Make Your Mark arts courses as part of Sussex Recovery College

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Make Your Mark (MYM) is the Arts and Health programme for Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust launched in January 2015.  


The overall aim of MYM is to use the arts to make a difference to individuals, groups and communities, to develop an arts practice to help us tell stories, transform environments and bring new understandings of health and human experience into the public realm. By giving space to the imagination we seek to integrate creativity into the fabric of health care and create new possibilities for learning, health and well-being within our communities.

Our arts programme provides developmental opportunities to increase participants’ well-being, vitality and sense of connection with their interests and those of others. We see the arts as offering an important resource where service users, staff and carers can take part as participants to learn more about themselves, their shared humanity and their creativity. 

MYM context

Our 2015-16 programme was shaped by a consultation process involving over 150 people between February – May 2015.  Feedback from stakeholders (service users, NHS staff, carers, artists and foundation trust members) was positive and unanimously in support of the development of Make Your Mark.  From the consultation we learnt that our programme needed to:

  • Be participatory and collaborative
  • Community based and able to build links between those who use mental health services and cultural partners
  • Increase access to a range of art forms and cultural opportunities
  • Be sustainable
  • Deliver personal, interpersonal, social and community outcomes

Sussex Partnership’s charity ‘Heads On’ is an essential partner for MYM as our programme budget comes from charitable funds and external grants.   


In 2015 we secured £59,259 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to deliver MYM’s first major project in collaboration with Sussex Recovery College. The project involved delivering and evaluating specialist arts based courses for people with mental health challenges. Between May and July 2016 we delivered seven arts based Recovery College courses co-designed and co-delivered by professional artists and Peer Trainers and held in major cultural venues across East and West Sussex. The courses were designed to support mental health recovery, increase people’s access to excellent participatory arts opportunities and arts venues, help increase knowledge and skills, support creativity and promote self-esteem and confidence.

Between July 2016 and March 2017 we will be undertaking a longitudinal qualitative evaluation project to explore the impact of the courses on participants’ ongoing engagement in the arts and on their use of mental health services.

Description of the arts activity

Recovery Colleges are characterised by free attendance, co-production and learning among peers. They offer educational opportunities to support people in their journey to recovery. All courses are co-designed and co-delivered by professionals with peer trainers (people with experience of mental health challenges) in a non-stigmatising college environment. They are still in their infancy in the UK and evaluation evidence is limited. However, a pilot study revealed that those who attended more than 70% of their scheduled sessions showed a significant reduction in use of community mental health services.

The MYM arts courses ran weekly for eight weeks and offered a range of art forms including music, visual arts, theatre, puppetry and filmmaking. Each focused on approaching recovery through creativity. Course titles reflected this e.g. Recovery and Self-Discovery through Arts and Food, Creative Music Making and Mindful Drama and Storytelling for Supportive Recovery.

One of MYM’s key objectives is to enable participants to gain new skills and move towards a new artistic identity; tying in with the mental health recovery model. Collaborating with Sussex Recovery College, which is also managed by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, was a clear way of doing this.

Details of the project participants

The target audience for the Recovery College project was people experiencing severe and enduring mental health challenges who have at some point accessed Sussex Partnership services. The Recovery College produces a termly prospectus that’s promoted and distributed across Sussex and holds Open Days where prospective students were able to come along and find out more about the courses and sign up.

Project management

The project is led and managed by Joanna Stevens, Lead for Arts and Health at Sussex Partnership, with support from an Arts Project Coordinator. The evaluation element of the project is being led by a Research Assistant.

Ethical approval for the evaluation study was given by the Trust Audit and Evaluation team. Our academic partner is Canterbury Christ Church University.

Evaluation methods and findings

The evaluation strand of the project commenced in July 2016. The Research Assistant is using a combination of qualitative (interviews and focus groups) and quantitative methods (surveys and questionnaires). We are utilising Sussex Recovery College’s existing evaluation process, as well as our own methods including focus groups with the professional artists (experts by training) and the peer trainers (experts by experience), as well as semi-structured interviews with a selection of students at three, six and nine months.

Although only in the initial stages of collecting data, Make Your Mark staff have attended at least one session of each course, enabling us to gather some early-stage feedback. This has shown that students have been consistently positive about the value of the courses as well as the evaluation process itself.

One student remarked that having been unable to leave the house or engage socially in any meaningful way for years, he is now having fun again and looked forward to his art class every week. It is also apparent that a developing interest in the arts is emerging among the participants. For example, a group of students from the Creative Music Making course have decided that they will meet regularly for jamming sessions now that the course has finished.

As well as positive feedback from the individuals taking part, feedback from people who know the students has also been equally positive, with one friend of a student saying that she has never seen her friend so positive, relaxed and engaged before. Finally, a Peer Trainer who recognised a student from previous courses remarked on the noticeable change in the student’s positivity and engagement.

The final evaluation report is to be published in summer 2017.

Relevant links

Arts professional article:

MYM film (a film about the MYM programme our vision and the role of the arts in health):

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England