What we’ve learnt so far: Young Women’s Mental Health

Ten charities in Greater Manchester and Northern Ireland will receive three-year funding of up to £30,000 per year as part of the first year of our Young Women’s Mental Health fund. We have awarded a total of £861,394 in this round to help increase young women’s access to high quality, age and gender specific mental health provision.


The successful ten charities have different focuses – from maternal health to youth work – but all are committed to supporting young women with complex mental health needs within their communities. As we embark on our first year of the programme, we are committed to sharing what we’ve learnt so far, how we’re implementing new learnings and our journey in being a relational and responsive funder.

How we launched our new programme

After an external review of our previous Social Welfare Fund, we set about developing a new funding programme that supported the life chances of vulnerable women and girls. Launching Young Women’s Mental Health (formerly labelled Young Women’s Mental Health PLUS) was a chance to listen to ideas and feedback from across the sector, including key stakeholders, frontline and community workers, on how we can most effectively run an accessible and nuanced application process.

We wanted applicants to demonstrate how their services embraced four key principles we feel are essential in the provision of high-quality mental health care for young women: gender informed, age appropriate, promote substantive equality and are integrated into wider support services. You can read full details of our key principles and fund guidelines here.

We also wanted to develop a more relational approach with our grantees and designed the overall programme and application process to do this. Firstly, we made fewer but larger grants over multiple years and restructured our application process to include a conversation between the Grants Manager and each potential applicant to discuss their proposal before applying. This new approach was warmly received by charities who appreciated our approachability. Several stated that they found real value in this process as it made them reflect on how they could better support their female service users.

A big benefit from these conversations was developing our own knowledge and insight into the sector. We feel more confident in identifying good and emerging practices that can be shared across grantees.

As part of our commitment to substantive equality, we aimed to increase access to the fund for charities that typically struggle to secure funding and who are generally under-represented in grant distributions through targeted outreach and attending meet the funder events. We are committed to being a flexible and responsive funder. Feedback from charities attending these events helped us refine the programme to be more accessible.


Receiving our first applications

Feedback on the fund has been extremely positive with frontline charities and funders both agreeing that young women’s mental health is an area of significant concern and they welcomed our decision to focus on this issue.

The Department of Health and Social Care’s Strategy on Women’s Health due to be released in the spring will focus on women’s mental health as one of its six key areas. Respondents to the government’s survey wanted more ‘joined-up provision of specialist services and treatment pathways’ and ‘improved access to mental health services including counselling and therapy’. This further reiterates the need for the Young Women’s Mental Health Plus programme.

Most of the new grants will extend or build upon current services, enabling grantees to create a tailored provision for young women. For example, employing specific members of staff or deploying more resources to better engage with young women. Full details of each grant can be found here.


What we learnt from our first applications

After reflecting on the applications we received, one of the key things we wanted to hear more about was how charities were adapting their services to make them more age appropriate for young women. Our focus on the 16-25 age group was purposeful and reflects the particular challenges around this transitional period out of childhood and the complexities of moving from statutory children to adult mental health services.

A number of adult services were proposing to expand their provision to deliver to younger women or to target them more deliberately for the first time. However, it was felt that more consideration was sometimes needed given the change in approach required when working with young women within the 16-25 age range. We were interested to know how services would adapt the mode of delivery, the content of materials, types of project activities, as well as the additional support and supervision required in terms of safeguarding younger women.

We were keen not to be prescriptive with what applicants could request funds for. A lot of the applicants requested the usual expenses, such as salaries, specific project costs and a contribution toward overheads. Only a few included a budget for their advocacy work and sharing of best practice. We think it’s important that applicants know we are interested in funding such activities and will more actively encourage them to build learning and sharing costs into their budgets.

Within our eligibility criteria we allowed applicants to partner together if it made sense for the project or strand of work and to also assist smaller organisations come within our income criteria of £100k to £1 million. On the whole these criteria have worked well, with a good mix of applications received from organisations of varied sizes doing interesting work. However, it did highlight the challenges present in partnerships established primarily as a means of accessing funds, instead of there being a strong working relationship already in existence with aligned aims and values.

These learnings will be reflected in our funding guidelines and communications when the next round of applications opens in 2022.


What’s next?

The grants programme sits as part of our wider strategy to help increase access of young women to high quality, age and gender specific mental health provision. We’re excited to bring grantees together to facilitate peer learning, explore the need for systemic change and build a peer network. Our plan is to engage an independent facilitator to bring the cohort together for these discussions and activities.

Similarly, we want to work with an independent evaluator to develop with grantees an impact framework. We want to capture relevant data and learnings from the grantees and demonstrate the impact of their work. But we are also keen to avoid traditional forms of reporting that are seen as burdensome and ineffective. Part of this process will also help grantees identify opportunities to influence policy and articulate systemic changes.

As we continue through this journey, expect more reflections from us – and important insights that may be of help to us all!


Photo credits in order: Odd Arts, The Parent Rooms, Odd Arts.