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Pioneering new route into mental health social work announced

07 September 2015

Chris Theobald

UCLan to play key role in delivery of new Government-backed initiative  

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is to play a key role in a pioneering new scheme aimed at fast-tracking talented students and graduates into expert mental health social workers.

In its first year, the Government-backed ‘Think Ahead’ scheme will recruit 80 to 100 ‘remarkable people’ to undergo an intensive programme, learning on the job from the outset.

One in four people now live with mental illness, placing strain on the NHS and public services. Think Ahead aims to create leaders who can improve services and shape the future of mental health care.


“We are delighted to be partnering with Think Ahead and the University of York to develop talented and compassionate graduates into expert mental health social workers."

Think Ahead logoMinister of State for Community and Social Care Alistair Burt said: “For years mental health services have not been given the priority they need – we are determined to put this right. Think Ahead will help us achieve this by attracting talented graduates to help us improve the lives of people facing mental ill-health and their families.”

UCLan will work in partnership with the University of York, who will lead the programme’s teaching and award participants with a master’s degree in social work. Experts from both universities will deliver a new cutting-edge curriculum, focused on international best practice in mental health and social work.

Commenting on the initiative, Jill Hemmington, UCLan’s academic lead on Think Ahead, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Think Ahead and the University of York to develop talented and compassionate graduates into expert mental health social workers.

“Drawing on the best evidence from around the world we will provide participants from a diverse range of backgrounds with the cutting-edge knowledge and skills that will enable them to make a difference from their first day as a social worker.”


Since it was announced in March more than 2,500 people have pre-registered their interest in applying to the Think Ahead programme, which opened for applications from midday Tuesday, 1 September.

Prospective students must be able to demonstrate attributes such as resilience and empathy, as well providing evidence of academic talent. Successful applicants will join local authorities and NHS trusts in several regions of England: London, the South East, the Midlands, Yorkshire, and the North East. They will train in community mental health services, working alongside psychologists and psychiatrists to support adults with mental illness.

Professor Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College Cambridge and Think Ahead’s Chair, added: “We are looking forward to selecting our first group of remarkable people, and giving them the chance to shape the future of mental health services.

“I’m thrilled that so many students and graduates from the UK’s top universities have pre-registered to apply, but we will be looking for more than academic ability. Successful applicants will need to demonstrate resilience, empathy, and the potential to become leaders in mental health, social work, and beyond.”

Frances Turner, a Cambridge graduate and mental health social worker who is working with Think Ahead to set up the programme, said: “I’ve been a social worker for eight years, and there is no job I’d rather do. Every day is unique, and the challenge and intellectual rigour of the role mean that I’m constantly using the skills I developed at university.

“I fully encourage ambitious graduates, who want to make a positive impact on people’s mental health, to apply to Think Ahead.”