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Teaching and Learning

Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference 2021: Radical and Creative Partnership Working

Delivered in collaboration with MWBHE (Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education) Expert Group, this one-day conference addressed issues of mental health and wellbeing across all aspects of higher education.

This one day conference, organised by the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Expert Group in collaboration with Advance HE, was of interest anyone who works with or supports students. The conference was also of interest to staff with strategic roles, academic staff, and those who develop policy and practice relating to mental health and wellbeing on campus.

The conference explored new ideas and aimed to provide a boost in motivation and a fresh vision for all delegates. From the team who brought you Nailing Jelly to a Wall, organised by frontline support staff for frontline support staff and those they work with, the conference explored established and successful partnerships, shared good practice, discussed the challenges to partnership working, and to reviewed ways to overcome the difficulties.

Join the conversation at #MWBHE and #MentalHealth

Date: 18 May 2021
Venue: Virtual
Who: All HE professionals

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It is increasingly recognised how important mental health and wellbeing is  for student success. Universities and colleges are fast-developing  ‘whole institution approaches’ to the student experience and wellbeing, not only to improve academic outcomes and retention, but to provide a holistic and positive experience, even in the most challenging times.

However, it is likely that deeper collaboration and cooperation with a wider range of partners will be necessary to meet the growing demand for student wellbeing support and provision, to address the rising complexity of cases, and the heightened risk to student mental health that university and college staff are dealing with daily. This conference aims to think radically and creatively about partnership working.

In an academic year like no other we have seen how important the whole community has been to get through the tough times together. How can we now work even closer together, move forward and recover from 2020/21, as well as address the rising demands and expectations which were present well before coronavirus hit?

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Conference aims

The overarching theme for this conference was 'Radical and Creative Partnership working' and the conference aimed to:

  • Bring together mental health experts and practitioners in higher education to assess and address the urgent need for more effective partnerships
  • Be radical and creative in looking for solutions, including in how we partner with parents and students, with our local towns and cities, and partnering across sectors
  • Consider and agree the priorities as we move out from Covid-19 and we work for the optimum care of our students and HE communities
  • Hear from front-line staff, share good practice, and be inspired by and support each other.
New for 2021
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Conference programme

Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference - Conference Programme
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Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference 2021 - Programme

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A digital conferencing experience

The Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference 2021 was delivered virtually on our virtual conference platform. This provided delegates with a flexible, immersive and engaging digital experience where they could develop their practice, share their ideas and grow their network. All delegates had access to the following features:

  • a full day of live-streamed sessions of speakers, panel discussions and workshops
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments during all sessions
  • full online support throughout the day
  • flexibility to attend sessions at leisure with access to all session recordings after the conference allowing you to browse and catch up on anything you may have missed at a time suited to you
  • resources area for relevant and contemporary resources on student mental health and wellbeing
  • opportunity to interact with other delegates from around the world in a virtual networking space.
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Welcome speakers

Gary Loke

Gary Loke is Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE where he is responsible for leading on research, thought leadership and content delivery of Advance HE’s services.  Prior to his current role, Gary was Deputy Chief Executive at Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). At ECU, he led on numerous projects, including joint guidance with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Universities UK on the intersection of equality legislation and the Prevent duty. 

Find out more about Gary

Gary Loke

Alan Percy (MWBHE Chair)

After graduating from Bristol University, Alan started his working life in youth and community work in London in the early 1980’s. From that experience he became committed to developing different practical therapeutic strategies to help young people and adults suffering from psychological and emotional distress and the effects of mental illness to achieve their life goals. He has worked at a wide range of Further and Higher Education Institutions both as a counsellor and lecturer for over the last 30 years. 

Find out more about Alan

Alan Percy
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Keynote speakers

Gregor Henderson

Gregor is an international leader and influencer on mental health with over 30 years experience across a range of Government, public, private, academic and charity sectors. He currently directs Public Health England's work on mental health. 

Gregor has successfully led and delivered large-scale national policies and programmes in mental health and is currently an adviser to a range of organisations and businesses, including several in the digital and start up world.

Find out more about Gregor

Gregor Henderson

Rotimi Akinsete

Rotimi Akinsete is the Associate Dean of Students at the University of the Arts London and is a therapeutic counsellor and clinical supervisor with over 25 years extensive experience in managing community, NHS and HE wellbeing services. Over the last decade he has developed the Black Men on the Couch project, a unique program that aids in self-reflection, discovery and personal growth for black and minority men. He is also author of This Book Can Help: The Men’s Headspace Manual (MoM Books).

Find out more about Rotimi

Rotimi Akinsete

Vivi Friedgut

Vivi Friedgut is the founder of Blackbullion – the startup on a mission to empower millions of students to create a better financial future. Blackbullion partners with universities across the UK, Australia and NZ to support students to successful transition into, through and out of higher education. 

Find out more about Vivi

Vivi Friedgut

Peter Fonagy

Peter Fonagy, PhD, FMedSci, FBA, FAcSS, OBE, is Professor of Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Developmental Science and Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL; Programme Director for Mental Health, UCLPartners; Chief Executive of The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families; Consultant to the Child and Family Program at the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; and holds visiting professorships at Yale and Harvard Medical Schools.

Find out more about Peter

Peter Fonagy
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Panel speakers

Panel session: Animating mental health

Géraldine Dufour (MWBHE) - Panel Chair

As the Head of Counselling at the University of Cambridge, Géraldine Dufour oversees the provision of psychological support for the collegiate university, leading a large team of counsellors, CBT therapists, university sexual harassment and assault advisor and mental health advisors. She is the past Chair of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Universities & Colleges Division and the national group for Heads of University Counselling Services (HUCS), as well as the Chair of the Academic Committee of China-UK University Counselling Association.

Find out more about Géraldine

Geraldine Dufour

Neil Pymer

Neil Pymer is a director working in film, animation & interactive - primarily in the wonderfully diverse and innovative interactive department at Aardman. He specialises in projects that are difficult to achieve, probably haven't been attempted before, that educate, bring about change and have strong narratives at their heart... ideally all of the above!

Find out more about Neil

Neil Pymer

Jackie Williams

Jackie is Consultant Trainer-Universities at The Charlie Waller Trust andd has worked professionally as a counsellor since 1987, initially within NHS and then since 1992 within HE. She has also been a Senior Lecturer on Post Grad Professional training at both UCLAN and Warwick universities. She is also a clinical supervisor and has a special interest in ‘compassion fatigue’ and ‘moral distress’ amongst clinicians and frontline helpers.

Jackie Williams

Ronnie Millar

As Director of Counselling Services at the University of Edinburgh, Ronnie Millar leads a large multi-disciplinary team providing counselling and psychological support for students and staff of the University, and manages the University’s Sexual Violence and Harassment Liaison officer. He developed the University’s training programme on student mental health for academics and pastoral support staff and has collaborated with the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust in developing a range of online and interactive information and training options for University staff.

Find out more about Ronnie

Ronnie Millar
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Panel session: Partnerships in and for real life: Practising the creative and radical

Nic Streatfield (MWBHE) - Panel Chair

Nic Streatfield is AMOSSHE Vice Chair (Professional Development), Head of Student Support and Wellbeing at the University of East London and is a BACP Accredited Counsellor/Psychotherapist. Nic contributed a chapter to the book 'Student Mental Health & Wellbeing in Higher Education' wrote a module for Epiguem's 'Being Well, Living Well' online programme and is co-author of Advance HE's 'Governors Guide to Safeguarding'.

Nic Streatfield

Michael Priestley

Michael is an ESRC-funded PhD student at Durham University conducting the WELL@UNI study to explore student wellbeing and experiences of living and learning at university. Michael is also a student involvement coordinator for the Charlie Waller Trust and a member of the Trust’s Universities and Colleges Advisory Board. Michael is a member of the Student Minds Student Advisory Committee and voluntary researcher for the Student Minds University Mental Health Charter.   

Michael Priestley

Dr Nicola Byrom

Dr Byrom is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences at KCL. Her research focuses on university student mental health. With a particular interest in peer support, informal networks of support and settings-based approaches to improving public mental health. She is currently directing SMaRteN, the UKRI funded Student Mental Health Research Network.

Find out more about Nicola

Dr Nicola Byrom

Laura Smythson (MWBHE)

Laura has a background in general nursing and now leads the Wellbeing and Welfare department at the University of Surrey. Laura's expertise lies in eating disorders and contagious disease planning in higher education, and was at the forefront of Europe's largest meningitis B vaccination program in response to a cluster. Pandemic planning has been high on her agenda for the sector and has been involved in the response from the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Laura Smythson
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Panel session: University-NHS Mental health hubs in cities: A promising future?

Dr Dominique Thompson (MWBHE) - Panel Chair 

Dominique is an award winning GP, young people's mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with two decades of clinical experience. She is author of The Student Wellbeing Series (Trigger Press), and co-author of How to Grow a Grown Up (PenguinRandomHouse). Dom has done two TEDx talks; ‘What I learnt from 78000 GP consultations with university students’ and ‘Understanding Why’. She contributed to Student Mental Health & Wellbeing in Higher Education: A practical guide (Sage). Dom is a Clinical Advisor for NICE, RCGP and Student Minds. Dom is lead clinical advisor for Bring Well, Living Well Epigeum.


Dominique Thompson

Louise Knowles

Louise Knowles is a UKCP registered Psychotherapist. With more than 25 years of working in the public, not for profit and independent sectors, Louise has a wealth of experience both in managing services and delivering individual and group psychotherapy and clinical supervision. 

Find out more about Louise

Louise Knowles

Jamie Darwen

Jamie is Projects Lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity at UWE Bristol. He is responsible for a range of projects which are making UWE a more inclusive place to study and work at, improving the experience of UWE staff and students, and driving culture change across the university. He is currently leading a strategic Student Mental Health Partnerships Project, funded by the Office for Students, which has established partnerships between HEIs and local NHS services through five regional hubs across England, to improve collaboration across services and provide better care for students.

Find out more about Jamie

Jamie Darwen

Dr Paula Harrison

After completing a Psychology Degree and Counselling Diploma, Paula started her career as a counsellor with young people before becoming a Mental Health Advisor, then Disability Services Manager at the University of Hull. She then became Head of Student Support at the University of Chester before moving to the University of Liverpool where she is now Director of Student Administration and Support. Paula is committed to improving provision for students’ mental health and leads the Improving Student Mental Health through Partnerships Working project in Liverpool.

Find out more about Paula

Dr Paula Harrison

Professor Peter Fonagy

Keynote speaker, Professor Peter Fonagy, Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London & CEO, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, will also be joining this panel.

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Parallel workshop speakers

Parallel workshop: Partnerships with students

Dr Anna Matthews (MWBHE) - Workshop Chair

Anna is the Chair of UMHAN, CEO and founder of UMO and UMO Pro, a not for profit Specialist Mental Health & Wellbeing Mentoring Service providing bespoke one-to-one support to students and staff. Anna has worked in this sector for over 14 years and now helps to frame policy in this area. She has previously worked within the NHS and academia, principally at Leeds University. 

Find out more about Anna

Dr Anna Matthews

Knut Schroeder

Knut is a GP, Honorary Senior Lecturer in General Practice at the University of Bristol and Founder of Expert Self Care Ltd, the UK’s health information app development company supporting universities and the NHS. He is driven by wanting to put students and other people more in control of their own health and wellbeing.

Find out more about Knut

Knut Schroeder

Emma Nieminen

Emma is the Suicide Calls Project Coordinator for the Nightline Association, leading a project aiming to improve student volunteers' confidence and competence in responding to contacts about suicide. Emma has over 10 years' experience working directly with and for students to prevent suicide and improve mental health, specialising in frontline helpline and instant messaging support.

Emma Nieminen

Angela Ike

Angela is a BACP Accredited Counsellor who has worked in university settings for several years. She is currently a Senior Counsellor for the University Counselling Service at the University of Cambridge.

Angela Ike
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Parallel workshop: Partnerships with parents

Dr Dominique Thompson (MWBHE) - Workshop Chair

Dr Dominique Thompson (MWBHE), GP and Health & Wellbeing Consultant, Buzz Consulting, will be chairing this workshop.

Helen Groenendaal

As the Head of Student Advisory & Wellbeing Helen leads the provision of wellbeing support for students at Royal Holloway University of London.   With a focus on empowering students to develop the skills to manage their personal wellbeing her team covers a broad spectrum including wellbeing, mental health, disability, financial,  counselling, community, international and faith support. Helen has worked in the HE sector for 17 years and is committed to delivering high quality, responsive and effective student support throughout the student journey.

Helen Groenendaal
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Related blogs and resources


A systemic approach: the key to embedding wellbeing

10 Feb 2021 | Fabienne Vailes and Imogen Moore
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