Case studies for VCSEs

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England® is a social enterprise with a vision to improve the mental health of the nation. It will achieve this through its mission to train one in ten people in mental health knowledge, awareness and skills – the tipping point for lasting societal change.  

With most adults spending a third of their lifetime at work, MHFA England focuses much of its efforts there, to change how society deals with mental health now and in the future. Its training, consultancy and campaigning is paving the way for positive mental health in the workplace and beyond.

Through its work over the last 16 years, with more than 20,000 employers of all shapes and sizes, it knows that each organisation’s culture is unique and the key to maintaining a mentally healthy workplace is understanding the people within it. In February 2024, MHFA England celebrated the phenomenal milestone of reaching a million people with its training, which equates to one in 38 of the population.

Social enterprise working with government

The government has committed to bringing more voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations into public sector supply chains. VCSE sector expertise means they are often uniquely placed to help create and deliver compassionate and responsive services, and government research has shown there are barriers VCSEs face in entering public sector markets.[1]      

We spoke to Vicki Cockman, Head of Client and Training Delivery at MHFA England, to find out more about the social enterprise’s impact and its strong relationships with government.

How does MHFA England work with central government departments?

MHFA England works with a range of government departments including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Cabinet Office, the Department of Education, the Home Office, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Our flexible training and support offer can be tailored to support each department’s unique needs.

For example, we have worked with DWP to train Instructor Members, who then train their staff. There are now more than 400 MHFAiders® at DWP. As part of our bespoke offer for the department, we also support quarterly sessions to look at the impact of MHFAiders and identify areas where further support is needed.

This works well for DWP, but each department has its own approach, depending on its needs. For example, in 2024, we began work with Ofsted on a programme to train all their inspectors in our Mental Health Awareness course. This had a positive impact on those undergoing the training, and aims to create a ripple effect through the schools inspected.

The contracting process varies between departments. The majority approach us directly, due to our proven track record, while others put out services to tender for which we apply. MHFA England is listed on the government’s procurement learning framework: a due diligence process allowing organisations to be listed as a preferred supplier.

What would you say to commissioners who are debating working with social enterprises?

There are lots of benefits to working with social enterprises. As well as meeting your own organisation’s needs, you are supporting businesses who deliver social impact to workplaces, communities and wider society.

When it comes to working with MHFA England, the impact can be huge. Improved awareness and understanding of mental health create happier and more productive workplaces. We give people the skills to spot the signs of poor mental health, the confidence to start a conversation, and the knowledge to signpost to support. This can be lifechanging and lifesaving.

We know how to work effectively in the public and private sector. When people work with us, they are not only creating social impact – they are getting a partner that meets their needs, provides market leading training and consultancy, and delivers a phenomenal service.

What top tips do you have for VCSEs looking to work with government departments?

There’s so much opportunity in working with government departments. We have worked with some brilliant individuals who are willing to invest time and energy in creating great relationships. The impact you can make is huge. We recommend getting your business in front of them as much as possible.

When you are going through the procurement and contracting process, be willing to ask lots of questions. Don’t compromise on what you do as a business and don’t think that government doesn’t want to hear from you or work with you.

For more information about MHFA England and its training and consultancy, visit: