Meet the team

The research team investigating the contribution of the voluntary sector to mental health crisis care in England include academics from the Health Services Management Centre and the Third Sector Research Centre, along with Suresearch and the Open University Business School. The team includes researchers who have lived experience of a mental health crisis.  

Michael Ashman

Michael Ashman is a mental health service survivor, activist and researcher. After working in engineering for 12 years he developed mental health problems, which led to a questioning approach to this controversial subject. He has worked in a variety of lived experience posts in the voluntary sector and the NHS, and is particularly proud of studying at and working within universities, having been told by a psychiatrist to “forget work or study – ever”. His professional interests focus on non-medical approaches to mental wellbeing. Outside of work he grows vegetables, enjoys cricket and plays bass in jazz bands.

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Suzy Bourke

Suzy’s journey into involvement research began eight years ago. She is a member of many lived experience panels, including primary care and various mental health projects. She has experience in undertaking interviews and focus groups and providing support and training for researchers on engagement and involvement. Previous roles include working as a vocational guidance advice worker for a Community Mental Health team. Suzy also has experience working in the voluntary sector, providing guidance on involvement.  She is passionate about improving support for people experiencing mental health crisis and has been involved with advising health and social care professionals and third sector providers on the Crisis Care Concordat.  Suzy is currently involved with quality improvement projects and with various research studies in both mental health and primary care.

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Benjamin Costello

Ben joined the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) in October 2018 as a Research Fellow. Prior to this, Ben was Advisor and Research Associate to the Mental Health Policy Commission. He is actively engaged in teaching across the university. Ben’s background is in philosophy, applied ethics, and mental health, and he joined the research team to engage in data collection and to provide qualitative data analysis.

Read Benjamin Costello's full profile ➤ 

Benjamin Costello

Alex Davis

Alex Davis is a member of Suresearch, a Midlands network of mental health users/survivors, carers and allies based at Birmingham University. He retired after 25 years as a mental health social worker in Birmingham. He has been a lay Hospital Manager for the local mental health trust, a co-chair of the Birmingham LINk mental health group and is active in a number of local mental health groups. 


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Dr Becky Ince

Becky joined HSMC and TSRC in February 2017 as a Research Fellow. Her research has covered topics from health and environmental policy to urban infrastructures, incorporating multiple disciplines including Social Policy, Geography and Built Environment Studies. She has worked in partnership with local authorities, national government departments, co-operatives and both national and local voluntary sector organisations. Becky’s projects have focussed on how networks of people and organisations form in different contexts to provide public services, what factors hinder and enable them, and how the dynamics in these networks impact service provision and equality of access.  

Becky Ince

Doreen Joseph

Doreen is a BME Service User, and a grandmother.  She has had a long time interest in, and been a campaigner, advocate and lecturer in race, mental health, gender and faith. She has worked for and with many mental health organisations, including Rethink, the Mental Health Foundation, TTC, MIND, Sainsbury's Centre for Mental Health, Mellow Campaign and the Socal Action for Health. She has also co-founded and run her own advocacy service (charity) BEMACS, from 2007 to 2012. She recently became a BME service user representative on London Clinical Network for Mental Health and a member of NHS England Black Voices Network.

Doreen helped to create Recovery Hub college training courses in 2011, and delivered a workshop on race in 2012. She's worked on the Steering Group, and now its Implementation Group as adviser for Hounslow Wellbeing Network for last two years and has been a member of West London Collaborative. She is an NSUN- trained MAD (Making A Difference) Alliance rep/creative leader and a part-time Co-production and Engagement Project worker at MIND in Ealing & Hounslow.


Professor John Mohan

John is Director of the Third Sector Research Centre – the first substantial investment by the ESRC and government into academic research on the third sector in the UK. e is a member of research advisory groups for the Institute for Volunteering Research and Home Start UK, and has acted as a Specialist Advisor to the Health Select Committee of the House of Commons. His academic background was initially in human geography and he held posts in that subject at the universities of Plymouth, London and Portsmouth before transferring to a chair in Social Policy at Southampton in 2005.

Read John Mohan's full profile ➤ 

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Dr Karen Newbigging

Karen joined HSMC as a Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Policy and Management in November 2013. Originally qualifying as a clinical psychologist, Karen has over thirty years’ experience in the health and social care sector, including direct service provision and commissioning. For the past ten years Karen has been involved in research, consultancy and system development for a broad range of health and social care organisations. Karen is a Chartered Psychologist, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health

Read Karen Newbigging's full profile ➤  

Dr Karen Newbigging

Barbara Norden

When I heard about this project, I was keen to be involved, because I believe that the voluntary sector plays a vital and undervalued role in crisis care.  

A few years ago I retired from my job with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust’s User Involvement team.  Since that time, I have continued my involvement with local Service User organisations, and I also attend local mental health commissioning and stakeholder meetings as a Service User representative – meetings which include representation of both statutory and voluntary sector organisations. 

I have lived in Birmingham since 1980.  I grew up in three countries: the US, Germany and the UK.  I studied psychology at Oxford, during which time I was referred to mental health services because of anxiety and depression.  This also led to my becoming involved in the Service User movement of the 1960s/70s –  a time when the term “Service User” did not exist, and we were called mental patients!  I was active for some time in a London group called Community Organisation for Psychiatric Emergencies, or COPE, which ran a helpline and a crisis respite house.  We were one of a number of organisations exploring alternatives to conventional psychiatry.  I believe the work we were doing had an influence on the much greater focus we have today on taking lived experience seriously.  

Another aspect of my job with Birmingham and Solihull Trust was to help set up a Service User Network for the Community Personality Disorder Service.  I also trained as a Service User Trainer for the Personality Disorder Knowledge and Understanding Framework project, and I co-deliver training to staff who work in a variety of statutory and voluntary sector posts. 

Besides mental health work, my main interest is traditional folk and world music, and song writing. 

Barbara Norden

Ceri Owen

My areas of research interest around severe mental illness include physical health, sexual and reproductive health, and shared decision making. I have experience in using both quantitative and qualitative methods. As a Public Health graduate (MPH, York, 2014), I am particularly interested in the interactions between individual health status and wider social determinants of health, and in how health care systems work (or don't work) to promote population health. I have contributed extensively to mental health policy, both directly consulting on and writing policy, and through campaigning and political work with charities such as Rethink Mental Illness.

I live with a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, have used crisis services, and have spent a long time learning how to manage my mental health so I can get on with life.

Away from work, I enjoy running, crafts, acting, and my pet rabbits.



Dr James Rees

Before joining the Open University, James worked at the Universities of Birmingham and Manchester in a range of disciplines including Social Policy, Politics and Geography. His work is inter-disciplinary and is concerned with the voluntary sector in its broadest sense, but from that perspective also aims to shed light on the ongoing reforms to public services in the UK.  At the Third Sector Research Centre he led the public service delivery programme and his jointly-edited collection on The Third Sector delivering Public Services was published by Policy Press in July 2016.

He has always sought to produce research that is accessible and relevant to non-academic audiences, and engage with and influence policy debates. Recent collaborative projects include work with partners such as Clinks, NCVO and New Philanthropy Capital. 

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