Empowering education: establishing a Wellness and Recovery College in a Scottish University

12th March 2014

Glenn, Lisa and Marie of the University of the West of Scotland tell us how the new Dumfries and Galloway Wellness and Recovery College came into being and its plans for the future.


This article outlines the development of the Dumfries and Galloway Wellness and Recovery College (The College). The College is based at University of the West of Scotland (UWS), Dumfries Campus and provides courses to help students develop skills and understanding identify life goals and ambitions and build on confidence and self-efficacy. It is the first of its kind in Scotland, and whilst influenced by the English experience is unique in its philosophy and approach. We (Marie and Lisa) were inspired to establish a Scottish recovery college after visiting and consulting with Julie Repper at the Nottingham recovery college in April 2012.

The College is open to ANYONE over 18 living in the local community. The community ethos encourages students from a broad range of experiences; the ‘student’ identity is common to everyone regardless of personal history. The vision is to create an educational environment which reduces stigma and discrimination while building connections and citizenship. People attending are not ‘taught,’ or treated as passive recipients, but rather ‘learn’ together, through a process of co-production co-delivery and co-receiving (Perkins et al, 2012).

The College has been developed in partnership with Scottish Recovery Network and local commissioning through ‘Putting you First’ through the joint Carers Strategy and Dumfries and Galloway Alcohol and Drug Partnership. Although the university campus is based in Dumfries the College will reach out across Dumfries and Galloway. The potential benefits were demonstrated in a survey of students at one London recovery college, which suggested a reduction in the use of community services and 70% of students continuing in education or taking up volunteering or employment (Perkins et al, 2012).

Quote graphicPhilosophy

Students access a wide range of support within UWS including careers and employability assistance, library services and Student Union facilities. The College aims to:

  • Provide a base for wellness and recovery resources for the whole community.
  • Provide an approach in a learning setting that prevents inequalities or vulnerabilities being identified.
  • Encourage individuals to “find their own solutions and embrace distress as a part of ordinary life” (Perkins, 2013).
  • Assist individuals to have “control over the support they need to make the most of their talents and lives” (Perkins, 2013).
  • Support students to become experts in self-care.
  • Break down barriers by offering sessions run by people who are experts by their lived experience and people with professional experience.
  • Encourage, build on and promote an educational and coaching model in supporting students to become experts in managing their own well-being.

Providing authentic learning experiences and time for dialogue is central to the philosophy of the project. There is a commitment to co-production, co-delivery and co-receiving. The development, content and delivery of courses involve direct input from peer trainers, carers and family members and mental health professionals. Previous case studies demonstrate the power of the approach in both addressing stigma and impacting positively on wellbeing-related outcomes, including improved mental and physical well-being (Slay and Stephens, 2013).

Where we are now

An administrator has been employed to provide the front line contact and to support students in identifying learning needs and strengths in a learning plan. A part-time project worker is to be employed to support the development and support needs of the peer trainers. Courses are being co-developed and consultation includes: a development day where over 50 local people attended to help further shape the values and philosophy; a variety of drop in events across the region based in local libraries; and a website with news thread for updates. Seven peer trainers have been recruited and educational support for their role of co-developing and co-delivering sessions is provided. The training will support knowledge exchange, whilst building and developing creative development and mentoring, for example action learning sets and reflection.

There is the potential to deliver courses in a variety of blended learning formats, further addressing some of the consequences of living in a rural area through creating opportunities for people to make connections as students within both virtual and face to face learning environments. The project creates a shift away from defining communities by their problems to one where meaning, purpose, growth and hope are the norm rather than the exception. Current funding lasts until March 2015 and funding applications and opportunities are now being developed and explored. The sustainability of the project is vital given the high level of local motivation and enthusiasm evidenced during taster courses and at development days.

The College will offer a number of courses which vary in content, length and learning, developed after the delivery of some taster session, but all align to the themes of rights or relationships or recovery, or combinations of these. Some examples include:

Table graphic

Impact evaluation

Research and evaluation will involve a wide range of stakeholders including the project team, students, trainers and the wider community. It is planned that a PhD studentship supported by UWS will explore the impact of co-production, co-delivery and co-receiving of wellness and recovery education. This will adopt the participatory approach of appreciative inquiry. Evaluation will include a range of holistic and creative techniques, for example, Weavers Triangle (Weaver, 1996), collation of digital stories and use of photos and images. These findings will contribute significantly to the current research on recovery colleges as well as having implications for future developments across education and health. Plans to share findings at a national learning event are in place.

Quote graphicHow people can get involved and learn more

The College can be contacted via the website and there will be ‘open doors’ days to give people the chance to come along and engage in dialogue.



Perkins, R., Repper, J., Rinaldi, M. and Brown, H. (2012) Recovery Colleges, Centre for Mental Health, London.

Perkins (2013) Can mental health services as we know them really support recovery? Scottish Recovery Network, Glasgow.

Slay, J. and Stephens, L. (2013) Co-production in Mental Health: a Literature Review, New Economics Foundation, London.

Tweedie, H (2012) England’s recovery colleges: an educational import for Scotland? Scottish Recovery Network, Glasgow

Weaver, J (1996) Weavers triangle.

About the Authors

All three authors work at the University of the West of Scotland. Glenn Marland, RMN, RNT, B Ed, MN, Dip N, PGCRM, PhD is a Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing; Lisa McNay, RMN, CPNDip, BA, PGDipCC, PGCE TLHE is a Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing; and Marie McCaig, RMN, BSc (Hons), MSc is a Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing.