UAL has led a ground-breaking new design project in partnership with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), using art and design to explore young people’s experiences of mental health services and how they can be improved.

UAL Early Lab is a new initiative led by UAL Chair of Communication Design Nick Bell and Camberwell College of Arts BA 3D Design tutor Fabiane Lee-Perrella, giving UAL students the opportunity to collaborate across the University to use design to drive social change.

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UAL Early Lab students 

UAL Early Lab’s first project opportunity saw students and academics spend a week working closely alongside NSFT’s clinicians and members of its Youth Council, made up of young service-users in Norfolk and Suffolk, exploring issues around mental health using design techniques such as storyboarding and stop-frame animation.

The UAL team presented its findings to commissioners, stakeholders and voluntary sector groups from across Norfolk. Their recommendations include:

• decentralising and distributing the service across the sparsely populated region

• offering a mobile and pop-up service for the convenience of users – where they are

• connecting to users through a new online platform designed to speak in their voice

• providing information, access to services and youth provisions through the online platform

• creating a seamless, integrated service across health, social care, education and youth justice

• concentrating on prevention, awareness and early intervention, especially in schools

• normalising mental health in schools.

Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust/UAL Early Lab

UAL Early Lab co-founders Nick Bell and Fabiane Lee-Perrella 

Following the success of the presentation and overall collaboration, NSFT commissioners are planning to use the findings in the imminent transformation of services for young people, and also to influence practice further afield.

Consultant Psychiatrist and Deputy Medical Director (Research) at NSFT Dr Jon Wilson said:

“I’m very excited by this project. I think it will give us the ammunition to drive change forward in Norfolk mental health services for young people. And because of links nationally, I think we can use that to articulate this around the whole of the country and start to give people the confidence that things can be different.”

UAL Chair of Communication Design and co-founder of UAL Early Lab Nick Bell said:

“I wanted to find an opportunity for students to use design much earlier than usual, right at the start of something. At the start it is possible to address the root causes of social issues and that increases chances of contributing to outcomes that are resilient and sustainable.

“I told Dr Jon Wilson I wanted to take UAL Early Lab to a place where an issue is active and to work responsively with people who endure those issues every day in that place. Jon invited UAL Early Lab to Norfolk to work with NSFT’s Youth Council. Having a group of young, talented UAL students collaborating with his bright, young service users very much appealed to him.”

NSFT Youth Council member and service user Katie-Louise Davis said of the experience:

“This was such a new and different concept to work with. I feel that the fact we worked together so well is amazing and shows that two passions; mental health and art and design, can collide to form something beneficial and inspiring.”

London College of Fashion MA Fashion Futures graduate Kat Thiel said:

“For us it was amazing to actually have hands-on experience where you are really grasping what it is to socially interact and to socially design.”

Camberwell College of Arts BA 3D Design tutor and co-founder of UAL Early Lab Fabiane Lee-Perrella said:

“So called ‘Design Thinking’ removes making from the design process – the supposedly intimidating bit. UAL Early Lab places making at the centre of our connection with people. We use processes of making to unlock personal capacities.

“We collected information from the bottom to the top and we wove all this information through with the perspective of the outsider, from the perspective of the maker. We made things and we brought this back to them as a set of proposals and findings they can take forward.”

Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust/UAL Early Lab

UAL Early Lab presenting their recommendations to commissioners, stakeholders and voluntary sector groups

Members of the Youth Council and UAL Early Lab team will present the findings from the project at the International Association for Youth Mental Health (IAYMH) conference in Montreal, Canada in October.

Videos created by the team about the project can be found on YouTube, and you can also read blog entries written by project participants.