17 Nov 2023

Leeds mental health racial equality partnership wins national award


An innovative programme of work to promote racial equity within Leeds’ mental health services has won a major accolade in this year’s Health Service Journal (HSJ) awards.

Synergi-Leeds, a partnership between the NHS, Public Health, and the local community and voluntary sectors (VCS), was named Mental Health Innovation of the Year at the awards ceremony on 16 November 2023. It was also a finalist in the NHS Race Equality Award category.

The national HSJ Awards recognise outstanding contributions to healthcare across the country. This year they received a record-breaking 1,456 entries, and Synergi-Leeds was among the 223 projects and individuals to reach the final shortlist.

The Synergi-Leeds Partnership is a citywide approach to tackling ethnic inequalities in mental health. It began in 2017 as a collaboration between Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Leeds City Council’s Public Health team and other VCS services. It has since evolved into an ever-growing network of statutory and voluntary sector organisations.

Initially supported by the Synergi Collaborative Centre and latterly by Words of Colour, the partnership uses co-produced ‘Creative Spaces Events’ to champion the voices of people with lived experience; challenging prejudices and galvanise people to act. There is also an all-age grants programme which financially supports grassroots projects.

Their focus has been to tackle the long-standing issue of the overrepresentation of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities admitted to crisis mental health services or detained under the Mental Health Act. Statistics show Black people are more than four times as likely as white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act, and people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups are overrepresented in inpatient and crisis services, are less likely to have support from a GP prior to their admissions and are less likely to be referred for psychological therapies (also known as talking therapies).

Councillor Salma Arif, Leeds City Council executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles, said:

“I’m so pleased that Synergi-Leeds has been recognised and commended with these awards. The partnership is such an integral part of our work in Leeds to ensure our mental health services are for everybody and that we tackle any prejudice, stigma or inequalities in our health systems. It’s important that everyone, regardless of their culture, background or race gets the right mental health support they need at the right time.

“The Synergi team have supported conversation which explicitly focuses on racial equity in mental health, and this is a powerful piece of work.”

Sharon Prince, consultant psychologist at the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services in Leeds, said: “We’re absolutely delighted the Synergi partnership has won such a prestigious award. There is now a growing network of health, social care and third sector organisations helping to reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health.

“This award is dedicated to Heather Nelson, chief executive of the Leeds Black Health Initiative who sadly passed away in July 2023 and who championed Synergi-Leeds from the start. Her commitment and passion to address ethnic inequalities in a creative and innovative way was inspirational to us all.”

The HSJ Awards judges said: “Synergi-Leeds Partnership is an innovative and ambitious citywide approach to tackling ethnic inequalities in mental health. The partnership’s growing network of statutory and voluntary sector organisations instrumentally supports one of the Leeds All-Age Mental Health Strategy priorities, reducing the overrepresentation of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities admitted in crisis.

“The Network adopts a whole system, life course approach; using co-produced Creative Spaces Events to centre the voices of people with lived experience and engage attendees through creative approaches; challenging prejudices and galvanising individuals to act.

“Synergi also has an all-age grants programme supporting grass roots projects. The judges were impressed by the passion and enthusiasm displayed by this team. It’s clear that this programme is well organised and is achieving positive outcomes, demonstrating an exemplary use of the voice of lived experience.”


The Synergi Leeds team were instrumental in key statutory and third sector organisations across the health and care sector to become signatories to the National Synergi Pledge focusing on commitments to reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health. They have supported conversation which explicitly focus on racial equity for the citizens of Leeds with regards to mental health.

“Synergi is a powerful piece of work that has influenced the senior leadership in Leeds, including myself.” (Jim Barwick, Chief executive of Leeds GP Confederation.)

“As a provider of mental health services and a member of Synergi, we signed the Pledge and are committed to becoming more anti-racist and as a consequence have developed specific training for our employees and Trustees”. (Sinead Cregan, Director of Development and Innovation, Inspire North.)

The National Synergi Collaborative co-founding agency Words of Colour, the immersive Change Agency, produced and directed a 60 minute documentary on the work in Leeds. Watch it on YouTube.  

In the first year of the grants’ programme, 800 people directly benefited and over 5,000 people were engaged with projects in various ways, of which, 3,600 were from minority ethnic backgrounds.

More about the HSJ Awards

The most coveted accolade in UK healthcare, the HSJ awards is the largest annual benchmarking and recognition programme for the health sector. Over the last 40 years the awards have been celebrating healthcare excellence through huge political, technological and financial challenges within the sector.

Through a rigorous, fair and transparent judging process the awards produce a roll call of the best organisations, teams and people in the NHS and the wider health sector.

Winners were announced during the awards ceremony at Evolution London on 16 November 2023. Find out more about the HSJ Awards on their website.

For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team