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Investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on recovery colleges: multi-site qualitative study

McPhilbin, M., Stepanian, K. ORCID: 0000-0001-8460-1433, Yeo, C. , Elton, D., Dunnett, D., Jennings, H., Hunter-Brown, H., Grant-Rowles, J., Cooper, J., Barrett, K., Hamie, M., Bates, P., McNaughton, R., Trickett, S., Bishop, S., Takhi, S., Lawrence, S., Kotera, Y., Hayes, D., Davidson, L., Ronaldson, A., Jebara, T., Hall, C., Brophy, L., Jepps, J., Meddings, S., Henderson, C., Slade, M. & Lawrence, V. (2024). Investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on recovery colleges: multi-site qualitative study. BJPsych Open, 10(3), article number e113. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2024.70


During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health problems increased as access to mental health services reduced. Recovery colleges are recovery-focused adult education initiatives delivered by people with professional and lived mental health expertise. Designed to be collaborative and inclusive, they were uniquely positioned to support people experiencing mental health problems during the pandemic. There is limited research exploring the lasting impacts of the pandemic on recovery college operation and delivery to students.

To ascertain how the COVID-19 pandemic changed recovery college operation in England.

We coproduced a qualitative interview study of recovery college managers across the UK. Academics and co-researchers with lived mental health experience collaborated on conducting interviews and analysing data, using a collaborative thematic framework analysis.

Thirty-one managers participated. Five themes were identified: complex organisational relationships, changed ways of working, navigating the rapid transition to digital delivery, responding to isolation and changes to accessibility. Two key pandemic-related changes to recovery college operation were highlighted: their use as accessible services that relieve pressure on mental health services through hybrid face-to-face and digital course delivery, and the development of digitally delivered courses for individuals with mental health needs.

The pandemic either led to or accelerated developments in recovery college operation, leading to a positioning of recovery colleges as a preventative service with wider accessibility to people with mental health problems, people under the care of forensic mental health services and mental healthcare staff. These benefits are strengthened by relationships with partner organisations and autonomy from statutory healthcare infrastructures.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited. Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal College of Psychiatrists
Publisher Keywords: Recovery, recovery college, COVID-19, collaborative data analysis, qualitative research
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
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