NHS vs. Charity-Run Recovery Colleges 

Info for Commissioners, Partnership Working

Recovery colleges represent a ground breaking approach to mental health rehabilitation, offering educational courses designed for people on their recovery journey from mental health issues. The National Health Service (NHS) mental health commissioners are increasingly looking to collaborate with external organisations like Bridge Support for these initiatives. Here, we look at the benefits of recovery colleges operated by Bridge Support compared to those run by the NHS. 

Understanding Recovery Colleges 

Recovery colleges are innovative educational institutions that play an essential role in the mental health recovery process. They blend the best of adult learning practice with modern personal recovery theory to empower individuals in the recovery journey. Central to our philosophy is the principle of co-production, where courses are designed and delivered by professionals and those with lived experience. This provides a unique learning environment that encourages students to take ownership of their learning and recovery. 

The In-House Approach 

Traditionally, NHS-operated recovery colleges have been characterised by the following: 

Structure and Governance 

NHS-operated recovery colleges are embedded within the existing framework of the health service, ensuring that they adhere strictly to the set standards and procedures of the NHS. This model guarantees that these colleges’ structure and governance align with national health policies’ goals. It aims to provide consistent education and support across the board. 

Funding and Resource Allocation:  

Resources for these colleges are allocated from the NHS budget, which ensures stable funding but might limit the flexibility in responding to sudden changes in educational needs or innovations in mental health recovery practices. This structure may restrict the ability to explore new and potentially more effective teaching methods or recovery pathways that require investments not initially accounted for in the budget. 

Curriculum Development and Delivery:  

The curriculum in NHS-operated colleges is meticulously developed to focus on clinical outcomes and the broader objectives of mental health recovery. They incorporate input from a wide range of health professionals. This ensures that the educational content is relevant and aligned with current practices. However, this focus on clinical and recovery outcomes might only partially capture the aspect of lived experiences or the individualised learning approaches that can enhance the recovery journey. 

Benefits and Challenges:  

One of the main benefits of the in-house approach is its structured and governed environment, which can provide students with a sense of reliability and security. However, this structure can also be a double-edged sword, as it may lack the ability to quickly adapt to emerging mental health challenges or integrate a broader array of lived experiences into the learning material. The NHS model strives for a balance between consistency and adaptability, but navigating this balance is an ongoing challenge. 

The Bridge-Run Model 

Bridge Support’s Recovery College in Greenwich emphasises: 

Community Involvement and Volunteer Support 

The Bridge model prioritises the local community’s involvement and local volunteers’ support to enrich the educational experience. This approach creates a supportive learning atmosphere and ensures the college is an integral part of the community it serves. 

Innovative and Flexible Program Offerings  

Bridge Support can quickly respond to the changing needs of its students. The college can introduce new programs and adjust existing ones in real-time, ensuring the curriculum remains relevant and impactful. 

Specialised Expertise  

Drawing on years of experience and a deep understanding of the specific mental health challenges faced by the community, the college offers programs that provide targeted support. This ensures students receive the most effective input for their unique situations, facilitating a more personalised recovery journey.  

Comparative Analysis 


Bridge Support can leverage diverse funding streams, including donations, grants, and partnerships, enabling us to deliver high-quality services with a more efficient allocation of resources. This allows for the optimisation of spending, ensuring that funds directly support impactful programs and services. Therefore, it maximises the cost-effectiveness of delivering mental health education and support. 

Specialisation and Flexibility  

This model can quickly evolve alongside the changing needs of mental health care. With a focus on specialised programs, we can swiftly update and refine our programs to reflect the latest research and feedback from our students. This ensures that the curriculum remains relevant to those in recovery. 

Community Integration 

Our method highlights the importance of embedding educational programs within the community. This approach helps to destigmatise mental health issues while also allowing students to form strong support networks. By integrating learning with practical, real-world experiences, students are better prepared to navigate the complexities of everyday life during their recovery journey. 

Collaboration and Co-production  

Bridge’s Recovery College is committed to co-production, which involves service users directly in the creation and ongoing development of programs. This collaborative approach ensures that the educational content is relevant and tailored to the unique needs and experiences of the students, creating an engaging learning environment. 

Outcome Measurement and Improvement 

While both NHS and charity-run models prioritise outcomes, charities may possess greater flexibility in collecting, analysing, and responding to feedback. This independence allows for the refinement of programs, ensuring that they meet the needs of our students. 

The Way Forward 

The potential for NHS mental health commissioners to partner with organisations like Bridge in operating recovery colleges presents an opportunity to enhance service delivery, improve patient outcomes, and utilise resources more efficiently. Such collaborations can promote a more integrated, community-focused approach to mental health recovery education. It’s essential to encourage dialogue between NHS commissioners and charitable organisations such as Bridge Support to explore collaborative opportunities to enhance mental health education and support for individuals on their recovery journey. Our mission is to help people go beyond clinical recovery and live fulfilling lives. 

For more information, please click here to view the Recovery College website 

Further Reading: 

How Community Involvement and Social Connections Aid Mental Health Recovery 

The Economic Benefits of Community Support in Mental Health Care 

The Journey from In-patient Care to Independent Living 

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