The Dublin North, North East Recovery College: One Year On

24th August 2017

A year on from the launch of Dublin North, North East Recovery College (DNNERC), Líam Mac Gabhann, Associate Professor, Mental Health Practic at Dublin City University (DCU) and John Kelly, Expert by Experience and Recovery College Co-ordinator, reflect on the process of setting up and developing a co-produced Recovery College which distances itself from health service governance.

In February 2016 a small group of partners from service user, DCU & mental health services backgrounds successfully bid for seed funding from the regional Office of the Nursing & Midwifery Services Directorate to establish a regional Recovery College over a two year period. The Region included North Dublin and counties Louth and Meath. Between February and June: governance and operational structures were established; initial community partners from education, mental health voluntary groups and service user/family member organisations joined the initial partnership forum; and a College co-ordinator was appointed. On the 10th October the Dublin North, North East Recovery College (DNNERC) was officially launched.

The first Irish Recovery College opened in Mayo in 2013. In February 2016 there were four others at various stages of planning and development. The primary motivation for the initial core partners for DNNERC was a concern at how the emancipatory ethos of recovery education might not be enabled whilst recovery colleges were being hosted, governed and managed under the umbrella of statutory mental health services. Our vision was to place governance outside of mental health services within the community and through community development principles, to grow the college as a collaborative community collective. The funding came through DCU, which ensured legal and educational governance rested within an educational institution. Strategic and operational governance was established through the steering group comprising partner stakeholder members.

College structures are set up to provide full participation from student groups, service users and family members, to formal partner groups. A steering group provides organisational governance, strategic direction and a mechanism by which all partners have a voice in determining the direction of the college. An operations group with similar membership provides the mechanism for all operational decisions for the college and working sub groups provide focussed development and work tasks, including what course proposals will be tabled for operational group decisions. A core administrative group provide day to day decision making led by the college coordinator. From the outset a student forum was established who feed into all decisions around course development, college direction, evaluation and are represented on operations and steering group.

The college delivers courses and sub group activity in about five satellite community sites and the administrative base and one teaching facility is based in the Healthy Living Centre at DCU. Whilst there is a strong representative presence at all levels of college activity from the four partner mental health services, no college activities takes place on health services property.

Figure 1. Initial College Community Partners

We aim to:

  • Provide a platform for mental health recovery, through empowering and transformative education, assisting people to determine their own meaningful avenues towards wellbeing
  • Provide a shared learning environment, where both lived experience (people overcoming mental distress, their family and friends) and professional experience is respected equally
  • Move people collectively beyond clinical patient, professional and carer roles, towards being students of recovery
  • Work in partnership with recovery orientated individuals, services, groups and agencies to create an inclusive culture of recovery in the community

In the Recovery College we take a co-production approach, meaning people with personal experience, including people overcoming distress and supporters (family members and friends) work in respectful partnerships with professionals to co-design, co-deliver and co-evaluate all aspects of the college. Courses are offered to people with mental health difficulties, mental health professionals, family members and anyone in the catchment community interested in mental health and recovery.

Courses are agreed through three potential processes with the proviso that they are not clinical, psychoeducational or already in existence as a teaching unit. Moreover, any proposal has to fit with agreed criteria matching the college ethos, co-production and our transformative learning principles.

Firstly any partner or people within the community can propose a course through an agreed process, which will be included in the semester decision making process for what courses will be provided. Secondly, there are a number of predetermined beacon courses as agreed through the conditions of college funding. Thirdly, one of the established courses ‘Recovery: Learning Together’ is a process by which students explore areas they would likely to learn more about and develop a set of courses that could be delivered. They rank these and propose two possible courses for consideration by the college with a view to being delivered the next semester.

Figure 2. Sample course provision under four designated educational areas

As a college member students have many options above and beyond course participation. An example of involvement might include: moving from course participant to support or co-facilitation; student forum member; member of decision making fora; Trialogue co-ordinator; and Newsletter editor.

After one successful year, the community development approach and system of course design means that we are going to expand. However, for this coming year we plan to maintain the same level of provision, whilst securing a more sustainable funding stream. One of the key challenges for the DNNERC is that it stands out as a different model than other recovery colleges. On one hand this is an advantage and we expect the results of year one evaluation to demonstrate that our distance from health services governance provides an empowering space for students to explore and engage with recovery. We plan to share evaluation methods and a comparative study may illuminate noticeable differences between the two models. Because of a collective autonomy from statutory regulated service provision there is a lot of scope for creative development with and by the participating communities. On the other hand where colleges are part of the mental health services, funding mechanisms and seconded posts are easily secured. For DNNERC situated outside of the ‘norm’ it is more complex, yet we believe no less possible to sustain.

The Dublin North, North East community had its first end of year Recovery College festival on 16th June with singing, dancing, drama and standing room only. The future bodes well.


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Comments made

  1. Dorothy says:

    fantastic….you’ve given me hope that persons in positions of power actually want to help and support vulnerable people towards being a human being again and a member of society.
    I appreciated your effort thank you

  2. Anita says:

    Thank you for the wonderful article. Recovery Colleges are getting going here in Alberta Canada. It is interesting to read about sister initiatives around the world.

    All the very best recovery and wellbeing to your staff and participants.