Better Mental Health Fund: Torbay

Torbay is a coastal area in the south west of England and compromises three seaside towns: Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. It has a population of 136,000. A quarter of all residents are aged over 65. A fifth are children.

There is significant variation in health and wellbeing across the bay. In the most affluent areas, residents can expect to live on average over six years longer than those living in the more deprived communities.

Inequalities have been widening as relative deprivation worsens; Torbay is ranked as the most deprived local authority in the South West region. Torbay’s economy ranks amongst the weakest in England and has declined in recent years. With the disruption to the economy caused by Covid the economy is expected to weaken further. Torbay’s economy is highly dependent on tourism – there are 4.5 million visitors each year – and unemployment is beginning to rise.

For information about local health: Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for Torbay 2020-2021

Identifying the focus of the Better Mental Health Fund

Colleagues in Torbay wanted to fund a project that would have immediate positive impacts for some of its poorest residents, as well as creating lasting systems change. There had been no core funding for public mental health activity in recent times. They also wanted to build on successful engagement with the voluntary sector to date and, together, create a sustainable model of working. There was an overarching desire to fund a project that would create a non-traditional, non-stigmatised, grassroots way of providing and accessing mental health support. As one interviewee said, ‘people on the ground know; they just know’.

How was the Better Mental Health Fund used?

Better Mental Health Fund was used for the Torbay Engagement and Wellbeing Project (TWEP), led by the Community Development Trust, with a brief to work with a range of providers, including Paignton Community Larder. Its intended outcomes were:

  • Prevent mental ill health and promote wellbeing by addressing the needs of residents who access local food support and children’s centres
  • Pilot and evaluate an enhanced model of social prescribing, optimising and adding to pre-existing community and statutory sector assets.

Impacts on local people

The goal was to engage 300 people, which Torbay exceeded (reaching 311). Despite the population being 94% white British and Irish, they managed to cut through, with 30% of beneficiaries being from other, diverse communities. 17% of the local population live in a location that is in the top 10% of the most deprived areas in England. 18% of the beneficiaries came from those places.

What have we learnt?

One of the key impacts of the project is that it brought together services that already existed but had not previously collaborated. They benefitted from having a common goal which focused efforts and created opportunities to talk to each other.

Local people benefitted because of the partners’ collaboration, because there was ‘no wrong door’ for them to access services.

Interviewees pointed out that project coordination was crucial, especially given the timescale for implementation, as otherwise time slippage and mission creep could have been difficult to manage. This was particularly important as there was a blend of established and experienced providers with some less mature organisations. However, recruiting to a skilled post in the throes of the pandemic was initially challenging.

Engagement in the project gave less experienced organisations opportunities to develop in terms of how they work with others – a sustainable benefit for the voluntary and community sector in Torbay.

Setting up a project with several elements (as well as multiple delivery partners) took time. The process of building consensus, agreeing how to collaborate, and measuring impact could not be rushed. However, taking time in this phase was beneficial for the project overall as it built trust and a shared willingness for it to succeed.

Sustaining the work is challenging, but there is legacy of a shared vision and a commitment to greater collaboration which will be advantageous when seeking funds from other sources. One interviewee commended the work: ‘only community and voluntary sector organisations could have achieved what we have achieved’.

Local evaluation

The local evaluation has been carried out by Rebecca Hardwick and colleagues at the Applied Research Collaboration, South West Peninsula. Their report notes:

[S]ome people who were helped by TWEP received support that has had far reaching impacts in their lives, improving where they live, increasing their income and widening their support networks. For some providers involved, TWEP has opened up their services into supporting people’s wider mental health and wellbeing needs, beyond what they were doing before, which will be positive for the current and future people they work with. The impact on local relationships has been to create a partnership of organisations who are working collaboratively, applying for funding for other projects, and working much more broadly across the voluntary and community sector landscape in Torbay’ (page 3).

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