A pioneering initiative to help improve the mental health of children in the North West has been launched with the backing of the University of Bolton.

The Hummingbird Project is being run in 14 secondary schools in Greater Manchester and Cheshire, by children’s charity MedEquip4Kids.

The aim is to give youngsters confidence in themselves by using positive psychology to help them cope with issues they will encounter throughout their lives.

The charity, which raises money to provide paediatric medical equipment and facilities for hospitals and community health teams, had noticed in that there appeared to be a big gap in the support for school aged children with mental health issues.

So, they approached the award-winning Schools of Education and Psychology at the University of Bolton to ask if they could carry out some initial research.

They spoke to Professor Jerome Carson, Professor of Psychology at the University’s Education and Psychology department, Chathurika Kannangara, Assistant Teaching Professor, Sarah Banks, who has a Masters degree in Positive Psychology and Ian Platt, who had just completed a Masters degree in Psychology.

As a result, a pilot scheme of intervention was agreed in two schools involving 100 students in May last year.

It became apparent that there was a support gap that needed to be addressed.

In September Ian took up a funded full-time post with MedEquip4Kids, and started to regularly visit students at the schools that agreed to take part.

Funding for The Hummingbird Project from September to July this year has been provided by three corporate charitable foundations.

Ian is supported by a team of volunteers – psychology students from the University of Bolton and the University of Chester.

They visit groups of children – around 20 in each – and take part in hourly sessions, all free of charge.

Ian, who lives in Bolton, said: “In a nutshell, positive psychology explores all the things you can do to make yourself healthy, happy and achieve what you want.

“Positive psychology is still in its infancy in UK schools, but it is clear that the earlier you can instil it into children, the more effective it will be.

“It is a fact that children as young as 11 are being diagnosed with mental illness and the way this manifests itself can be wide and varied.

“It can be ADHD, autism, or anxiety and depression, caused by all kinds of factors, but it is correct to say that if children learn positive psychology they can use the skills for the rest of their lives.

“It is early days yet and we are still collecting data, but the feedback has been really good so far.”

Ian hopes that if more funding becomes available, the Hummingbird Project could be adopted nationally.

He said: “The Project is a universal intervention and it would be great to explore offering it to primary school age children eventually.

“The more young people who can be helped by this, the fewer will develop serious issues in later life.”

Ghazala Baig, Chief Executive Officer of MedEquip4Kids, agrees.

She said she had wanted to get the charity involved in work to help address mental health issues in children for some time.

“This has been something we have wanted to do for years as it became apparent during our work that there is a big gap in mental health services for children,” she said.

“It is shocking to see how many youngsters are now affected.

“We are not naïve enough to believe that we will solve the problem, but I did not want us as a charity to do something that was already being down or not effective.

“We firmly believe that this is a wonderful programme devised by the University of Bolton that will equip children with the resilience they need to prevent them developing mental health issues.

“The programme is aimed to be as inclusive as possible so that it can be useful for all children, not just those who already have issues. It is aimed at preventing issues arising in the first place, before they affect the children. Prevention is always better than cure.”

Ghazala said: “The University of Bolton and in particular Prof Jerome Carson who gave his time for free, have been unbelievable – we would not have been able to deliver this programme if it hadn’t been for them. We are so grateful.

“And the response from teachers and students has been fantastic so far.”

Waterhead Academy in Oldham is one school taking part in the project.

Steve Hardy, Assistant Special Education Needs Co-ordinator, at the academy, said: “Over the past term, three groups of our Year 8 students took part in the Hummingbird Project.

“Participants got to understand positive psychology through activities that allowed for reflection and debate.

“They would regularly update me on their reflections, actions and outlooks in between sessions and that really showed me they had bought into the theory behind the Hummingbird Project."

One 13-year-old girl who took part said: “We got to understand what positive psychology was - all the things that make you happy, healthy and able to take on the world!

“For homework we all had to carry out random acts of kindness which at first sounded embarrassing but the more we did the more we enjoyed carrying these out.

“My favourite act was giving people I didn’t know compliments and seeing their reactions. I still try and let one person go in front of me in dinner line."

Ghazala said she hoped that if they could secure further funding she would like to roll it out to primary schools and then to schools across the country.

“I am sure it will make a tremendous, positive, difference to many youngsters’ lives,” she said.

Prof Carson said: “The mental health of the young people in our schools is a growing concern.

“Witness the recent tragic cases of young people who have taken their own lives and the potential negative role of social media.

“The Hummingbird Project looks at a number of key issues that can help us all to lead flourishing lives.

“The Project starts by looking at the issue of stigma, which has been addressed by National campaigns such as Time to Change.

“It looks at happiness and wellbeing; resilience and character strengths; growth mindsets, hope and gratitude; mindfulness and preparing for the future.

“The Project has been inspired by the commitment of MedEquip4Kids to deliver an intervention that would improve the mental wellbeing of young people in our schools.

“Research has shown that many of the skills taught in the programme, such as resilience, are vital in today’s rapidly changing world.”

Prof Carson added: “The content of the project has largely been developed by young people. It is being delivered by Psychology students from the University of Bolton and the University of Chester. This helps the students develop their employability skills.”

“The evaluation of the project will enable us to see how effective the interventions have been and will help us move forward to deliver even better interventions in future.”

“This is a project for all secondary school pupils. Every young person deserves the opportunity to flourish, no matter what their circumstances.”


The Hummingbird Project Facts

• The name ‘Hummingbird’ was chosen as the tiny creature represents balance, persistence, resilience, lightness and enjoys the sweetness (nectar) of life. In Aztec and other South American cultures, it was also seen as a symbol of rebirth.

• Children involved in the project are given a workbook entitled ‘A Proactive Guide to Being Happier’. It explains what stigma surrounding mental health means; introduces the concepts of happiness and wellbeing; suggests ways that youngsters can become happier and more productive; how they can become stronger and more resilient; how they can become more optimistic about the future and how to use mindfulness as a calming tool.