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Lessons Learned from the Feel Well, Work Well Programme

At Sheffield Futures, our commitment to continuous improvement drives us to adopt a ‘lessons learned’ approach to our projects and service delivery.

This involves recording insights gained throughout a project’s lifespan and applying these learnings when writing funding bids or planning new initiatives. One of our recently-concluded Employability and Mental Health projects, Feel Well, Work Well (FWWW), illustrates this process well. Funded partly by the European Social Fund (ESF) and concluding at the end of 2023, FWWW provided us with valuable lessons that will inform our future efforts. 

Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Youth Unemployment and Mental Health 

The FWWW programme was designed to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 on young people, particularly concerning unemployment and mental health challenges. Collaborating with partners Big Ambitions, Rotherham United Community Sports Trust, and Rotherham and Barnsley MIND, FWWW aimed to support young people across the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority region.

The project faced several unexpected challenges that provided crucial insights. We explore these challenges below.

Navigating Over-Commissioning and Recruitment Challenges 

One significant challenge we encountered was the lower-than-anticipated number of eligible participants. This issue arose due to the over-commissioning of similar employment support programmes in the region and the successful implementation of the furlough scheme, which resulted in fewer unemployed young people than expected. This experience underscores the necessity of thoroughly mapping existing services to avoid saturation and ensure effective recruitment. We must work better together with our peers in this field to avoid duplication.

Rethinking Outcome Measures 

Another lesson learned was the difficulty in achieving outcome targets related to employment, self-employment, or education/training upon programme completion. These targets did not fully capture the progress made with participants, particularly in terms of enhanced confidence and mental health improvements. We have applied this learning to our current employability work, ensuring more holistic measures of success that reflect all aspects of participant development were included in the outcome targets. 

The Importance of Timely Mental Health Support 

Long waiting times for mental health support posed significant challenges for participant engagement. Many young people were not mentally ready to engage with employability support, and the delays in receiving mental health services meant they could not benefit from the programme within its timeframe. We’ve used this experience, alongside further exploration into ways to deliver mental health support more promptly and flexibly to meet the needs of young people, to shape our new Mental Health Hub. The Hub model combines mental health and wellbeing support with employability support.

Enhancing Internal Collaboration 

Internally, we recognised that opportunities for more cohesive teamwork between employability and mental health support services were missed. For upcoming and future projects, such as the Mental Health Hub, fostering closer collaboration between these teams is crucial to providing comprehensive support to young people. 

Managing Administrative Demands 

Lastly, we underestimated the administration time required to establish processes and submit compliance data, which led to initial struggles in programme implementation and compliance reporting. Accurate budgeting and planning for administrative tasks are essential to avoid such setbacks in future projects. This resource must be written into funding bids, otherwise we risk having to cover the cost ourselves.

Moving Forward with Insight 

The lessons learned from the FWWW programme have been invaluable in shaping our approach to future projects. By understanding the challenges and successes of FWWW, we can better prepare for similar initiatives, ensuring that we deliver effective, timely, and holistic support to young people. At Sheffield Futures, continuous improvement isn’t just a goal — it’s a commitment to evolving and enhancing our services to meet the ever-changing needs of young people in Sheffield.