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Five things you might like to know about Recovery Colleges

Updated Friday, 11 December 2015
What is a Recovery College? When did they start? Dr Jonathan Leach explains in this five point guide.

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Road to recovery 1. What is a Recovery College?

A recovery college takes an educational rather than a clinical or rehabilitation approach to improving mental health. As far as possible the distinction between service users and professionals is avoided and there is an emphasis on co-production, co-delivery and co-participation in the learning. An individual with experiences of mental health problems can be engaged in designing and delivering courses and not all of those participating in those courses will have a psychiatric diagnosis. The emphasis within the college is on strengths rather than problems. Each person develops an individual learning plan which guides their journey through their studies. The aim is to offer subjects that would not be available in the local further education colleges and could include:

  • Understanding recovery
  • Understanding mental health conditions
  • Looking at mental health services and treatments
  • Personal wellbeing and health
  • Life skills, managing money, moving towards other education or employment
  • Training, advocacy and peer-support skills

2. When did Recovery Colleges start?

According to Meddings et al. (2015) ‘The first Recovery College was established in 2009 by Rachel Perkins in South West London and a second College was quickly established in Nottingham’.  You can see a video about the first recovery college here:


The impetus for these colleges grew out of the recovery movement which developed quite steadily from the late 1980s onwards. A key aspect of the concept of recovery in mental health is that it is ‘a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life even with the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involved the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.’ (Anthony, 1993). Although many mainstream mental health services have tried to embrace the idea of being recovery-focused, the establishment of colleges offers greater opportunities to break down the barriers between staff and users and to focus on strengths rather than problems.

3. How many Recovery Colleges are there?

Meddings et al. (2015) estimate that ‘There are now almost 40 in operation, mainly in England, but also in Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Australia and Japan.’  In the United Kingdom there is an organisation ImROC (Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change) that promotes and supports the development of these colleges and the numbers are likely to grow in this country and beyond

4. What do the people who use Recovery Colleges think about them?

Although it is still relatively early on in the development of recovery colleges the indications are that the people who attend them have a positive experience. A number of articles have been published on the experiences of students at these colleges and their comments seem to show that they are making a difference to people’s lives. One study using the feedback from 220 students reported that:

Students reported high levels of satisfaction according to feedback forms:

  • 96 per cent students said that the course they attended was “good” or “excellent”; and
  • 97 per cent students said they would be “likely” or “extremely likely” to recommend the Recovery College to friends, family or colleagues.

Students were positive about the college in the interviews:

“The best idea I’ve ever heard of in mental health. Made a big change to life, and gave help when needed most.”

“Improved self-esteem and confidence. Sense of fulfillment and achievement.”

“Giving me a smile again”.’

(Smeddings et al., 2014)

5. How can I join a Recovery College?

Recovery Colleges don’t exist in every region of the UK and the easiest way to find out if there is one in your area is to conduct an Internet search. However, if you have a local mental health resource centre or similar advice-giving organisation they should be able to help you discover if there is a local college. As recovery colleges are educational establishments you don’t need a health referral and you can apply directly to them. One college states: ‘There is absolutely no need for a referral; in fact we do not have a system for referrals. Although the college is designed for people with lived and professional experience of mental health services, we operate the same as any adult learning centre would. Your local team may recommend us to you but they cannot refer. We pride ourselves in treating everyone as students and you will have equality with all students at the college regardless of background.’ (Southern Health NHS)

Select below to reveal the references for this article.


Anthony, W.A. (1993) ‘Recovery from mental illness: the guiding vision of the mental system in the 1990s.’ Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal 16, 4 page 11.

Meddings, S., Guglietti, S., Lambe, H. and Byrne,D. (2014) ‘Student perspectives: recovery college experience’, Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 18, 3 pages 142 – 150.

Meddings, S., McGregor, J.,  Roeg, W. and Shepherd, G. (2015) ’Recovery colleges: quality and outcomes", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 19, 4, pages 212 – 221.

Southern Health NHS


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