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  • Help and support

Fulfilling Lives: HeadStart

Giving young people support and skills to cope with adversity and do well at school and in life.
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Funding size:
£500,000 - £10 million
Application deadline:
See programme details

What’s it all about?

A young person running

HeadStart is a five-year, £56 million National Lottery funded programme set-up by Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It aims to build the emotional resilience and wellbeing of young people aged 10 to 16 and prevent serious mental health issues before they develop.

Six local authority led HeadStart partnerships in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton are working with local schools, families, charities, community and public services to make young people’s mental wellbeing everybody’s business.

What will HeadStart do?

People with first-hand experience of living with an issue are well-placed to identify and shape potential solutions. HeadStart partnerships are putting young people at the centre of making sure support works for others by involving them in the co-design, commissioning, delivery and evaluation of services.

HeadStart partnerships are raising awareness about young people’s mental wellbeing so adults know how to spot the early signs of problems, know what they can do themselves to support young people, and where to go to get more specialised help.

Working with a learning consortium led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, Big Lottery Fund and the HeadStart partnerships are collecting evidence and data about what works and what doesn't. The aim is to share learning and best practice to benefit more young people in the future.

Funded projects

We’ve awarded funding to six partnerships across England in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton. To get a flavour of their work please visit:



Supportive quotes

Professor Sonia Blandford, Professor of Educational Leadership and Innovation (University of Warwick) and CEO of Achievement for All 3As

"Personal resilience and mental well-being are key factors in raising the aspirations, access and achievements of children and young people in schools and our communities. The HeadStart project is a welcome review of how all partners can work together to improve outcomes for those that need support in this area and are in danger of becoming the ‘hidden vulnerable group’ in society."

Norman Lamb MP, Minister for Care and Support

“It is vital that children get help to deal with their concerns and worries before they become deep seated mental health problems. These projects will be valuable in helping us to understand how best to help young people before problems escalate. I want to build a fairer society with better mental health for everyone. Our Mental Health Action Plan recognises that more needs to be done to support children and young people and I look forward to seeing how Headstart can help.

Professor Max Birchwood, Research Director, Birmingham YouthSpace & Professor of Youth Mental Health, University of Warwick

"Mental health difficulties in adolescence are the highest and most serious of any point in the human lifespan. It is also the period where lifelong and recurring mental health problems can start; this is why prevention through improving resilience in adolescence is crucial. HeadStart is the world’s largest programme of youth intervention which aims to demonstrate not only that mental health problems are preventable, but also that wellbeing and life opportunities can be transformed. HeadStart is a game changing programme of work. It uniquely focuses on the key levers that are responsible for mental ill-health: personal resilience, family function, school-based bullying and learning how to deal with the inevitable periods of feeling low. We will be talking about HeadStart for years to come."

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change

“One in ten young people will experience a mental health problem, that’s three people in every classroom. It’s important that when someone develops a mental health problem they feel able to talk about it. In a recent survey we found that 9 in 10 young people reported stigma from their peers as a result of their mental health problem. They told us that the stigma and discrimination made them feel isolated, shamed and misunderstood. Thanks to the Headstart investment work will be carried out to address this issue and improve the mental health of young people of across the country.”

Dr Ann Hoskins, Director of Early Years, Children and Young People at Public Health England

“With around half of all lifetime mental health problems starting by the age of 14 it is vital that young people's mental and emotional wellbeing is supported. Public Health England will continue to support these local projects in their ongoing efforts to protect mental health and wellbeing and making programmes like HeadStart a success.”

Sean Duggan, Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health

 “One child in 10 experiences poor mental health and we know from research the long shadow this can cast over their entire life. Investing now in building resilience and wellbeing among children is vital. We warmly welcome this important initiative to work intensively with local areas to identify what makes a difference and enhance the lives of children who might otherwise face a bleak future.”

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies

“We already know that most lifelong mental health problems start to develop by the time a child reaches the age of 14 so it is vital that they are identified and get the support and treatment they need as early as possible.

“The HeadStart programme promises to be a fantastic way of reaching and helping children at risk of developing long term mental health issues and helping more children to grow up happy and healthy.”

Abi Fox, a member of the Fund’s Young People Advisory Team

Abi has been working on the development of HeadStart for over a year. She said: “My experience talking to young people about mental health issues is that they have little or no knowledge toward disorders let alone who they would turn to. With the many stresses facing them today, 'HeadStart' can address and help resolve this which is very exciting. Living in a society where one in three suffer from a mental health issue, it is vital that people are being equipped with resilience and knowledge so they can cope better.”

Jahmene Douglas, X Factor finalist

“Projects like HeadStart are so important because your childhood is the foundation to your future. For me as a child I didn’t have anyone to turn to or to speak to about domestic violence. This type of funding is incredible, it’s one of those things that gives you goosebumps. You Know it is going to affect somebody and change young people’s lives for the better”

Sarah Brennan, CEO of YoungMinds

“It is desperately sad that in an average classroom, 10 children will have witnessed their parents separate, one will have experienced the death of a parent, and seven will have been bullied and yet there is no single approach to supporting all our children at this key stage in their development. This is why Young Minds are delighted to support the Big Lottery Fund’s HeadStart investment that looks to support the emotional resilience of all participating 10 to 14 year olds and provide targeted early intervention for those children who need more help at this key time in their lives.”

Frank Bruno

"Mental illness can affect anybody - and when it strikes it is vital people feel they can talk about it and get the help they need. It is particularly important young people get the support they might require in coping with a mental health condition. By tackling the problem at an early stage the chances are a young person will not have to live the rest of their life in the grip of a mental health disorder. It's great that we can say to young people in need a bit of help there's nothing wrong in asking for some extra support to help get them where they need to be in their life. If Frank Bruno can ask for help anyone can."


Organisation Types

  • Voluntary or community organisation


  • Children
  • Young people
  • People with mental health issues