The journey so far ...

HeadStart Wolverhampton began life early in 2014 as a partnership of public sector organisations, voluntary and community groups, and young people, following an invitation from Big Lottery to be one of twelve original HeadStart partnerships.

Following an initial period in which we consulted widely with local partners, community groups and young people, in June 2014, we moved into a new phase in which the focus was on exploring a range of approaches to improving mental health and resilience in young people.

We developed programmes to support young people and thier parents and carers with issues around home life and relationships, and to developing positive attitudes in schools or other education setings.

We worked with professionals in schools, including school leaders, to develop awareness of mental health and resilience and embedding strategies to support the young people in their care.

We commissioned community services to provide 'place to go' activities, creative arts programmes and counselling and mentoring services.

Finally, we focussed carefully on young people's interactions with digital technologies, supporting them in understanding the risks of inappropriate choices online, while reinforcing the positive benefits of using technology to create, to communicate, to learn and to express themselves.

We have learned a lot from these pilot programmes, and still have much to learn.

Community Projects

Back in December 2014, our HeadStart Student Partnership board - our 'Dragons' - reviewed bids from 38 Wolverhampton voluntary and community projects for financial support as part of Phase 2 of Big Lottery funding. Working alongside education and mental health professionals, the young people carefully evaluated each bid before making decisions on which projects to fund, and how much money to allocate to each.

A wide range of community projects were commissioned, targeting diverse groups of young people and their parents or carers. We had projects which worked to support parents to play creatively with their children, projects supporting vulnerable girls, projects offering creative arts and drama workshops, community radio and digital media, or working with LGBT youngsters and youngsters questioning their sexuality.

40% of HeadStart funding in Wolverhampton so far has been allocated to community and voluntary work

Parents have contacted us through social networks to say “You’ve had such a positive effect on my child”

Young people discuss the impact of the 'A Place To Be Me' community project run by The Gazebo Theatre

Over the last year, we have published a range of articles exploring these community projects:

School programmes

HeadStart Wolverhampton has worked closely with primary, secondary, and special schools all across the city. We have explored a wide range of approaches to supporting resilience and awareness of mental health issues, and in particular, have worked extensively using two programmes with schools:

  • The Pennsylvania State Resilience Programme, an intensive structured series of lessons, delivered by trained educational professionals. This was primarily used in Wolverhampton's secondary schools.
  • SUMO (Stop, Understand, Move On), which develops strategies based on a set of simple, memorable, catchphrases, including 'Hippo Time is OK', and 'Remember the Beachball'.

Wolverhampton University evaluated these two approaches in great detail. See the 'Evaluation' part of this page for more information.

After exploring and testing these approaches, the HeadStart education team formulated the most effective ideas into two programmes: HeadsUp and HEROs:

paul mcgee image.jpg


HeadsUp supports pupils in building a better understanding of the importance of their emotional health and well-being. Making powerful use of the principles of SUMO (Stop, Understand, Move On), the programme helps pupils to become more self-aware, and to carefully consider the feelings of their peers. Pupils explore positive attitudes, the importance of recognising different perspectives, and mindfulness. They then relate these ideas to themes including bullying and building their own resilience.

“I just wanted to say a very big thank you for the past couple of days. Talking to both children and staff all feedback has been very positive .. I understand the time and effort it takes to plan exciting learning activites but also know how effective they can be in raising the self-esteem of the children in our care. All your hard work is very much appreciated and I look forward to further work with you in the future .. to have such success in your ‘debut’ training is a great start.
— Feedback email from school teacher

The HeadsUp training is a highly interactive experience that encourages pupils to have fun with their peers while learning.

The 6 SUMO Principles:

  1. Change your T-shirt
  2. Develop Fruity Thinking
  3. Hippo Time is OK
  4. Remember the Beachball
  5. Learn Latin
  6. Ditch Doris Day
I learned there is no ‘I’ in team .. I learned more about feelings with the feeling ball .. l learned more about me .. I learned about empathy .. I learned how to help others
— A Year 6 student

Paul McGee Discusses SUMO in Schools (Audio interview)

Paul McGee working with Wolverhampton education professionals


The HEROs programme aims to equip pupils with the skills, and the attitudes, to support peers who may be struggling to deal with the challenges of everyday life. It aims to reduce incidents of conflict, and encourages pupils to create and maintain a friendly, caring, and safe school environment. The training incorporates aspects from 'Stop, Understand, Move On', putting the SUMO formula into practice:

E + R = O: Event plus our Response determines Outcome.

Pupils develop their skills in communication, problem solving, empathy and conflict management. They work in teams to develop their peer-mentoring skills, learning through role play to consider different perspectives and the feelings of their classmates.