This is the original call for proposals by the Medical Research Council back in September last year. 


In response, a group of organisations, led by Dartington provided an initial application, suggesting an exploratory approach to investigating the local manifestations of the wider determinants of poor mental health and emotional well-being in young people in Devon and London – two highly contrasting contexts – with a view to developing community responses that begin to address the various drivers.

The proposal was put through to the next round, and a small budget made available to research the suggested approach more deeply and iterate before submitting the final bid. 


We have since defined a more explicit central hypothesis to explore as a starting point in communities, namely that:


Building social connection and collective efficacy in communities is a primary route through which to tackle wider determinants of poor mental health.


The ‘intervention’ that would be explored and developed, if we won funding for the 3 to 5-year project will be a structured approach of systemic, asset-based, and locally grounded co-design. See more below


Current phase of work

We are working with community organisations in Newham (Aston Mansfield, AAA) and North Devon to explore this proposal and hypothesis, up to Mid Dec when we will submit the bid. We have provided financial support to the community organisations, in recognition of the work they’re putting into this process, and to enable the phase to be as equitable and collaborative as possible. 

Our aims for these 6 weeks are: 

  • To be better able to scope the work
  • To gather information about the local community and its various assets
  • To understand if there is appetite and belief in this partnership approach within the communities
  • To build commitment for key orgs to be part of the partnership
  • To listen to the young people of Newham to better understand their perspectives on ‘social connections’, ‘enabling environments’ and ‘what matters’ to them, in terms of their MH and well-being (from Nesta’s Reimagining Help framework
  • To work with young people to understand how we might meaningfully and non extractive work with them in the longer term.
  • To ultimately bolster the proposal


We have two key activity streams:

1) Engagement sessions with young people at Aston Mansfield and AAA

2) Network building with the intention of collecting signed ‘partner letters’ lending support to the partnership concept, for us to include in the bid.  

Vision for the long term partnership


The intervention we would aim to test if funded for the 3-5-year research project is a strategy development and implementation framework. Once designed, we would hope to run feasibility testing in Newham and North Devon for the first 1-2 years- bringing in a considerable investment for non-research activities (ie. community activities), learn from and evaluate this, to implement more widely in other areas, and eventually create a scalable model. 


Our intention is not to create new services or import new interventions that would require additional community resources to pay for and may be an imposition. Instead, the partnership framework will be about understanding what rich assets the community already that has can mitigate the wider structural determinants (eg poverty) and promote health. 


The work will then be to understand how we can better connect and coordinate those assets into a functional system. The strategies we will support Newham and North Devon to design and implement will be about better connecting constituent parts of the system and building on existing assets. So this might be a combination of: (a) better connecting young people to positive peers and sources of support and the local community assets; and (b) getting health and local authority services and sources of help out of the clinic and into the community; and (c) connecting up and coordinating existing infrastructures and support – it could also be a different form of connecting that we unearth as the research and partnership develops. 


For the feasibility testing, we would hope to invest around £300-500K into each community (Newham and N Devon) to bolster, adapt and connect their work. The intention is that this will act as a demonstration, for the scalable model, of what could be achieved by shifting commissioning practices to replicate the approach.  

Contact for Newham: