Mental health funding competition: Using innovation and intersectional approaches to target mental health support for students

With investment from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, we have awarded more than £3 million in funding to identify innovative and collaborative approaches to targeted support for student mental health.

The competition launched in 2020 and funded 18 projects which targeted a range of student cohorts facing either increased risk of poor mental health or increased barriers to accessing support. Students who were supported by the funded projects included Black, Asian and Minority ethnic students, LGBT+ students, mature students, commuters, autistic students, first-generation and care-experienced students.

Some of the projects tested technological approaches to mental health support, including virtual reality technology, online toolkits and apps.

The programme concluded in September 2023. It supported 3,241 students and involved 1,057 students in co-creation activities.

The Mental health funding competition was evaluated independently, and the projects’ impacts and outputs shared to help higher education providers improve support for student mental health and wellbeing.

Read the independent evaluation report

Funded projects

Many Hands aimed to provide an additional wellbeing service to students facilitating early intervention in, and prevention of, poor mental health, with a view to improved positive practical outcomes. The focus was the development and testing of an online peer mentoring service, using technology developed by The Ambassador Platform, allowing students from partner institutions across England to easily and discreetly access wellbeing support from a centralised pool of trained fellow students with a wide variety of lived experience. BAME, mature and creative students were targeted, considering intersectionality of characteristics. Our partners also worked with the charity Mind to develop student mental health training for tutors, and we produced a report: Working with local NHS and third party providers - Advice and guidance for Independent Higher Education Providers and those who want to work with the sector.


  • SAE Education Limited
  • Point Blank Music School Ltd
  • Matrix College Ltd
  • Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust
  • Independent Higher Education (IHE)
  • Futureworks Training Ltd
  • Regent College
  • Applied Inspiration (AI)
  • The Ambassador Platform (TAP)

The City of Liverpool College developed and delivered a social prescribing programme that was implemented across 10 further education colleges in the north-west of England. The project aimed to support a student population with a high proportion of mature, local and students from areas of deprivation. The project created an infrastructure for social prescribing by linking colleges with health agencies. The project also developed student wellbeing surveys, providing the opportunity for students across the colleges to share their insights into mental health support and identify areas for engagement.

Read the case studies and impact report


  • Blackburn College
  • Burnley College
  • Hugh Baird College
  • Myerscough College
  • Nelson & Colne College
  • Preston’s College
  • Riverside College Widnes
  • St Helens College
  • Wirral Met College
  • Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust
  • MerseyCare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Director of Public Health for Lancashire
  • Director of Public Health for Liverpool
  • Elemental
  • The Association of Colleges (AoC)
  • The Merseyside Colleges’ Association (MCA)
  • The Lancashire Colleges (TLC)

De Montfort University (DMU) developed the ‘Building Bridges to wellbeing’ project, targeting students from lower socio-economic areas and black, Asian and minority ethnic students. The project appointed a Mental Health Intervention Officer (MHIO) to provide institutional-wide, tailored support and promote project activities. The MHIO worked with students to develop a set of recommendations for mental health and wellbeing services.

The project revealed that concerns around confidentiality acted as a significant barrier to engaging with mental health support, that many students felt they were more likely to engage with services directly recommended by their tutors, and that many students would feel more comfortable engaging with services, at least initially in less formal ways. All of these insights will feed into future service development.


  • Leicestershire Partnership Trust
  • Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Clinical Commissioning Group

Coventry University developed a range of mental health interventions to support black, Asian and minority ethnic students. A resource for staff was produced and published to increase knowledge around BAME students mental health needs in addition to a co-produced student digital intervention tool and booklet, aimed at increasing access to services. The project hired a welfare officer to provide one-to-one sessions with students as well as promote wellbeing through regular activities. The project developed and implemented an AI algorithm, designed to identify students who may be suffering from poor mental health. The project also held a student mental health awareness launch event on 22 March

  • It Takes Balls to Talk (ITBTT)
  • Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust (CWPT)
  • Student Minds
  • Coventry University Students’ Union (CUSU)

Better Futures MAT

London South Bank University (LSBU) developed the Black Student Mental Health Project, which developed culturally relevant digital resources to improve the mental wellbeing of its black student community. In collaboration with students and NHS Good thinking the project produced a range of digital resources including podcasts, videos and blogs. The project also partnered with Univarsity to launch ‘YouPlus’, an online application that supports wellbeing and included student co-created videos. In collaboration with LSBU’s Student Union, the project also set up a successful peer mentoring programme for black students.

Read the LSBU case study

Watch a video exploring how LSBU used co-creation to develop interventions with Black students


  • London South Bank University, Student Services
  • Healthy London Partnership/Good Thinking NHS London
  • South Bank Students Union
  • Lambeth College

Newcastle College University Centre embedded a range of approaches to support commuter students from low socio-economic backgrounds. A key strand was the development of a twilight counselling service, an out-of-hours counselling services where sessions were delivered by FdSc Counselling Skills and Therapeutic Communication programme students. The project worked closely with Student Minds to ensure meaningful co-production activities with a student network.   


  • Southwark College
  • Carlisle College
  • Kidderminster College
  • West Lancashire College
  • Fika
  • Student Minds
  • Mixed Economy Group (MEG)

St Mary’s Twickenham developed the 'Mind the Gaps!' Project, which focuses on ‘first in family’ students and students without family support as they manage their mental health through key transition points on their university journey. The project developed a support package including psychoeducation training; personal skills development; peer-to-peer support initiatives; mental health drop-in sessions; and online resources. St Mary’s Twickenham partnered with Maudsley learning to design, launch and evaluate the E-learning programme.  


  • University of West London
  • King’s College London (KCL)
  • South London & Maudsley NHS Trust: Maudsley Learning

The Open University led project aimed to support part-time, commuter and distance learners. The project developed and published an online hub, ‘Positive Digital Practices’ which includes a wealth of resources for both students and staff. Resources centred around three core streams, positive learner identities, positive digital communities and positive pedagogies. Resources were co-created with students, who also participated as panel members on the project working group and supported with the dissemination of the online hub.


  • University of Bradford
  • University of Warwick
  • Student Minds
  • Jisc
  • University Mental Health Advisory Network (UMHAN).

University College London developed the 'Translating Insights Into Action' (TRANSACT) project which established a peer support accelerator and associated training programme, to improve mental health outcomes and pathways into care and support. The project appointed a wide range of students as peer supporters and development leads to develop and deliver a range of peer-support initiatives. Resources were co-developed with students and all student roles received peer support training.


  • UCLPartners
  • Students’ Union UCL
  • Camden Local Authority
  • London Higher

The University of Bradford developed a range of mental health interventions aimed at increasing the mental wellbeing of South Asian students. The project developed a student role (Student Mental Health Ambassadors) who delivered a range of activities such as hosting wellbeing workshops, publishing mental wellbeing information via social media and supporting signposting to other mental health services. The project also launched a wellbeing app, designed for students.

Read the University of Bradford case study


  • University of Bradford (UoB)
  • Bradford District Care Foundation Trust (BDCFT)
  • University of Bradford Students’ Union (UBU)
  • Working Academy (WA)

The University of Bristol developed the first autistic student mental health training programme for staff members. The training was co-produced with autistic students, who formed part of a steering group, created videos for the training and participated as researchers on project outputs. Student co-creators attended conferences and contributed to research papers on the development of the intervention.


  • Dr Hannah Hobson, University of York
  • Dr Trang Tran, University of the West of England (UWE)
  • National Autistic Society
  • Spectrum First

The University of Central Lancashire developed a Creative Mental Health Framework designed to support the mental health of LGBT+ students at the university. Project activities were chosen with students and these included; an online magazine, a theatre production, an art workshop series exploring different themes of identity and mental health and podcasts aimed at reducing mental health stigma in LGBT+ students.

Read the CMHF case study



  • Student Union LGBT+ REP
  • Glenn Duckett – EAT, GROW, THRIVE
  • Paula May (MIND – LANCASHIRE)
  • Tate Liverpool
  • Lewis Turner Lancashire LGBT

The University of Chester project developed preventative strategies to support the mental wellbeing of students with autism spectrum condition (ASC). The project focused on transition points for students both into and out of university. The project recruited lifestyle coaches who met regularly with students to provide a range of support to encourage independency and develop organisational skills and offered wellbeing initiatives such as gym passes and gym classes. The project partnered with the Autism Hub to develop and publish an autism toolkit, which includes information and advice for students, as well as parents.


  • West Cheshire Autism Hub (WCAH)
  • The Bren Project (BP)

The University of Liverpool developed SHELTA, a virtual reality intervention designed to support the wellbeing of placement students. The VR environment is designed to place the user into a calming space and provides a more immersive social experience than existing remote solutions. Users create their own avatar and engage with others through the avatars and real-time speech. It aims to reduce feelings of isolation and depression by providing an enjoyable and interactive forum for accessing support.


  • Draw & Code Ltd
  • MerseyCare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Innovation Agency

The University of Roehampton developed the CLASS project, designed to support care experienced students during their transition to university. The project provided incoming care experienced students the opportunity to experience university via a free, two-week campus residential transition programme. The project designed and implemented a series of support workshops beginning from September, to support with transitions into university. The project collaborated with First Star Scholars UK, to encourage care experienced prospective students to experience university life.


  • NHS IAPT (Wandsworth)
  • Aim Higher (AH)
  • Care Leaver Association (CLA)
  • First Star Scholars UK

The People Like us project worked closely with the NHS London Trust to develop racially and culturally competent mental health and wellbeing support for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students. Eight BAME support groups were set up to target groups such as Eastern European students, male Muslim students and LGBTQ+ students. The project developed a wellbeing workshop series, co-created with students and NHS partners, that was delivered both online and in-person. The project developed the People Like Us toolkit documenting their experiences, and created a People Like Us campaign video. Project activities also included producing resources and livestreamed wellbeing chats.


  • West London NHS Trust
  • University of West London Students’ Union
  • West London NHS Trust
  • University of West London Students’ Union

The University of Westminster have developed UniVRse, a virtual reality (VR), cognitive-behaviour based intervention aimed at reducing social anxiety and improving educational engagement in socially anxious first generation students. The project collaborated with students to design the simulations and the environments comprise graded exposure techniques to allow students to become more comfortable with different university settings. The intervention is currently being evaluated via a randomised control trial.


  • University of Sussex
  • MindTech, University of Nottingham
  • Empathetic Media

The PACE project developed a suite of online tools to support students engaged in placement-based learning across three disciplines: nursing, primary education and engineering. The project delivered a wide range of co-production activities with students to ensure digital materials were shaped by the student experience. Outputs included visual art and inclusive pedagogic content that was embedded into the virtual learning environment to ensure it is accessible for students. A case study is available in UUK’s ‘Suicide-safer’ guidance for supporting placement students (PDF).


  • University of Wolverhampton Students' Union
  • Black Country Partnership Mental Health NHS Trust – Recovery College

Case studies

Student co-creator videos

In the videos below, student co-creators involved in the projects talk about about their experiences.

Video credit: Laura Jane Watson, third year film student at London South Bank University

Assessment panel

As part of the assessment process, bids were reviewed by an external panel.

Chair - Amy Norton Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Students
Katie Tyrell PhD student, University of Suffolk
Ben Lewis Director of Student Support and Wellbeing, Cardiff University
Nicola Byrom Lecturer in Psychology, Kings College London and SMaRteN lead
Nancy Hey Executive Director, What Works Centre for Wellbeing
Dr Dominique Thompson GP, Buzz Consulting
Dr James Woollard National Specialty Advisor for Digital Mental Health, NHS England
Professor Kamaldeep Bhui Professor of Psychiatry, University Dept of Psychiatry & Nuffield Dept Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford
Hon Consultant Psychiatrist, East London NHS Foundation Trust & Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
Virginie Assal Liberation and Equalities Campaigns Manager, National Union of Students
Rotimi Akinsete Associate Dean of Students (Wellbeing & Inclusion), University of the Arts, London and Executive Member, AMOSSHE
Published 17 August 2021
Last updated 14 March 2024
14 March 2024
Published final evaluation report.
19 October 2023
Added links to two case studies: University of Bristol; Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM).
26 May 2023
Added link to resource from Coventry University
13 April 2023
University of Central Lancashire case study published
09 March 2023
New case studies, videos and blog post published
01 December 2022
Added link to the latest evaluation report: Co-creating intersectional student mental health initiatives
31 October 2022
Minor updates to contact details
22 March 2022
Contact added for The Open University
09 March 2022
Added contact details for project leads
01 November 2021
University of West London's project name updated

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