“Active Lives, Healthy Minds” is a mental health and wellbeing project that is being implemented in West London focusing on the Eritrean, Nepalese, Somali and Tamil communities. The project is funded by Reaching Communities – the Big Lottery Fund and aims to improve mental health and the wellbeing of members of the communities and supporting them to increase participation in the development and implementation of relevant mental health and health services in the area.

Active Lives, Healthy Minds project

Smiling woman bathed in sunlight

Members of the Eritrean, Nepalese, Somali and Tamil communities have experienced severe loss and disruption of their lives due to war, civil unrest and natural disaster in their countries of origin, followed by the traumatic experience of flight and then the stress caused by the asylum process and difficulties adapting to new language and cultural settings. The project will assist community groups in developing activities to support the mental health and wellbeing in a culturally sensitive and non stigmatising way.

ROTA is working with Account Trust, the Network of Eritrean Women, Family Care and the Tamil Community Centre to deliver coping and adaptive skills support and training to enable members to better manage their progress towards becoming active citizens. At the end of 2017, The Network of Eritrean Women received a National Lottery Awards for All for £10,000 and joined the project as a partner. This partnership continues into the third and final year of Active Lives, Healthy Minds. Family Care, a Somali organisation, joined the project in January 2019.

Active Lives, Healthy Minds(ALHM) follows on from a previous three year ROTA project called “Healthy Mobilised and BAME” which worked from a baseline whereby service users were engaged and made aware of mental health issues in year one, to building skills and development through year one, two and three to a position where they were more content with their life from their own perspective. The positive outcomes from Healthy Mobilised and BAME and the lessons learnt and tools developed formed the basis of ALHM.

The project will be independently evaluated by the McPin Foundation, with a view to disseminating learning to other refugee communities.

There are several specific aims which underpin the overall aim of “Active Lives, Healthy Minds”. These include:

  • Increasing the levels of independence of service-users by offering appropriate skill provision to reduce levels of social isolation.
  • Enabling service-users to improve their mental health by being engaged in defining their road to better mental health.
  • To increase the skills of service-users so they can participate in shaping the delivery of mental health services.
  • To increase the confidence of BAME people with poor mental health to access mental health services. 

ROTA will be working closely with the Network of Eritrean Women (NEW), Tamil Community Centre (TCC), Ilays Somali Community organisation, Account Trust (Nepalese Association) to deliver the project. Each of the partner organisations work in empowering disadvantaged communities and specialise in the provision of services to BAME communities including for example, immigration and asylum advice or creating social opportunities to mitigate issues of isolation; depression, racism and discrimination, family breakdown and a lack of family support and structure.

Outcome 1: 150 BAME service users will have improved their practical life skills to increase their independence and reduce their isolation   

Outcome 2: 120 BAME community members with low levels of well-being have increased confidence and/or reduced fear to access mental health support

Outcome 3: 45 BAME service users have increased capability to shape the delivery of mental health services

Outcome 4: Through involvement in project activities, 120 BAME service-users have improved well-being and have taken positive steps towards recovery

The Mental Health Equality Campaign was set up at the start of 2018 in response to mental health inequalities experienced by racialised groups and is composed of an ever growing network of various Black, Asian and Minority, Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) groups in North West London and beyond such as the Council of Somali Organisations (CSO) and their members and networks, Centre for Armenian Information and Advice (CAIA), Tamil Community Centre (TCC), Network of Eritrean Women (NEW), Ilays – Somali Community Organisation, Account Trust (Nepali Community Organisation), as well as National Survivor User Network (NSUN), We Coproduce, Race on the Agenda (ROTA) and HEAR – Equality and Human Rights Network.

Alternative Consultation Event: Hardly Hard to Reach: We Are Having Our Say’

The Mental Health Equality Campaign organised an alternative consultation event ‘Hardly Hard to Reach: We Are Having Our Say’ on 12 June 2018 with members of the Mental Health Equality Campaign composed of various Black, Asian and Minority, Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) groups. Partner groups included: Council of Somali Organisations (CSO), Centre for Armenian Information and Advice (CAIA), Tamil Community Centre (TCC), Network of Eritrean Women (NEW), Ilays – Somali Community Organisation, Account Trust (Nepali Community Organisation), National Survivor User Network (NSUN), and HEAR – Equality and Human Rights Network. The alternative consultation was organised as a grass root community response to the North West London (NWL) Collaborative of eight NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCG) consultation on Equality Objectives and commissioning plans for the next four years by in North West London (Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hillingdon, Brent, Kensington & Chelsea, City of Westminster). The development and updating of Equality Objectives (EO) and Equality Delivery System (EDS), in consultation with communities of need, is a statutory obligation designed to help CCGs commission and deliver the right services and reduce health inequalities. The alternative consultation was attended by over 50 people, including people with mental health support needs, community and voluntary sector organisations and local councillors. An outline of the discussions and points raised at the alternative consultation event as well as REAP’s Networking Conference: “Building New Lives: Refugees in West London” and outreach within our networks outside those events can be read HERE

This submission response specifically addresses how the eight CCGs in North West London can use EO and Equality Delivery Systems (EDS) to reduce health and mental health inequalities for people with mental health support needs from racialised groups in NWL.

The submission asks CCGs to consider intersectional inequalities and the demography of the communities that they serve when commissioning culturally appropriate provision of MH services for BAMER communities. The submission also argues that CCGs should commit to commissioning early intervention, holistic, culturally and linguistically sensitive services from the local Voluntary Community Sector (VCS). The projects and services run by community organisations are mostly culturally based, non-stigmatising, and holistic at a local community space that is known and trusted, and provide an opportunity for early intervention. Community organisations often provide safer, more accessible, responsive, efficient and cost effective services that reduce health inequality and play an important role in preventing minor mental health problems from becoming more serious, thereby reducing health crises, costs to the NHS and Public Health and improving planning of delivery. Yet, Frontline VCS are left out of commissioning opportunities and are continually under-funded, despite their impact on and access to service users. CCGs should add clauses to contracts awarded to national, generic and second tier organisations that require them to sub-contract/buy expertise from local, user-led VCS. The submission also acknowledges that MH services and obligations relating to need, are the responsibility of not just CCGs but Local Authority (LA) and Public Health. CCGs and LA must work collaboratively to develop seamless provision for people with rights and complex needs.

The NWL CCG EOs will be published in September and the Mental Health Equality Campaign will continue to work with NWL Collaborative to support the eight CCGs to become an example of using EO and EDS mechanisms and cross-CCG working to produce real, measurable reductions in health inequalities for significantly discriminated against communities.

Act Now to Reduce Mental Health Inequality – Campaign Letter

The alternative consultation event follows our campaign letter with practical suggestions for how to improve involvement and commissioning has been signed by Councillors in many London boroughs and is still open to read and sign HERE.

  1. Kindred Minds – A Call for Social Justice’ resources
    The manifesto is a unique resource, has been written by BME mental health service users and has a comprehensive vision for the policy and practice changes needed to improve the mental well-being of BME mental health service users. Manifesto executive summary:
    https://www.nsun.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=4f98b6f4-7b62-4366-a8b8-691415e7fa8e Manifesto full text:
  2. NSUN – 4Pi national involvement standards
    Developed by people with lived experience as part of the National Involvement Partnership (NIP) project, the 4Pi National Standards ensure effective co-production, thus really improving experiences of services and support.
  3. Ilays Somali Community Centre – Health in the Somali Community (Hounslow)
    The research analyses and discusses the causes of mental health support needs and challenges among Somalis in Hounslow and how mental health affects individuals and families. The report provides recommendations. https://www.scribd.com/document/206408603/Health-in-the-Somali-Community-Hounslow
  4. Tamil Community Centre – Mapping the Mental Health Support Needs of Tamil People in West London
    Presented in this short report are the main findings from a mapping exercise looking at some of the barriers and associated interests of Tamil people in relation to their mental health and mental health support, including recommendations. https://www.rota.org.uk/sites/default/files/webfm/draft_mapping_v2.pdf
  5. Council of Somali Organisations – Somalis and Mental Health: Raising awareness and developing interventions that improve outcomes
    This report combines findings of a one day conference “Somali Mental Health Day: Raising Awareness and Developing Interventions that Improve Outcomes” organised by Council of Somali Organisations in 2017 and literature review.
  6. The value of small In-depth research into the distinctive contribution, value and experiences of small and medium-sized charities in England and Wales
  7. Guidelines for psychologists working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK
  8. A journey towards safety: A report on the experiences of Eritrean refugees in the UK
    A Participatory Assessment, commissioned by the UNHCR and conducted together with the Refugee Council (in England) and Scottish Refugee Council (in Scotland) to gain a better understanding of the experiences of Eritrean refugees recognised in-country and how these experiences have impacted upon their integration and protection in the UK.http://www.unhcr.org/uk/a-journey-towards-safety-a-report-on-the-experie…
  9. ‘A bridge to life in the UK: Refugee-led community organisations and their role in integration’
    New research published today by the Refugee Council highlights the key role that refugee-led community organisations (RCOs) and networks play in supporting refugees to integrate, and increasing refugee inclusion and participation in the UK. The report highlights the depth and breadth of services that RCOs provide to support refugees to rebuild their lives, including the provision of key information and advice, English language classes, support to find employment and activities to improve health and well-being. The research found that RCOs are particularly effective in supporting their service users because of three key assets: reach, insight and solutions. They have the ability to reach refugee communities as they have contacts, share languages and cultural affinity, and they are trusted. Their insight oftencomes from the personal experiences of the refugees running the services, and this improves their ability to find solutions to the barriers and challenges facing refugees.

Resources from Project Activities

Coffee Morning Promoting Mental health and Wellbeing in the Somali Community

Members of the Somali community are well aware of the stress and trauma related mental health difficulties in their community, however for various reasons, mostly related to how services are organised here in the UK and the stigmatisation associated with mental illness, many do not seek help for themselves or members of their family until it is too late. The key to providing services therefore becomes, finding out what makes sense to people at a community level and building on it to supplement services from the voluntary and statutory sector and ensure the complex needs are address without causing unnecessary, additional stress to clients.

ROTA’s Active Lives Healthy Minds project is designed to help refugee community groups do just that; find out the issues and concerns that they have, and the services being provided by the community groups and then assist them to develop additional services to bridge any gaps between the provision and needs. The project will also be helping the Groups to have their services evaluated independently to demonstrate effectiveness in meeting mental health needs within the community.

Ilays Somali Community provides a wide range of services to members of the Somali community in West London from its centre in Feltham and its outreach points across Hounslow. Services are responsive to identified needs and often coordinated and led by former service users. In response to the need to meet the various mental health and wellbeing concerns highlighted by members of the community volunteers have, since September 2016, been attending training on fundamental counselling skills to help them set up a community mental health outreach service in their area. The mental health outreach support will be complement the range of services available at Ilays. After the completion of their training and as a way of introducing their service to the community, volunteers organised a coffee morning for Somali women in the area.

Women coming together to discuss issues of concern over coffee is nothing new in the community, so the new mental health workers built on this tradition and added a dimension introducing mental health and wellbeing support into the conversations. A short presentation on the value of women looking after themselves in order to enable them to look after their families better, was the theme selected for the very first coffee morning attended by about 10 women from the neighbourhood and facilitated by the newly trained mental health outreach workers. Also present was a social worker from the Adult Mental Health Team demonstrating the collaboration being developed with local service providers.

These coffee mornings will continue to take place monthly giving opportunities for the volunteers to introduce various themes into the conversations among women in the community and also introducing local service providers to a culturally sensitive approach to providing services to their clients and potential clients from a non-threatening, non-stigmatising setting that people are familiar with and trust.

For more information on this project, please visit our website at rota.org.uk or contact Laurie Lijnders at laurie@rota.org.uk or Selam Kidane at selam@rota.org.uk

Concluding a Year of Wellbeing Activities

In July ROTA’s partners in the Active Lives, Healthy Minds project held graduation ceremonies for their wellbeing projects to conclude the first year of the partnership. Actives Lives, Healthy Minds is a three year mental health and wellbeing project implemented in West London in partnership with Somali, Nepali, Tamil and Eritrean refugee community organisations. ROTA supports community organisations in developing activities to support mental health and wellbeing in a holistic, culturally sensitive and non-stigmatising way and community members and organisations to increase participation in the development and implementation of relevant mental health and health services locally and nationally.

The Tamil Community Centre (TCC), a service user led community organisation that aims to meet the needs of a wide spectrum of the Tamil community, is one of ROTA’s partners. The TCC runs English classes, drop-in service for dealing with practical problems, domestic violence and mental health counselling and support, and a Bharathanatyam Folk dance class. Rani Nagulandram, TCC’s founder and healthy wellbeing mentor, has been running these folk dance classes for many years in Harrow for a group of 20 to 25 women from various abilities and ages, with the eldest participant having passed 90 years old. The class is held in a local community centre. Many participants had been advised by their GP for various health and mental health related reasons to do more physical activities but did not feel comfortable attending their local gym. Attending folk dance classes did not only improve their health and mental health, but also provides a non-stigmatising, relaxing environment where women have the opportunity to interact and socialise. A recent review of the project revealed that all participants feel less stressed, sleep better and feel healthier. They have created friendships among their fellow participants that stretch beyond the folk dance class, reducing loneliness and isolation.

ROTA’s partners run practical English classes for people from their communities, with former service users either teaching the class or volunteering during the class. The classes are aimed at reducing isolation, increasing confidence and learning skills to increase independence. Many of the women who attend the class are illiterate and did not speak a word of English when first starting the class, limiting their ability to interact in society. Over the year community members have made remarkable progress, generally improving their mental health and wellbeing, but also feeling more capable to independently engage with mainstream services and in day to day activities, such as using public transportation and going to shops.

Wellbeing activities do not only improve mental health and wellbeing, increase confidence and independence and generally allow people to have a greater say in life, they also allow participants to open up about issues affecting their daily lives and that of their families, such a mental health and domestic violence in a non-labelling environment. Where they would not have approached ROTA’s partner organisations directly because of stigma, shame and fear, by creating a relationship of trust people feel safe to open up and seek help from the volunteers who are then able to provide them with one-to-one counselling.

For more information on this project, please visit our website at rota.org.uk or contact Laurie Lijnders at laurie@rota.org.uk or Selam Kidane at selam@rota.org.uk

Project Partners

Project funding

This project is funded by