just neurodivergent students.

Tackling bullying through restorative approaches

Leicester City Council has a history of resourcing services to improve the psychological and emotional health of children and young people in schools, including those with special educational needs.

The Better Mental Health Fund resourced the expansion of an anti-bullying initiative – which promotes restorative, relationship-based measures, and aims for a middle ground between punitive and non-punitive responses – in seven schools across the city.

Taking a whole school approach and building on work that came to a halt when Covid restrictions began, the programme developed and supported school leaders to challenge school cultures. Critically, it encouraged students to think about the consequences of their actions and to be more empathic.

Outcomes of restorative approaches include improvements in student and staff wellbeing, reduction in violence, and fewer exclusions.

Impacts on local people

Projects in Leicester exceeded their initial expectations of reaching 14,360 people. In total, 66,030 people benefitted, which included more than 55,000 indirect beneficiaries.

White British and Irish people make up 38.4% of the population and made up 43.9% of beneficiaries. Indian people make up 28.3% of the population and accounted for 33.8% of beneficiaries.

57% of the Leicester population live in the 30% most deprived areas in England, and they accounted for 59% of all beneficiaries. Almost a fifth – 19.4% of the local population – live in the 10% most deprived areas in England and accounted for 18% of all recorded beneficiaries.

Most of the recorded engagement in Leicester was with 5-17 year olds (47%) and 26-64 year olds (37%), reflecting the focus of their activities in schools and for working age adults.

The Neighbourhood Support project – which reached 379 people – demonstrated an increase in wellbeing for its participants.

What have we learnt?

Having the needs assessment was important; it gave a strong foundation for the work and enabled a quick and assured response because priorities for action had already been agreed. Given the detrimental impact of Covid on the mental health and wellbeing of local people, the Fund was timely in being able to provide opportunities for services to address the issues that had arisen, as was seen in the project seeking to support children with ADHD.

Strong relationships and a history of collaboration, within and outside of the local authority, meant that commissioners and providers could act quickly. The projects were mobilised despite the challenges of the Covid pandemic and its sustained impacts on the poorest and most ethnically diverse communities, as well its effects on the health and care workforce, which was depleted by illness and challenged by colleagues being deployed in unusual roles for uncertain lengths of time.

The Better Mental Health Fund brought opportunities for projects to operationalise their plans to improve the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised communities which otherwise would not have been realised. Having said that, given the national context, it was sometimes challenging to find suitably qualified and skilled people to take on tasks at pace.

The enthusiasm and flexibility of the lead elected member was cited as a crucial factor in getting the money out to the provider organisations. His support will be crucial in finding ways to sustain the work.

Aligning funding cycles with schools would help maximise the impact of school-based approaches. For example, Anti Bullying Week in early November was an opportunity to promote new ways of addressing violence, but there was no time to organise activities as funds were not released until the end of October.

Local evaluation

A local evaluation has been completed by De Montfort University in Leicester and its findings and recommendations are being used to shape plans for sustaining projects where possible and appropriate.

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