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Imagining new possibilities for adult community mental health

Our latest Living Well UK learning event this month brought together the brilliant people who have been working with us for three years in a joint endeavour to imagine and create new Living Well systems for better mental health.

Living Well UK learning events are a chance to step outside of daily work and Covid pressures. They give people much needed space to question, learn, grow together and imagine new possibilities.

We were joined by ambitious change makers in Derbyshire, Edinburgh, Luton, Oldham, Salford and Tameside & Glossop, all of whom are working incredibly hard to transform adult community mental health support. Thanks to their effort and enthusiasm, more and more people are now finding it easier to get person centred, holistic help where and when they need it. Fantastic.

We focused our learning event on how our collective relationships to our mental health systems can hold us back.

Together, we asked:

“How can we maintain the energy and commitment required to realise the change we have started?”

“Why do people seem to both commit to change whilst resisting it?”

“Why do some parts of our systems seem to remain stuck?”

We looked at case studies from around the world where inspiring leaders had reframed and reimagined long standing problems - from ‘half houses’ in Chile, to a school without walls in Brazil, to reducing violent youth crime in Glasgow. In these examples people freed themselves from unhelpful mental models that had kept systems “stuck” in old patterns and ways of responding to complex challenges. In doing so they focused their collective capacity for imagination in the service of the new and the possible, rather than in maintaining the old. Results for local communities were life changing, as they are starting to be for Living Well practitioners and the people benefiting from new kinds of help.

Through conversation and dialogue, we surfaced two key learnings

  1. Transformation requires deep imagination, and currently imagination is in the service of holding up fragile systems. For example, we talked about the understandable desire many professionals have to “protect my colleagues and our part of the system”, and how this only serves to maintain fragmented and fragile relationships across organisations and sectors.

  2. "A focus on the "how" not just the "what", unlocks transformation. For example, we looked at how the Living Well emphasis on collective learning and testing through co-design and prototyping (rather than top-down prescription and ‘piloting’), helps avoid ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ thinking in a complex system where there is often no easy answer (which is certainly true in adult mental health, where professionals have struggled for decades to improve outcomes for people with severe mental illness).

We know from our wider work in adopting and adapting proven innovations in health, education and social care, that offering up core elements of a new solution helps inspire and energise people to apply their imagination to the new and de-risk it (other people have done this, so we can too!). This is true of Living Well, and our pioneers took real courage from connecting to colleagues in Lambeth, south London, where the Living Well concept was originally born.

As we enter the fourth and final year of the Living Well UK programme, we’ll be exploring and unpacking our top learnings in a series of blogs over the summer and autumn of 2021. Crucially, we will share insights on how to “unstick” inhibitive ways of thinking and doing that hold us back, and how to enable people to embrace new possibilities that are so critical for imagining and building different and better systems.


This work has been made possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund.

We would love to hear your thoughts / @lwuksystems


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