Community Navigator Study

What is this research?

The Community Navigator Study will investigate whether support from a ‘community navigator’ (see below) can help to increase social connections in the community and reduce loneliness for people with persistent anxiety or depression. The programme of support will be tested with service users receiving treatment from the Barnet Complex Care Team (CCT) and Camden and Islington’s Complex Depression, Anxiety and Trauma (CDAT) service.

The study is led by Professor Sonia Johnson and Dr Bryn Lloyd Evans from the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL). The McPin Foundation will lead on the qualitative component of the study and advise on the use of co-production.

What is a ‘community navigator’?

Participants will be offered ten sessions with a community navigator over six months. The details of the community navigator role are currently being developed, but we anticipate that community navigators are likely to help people with tasks including:

  • Collaboratively reviewing a participant’s current social network, activities and interests to see if there are potential areas where social engagement could be initiated or strengthened.
  • Developing an action plan about how to engage in the social opportunities and activities identified, and delivering person-centred emotional, practical and financial support to do so.

Why is this research important?

Though everyone experiences loneliness from time to time, people with mental health problems are particularly vulnerable, reporting less contact with friends and family and smaller social networks. As research studies have found links between loneliness and physical health problems, such as shorter life expectancy, and mental health problems, such as risk of anxiety and depression, and reduced speed of recovery, it is critical that we find out what is effective at helping people to feel more connected to others, and less lonely.

Many promising approaches have been developed for reducing loneliness, including support from “navigators”, “social prescribers” and “well-being coaches”, typically delivered through GP practices and primary care. There is, however, a need for evidence about how useful this type of support is for service users accessing secondary care. The Community Navigator study aims to contribute to this evidence base.

What are we doing?

The study consists of three phases. The first involves developing a model of community navigator support, alongside the study’s working group, made up of mental health service users, practitioners and researchers. This development work will be informed by research evidence, consultations with staff and service users at the CCT and CDAT services and guidance from practitioners working on programmes targeting loneliness across the country.

The second phase will involve preliminary testing of community navigator support with ten service user participants. Feedback and experience from the preliminary testing will be used to refine the support programme and study procedures for the next phase of the study.

The final phase of the study will involve testing the support with a further forty participants, thirty of  whom will receive support from a community navigator, and ten of whom will form a comparison group who do not receive additional support from a community navigator.

What is the current state of the project?

The study began in March 2016 and will run until March 2018. We have just recruited our first ten participants, who are currently receiving support from a community navigator. We will use feedback gathered from these participants and the community navigators in early 2017 to refine the study procedures and support offered, before the final testing phase of the study.

Two of the experts by experience who are collaborating on the project have blogged about how they were involved in the recruiting the community navigators to make sure that they had the right skills to work with service users.

Who do I contact for more information?

For more information about the project, please email or telephone 0207 922 7871.


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