Children’s mental health project wins huge funding boost

Dr Fei Chen from the School of Architecture

A new Edge Hill University-led mental health project for children and young people, involving the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture, has won £2.5m. This is one of the largest research grants of its kind ever awarded nationally in the arts and arts therapies.

Arts4Us will bring together under one digital platform the best practice in arts and arts therapies, making it easier for young people and their families to find the crucial help they need.

Professor Vicky Karkou from Edge Hill University is leading this massive collaborative enterprise with more than 50 partners from academic institutions, NHS trusts, schools and community organisations in the North West.

She said: “One in five children and young people are struggling with their mental health as they transition from childhood to adolescence. We know that the services available do not cover their needs.

“Thinking and talking about problems is not always how children choose to communicate and resolve their problems. Creative interventions, like music classes, painting sessions, drama and theatre projects or dance movement therapy groups, are an effective alternative but may not be easily accessible in mental health services.

“Arts4Us aims to change that. We want to ensure children and young people will be able to access the mental health support they need regardless of where they live.”

The project will also create 11 new jobs, boosting employability and skills in the region.

Dr Fei Chen, Reader in Architecture and Urban Design is leading the first work package for Arts4Us and the School of Architecture will host a post-doc associate in the Urban Form and Social Space research group.

She said: “The goal of this first work package is to develop a prototype of a digital platform using a mapping methodology for community assets, including arts practices and the community spaces that support them. Our aim is to integrate digital technologies that specifically appeal to children and young people through a process of co-creation. I am truly excited to collaborate on this significant endeavour with our extensive and diverse network of partners.”

The Arts4Us interactive platform will focus on 9-13-year-olds, encouraging them to develop skills around how to access and maximise the benefits of arts activities which support their mental health. They will help co-design all aspects of the project, ensuring the content and support is user-friendly and relevant to them.

NHS services will also be able to use the digital platform to signpost patients to support, building collaborations across community partners and healthcare in the North West and, as the project can be scaled up, also nationally and internationally.

Professor Nusrat Husain, Director of Research and Innovation at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We know that 50 per cent of mental disorders begin before the age of 14 years old and unfortunately many children and young people do not have access to appropriate mental healthcare.

“Arts4Us, which is of huge public mental health importance, has the potential to change this because the intervention is engaging and builds on co-developed research with young people.”

Stephen Sandford, music therapist and Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board, added: “We know our children and young people recognise the positive contribution that arts and culture bring to their health and wellbeing.

“And this landmark funding award for Arts4Us is a fabulous opportunity to further integrate the value of arts, culture and creative health partnerships.”

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) awarded Arts4Us £2.5million in the third phase of its Mobilising Community Assets to Tackle Health Inequalities programme.

The funding boost is a record-breaking success for Edge Hill: the sum is the largest single research grant ever awarded to the University.

The team behind the successful bid and ongoing project collaboration includes Edge Hill University colleagues: Dr Helen O’Keeffe, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Education; Andy Smith, Professor of Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health; Dr Michelle Howarth, Senior Engagement Fellow; Dr Shaun Liverpool, Senior Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health; and Marcello Trovati, Professor in Computer Science.

Arts4Us will build on the success of award-winning arts-based group intervention project Arts for the Blues, also led by Professor Karkou and academics at The University of Salford. Learning from Arts for the Blues project will be a useful blueprint to improve provision for children and young people through Arts4Us.

The project falls under Edge Hill’s thriving Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing and will create 11 new appointments, offering exciting new opportunities for graduates and boosting skills in the region:

  • six creative health associates will work within NHS and community organisations to gather information about local needs, identify projects, develop an agreed evaluation framework and share good practice;
  • Edge Hill will host three new roles – a postdoctoral fellow, a project manager and a research assistant;
  • University of Salford and University of Liverpool will each create one new research assistant position.

Find out more about Arts4Us here. If you are 24 or under, and have lived experience of mental health symptoms between nine and 13 years of age, you could help to shape the project as a YoungArts4Us panel member – email