Supporting young people to enable more positive emotional wellbeing: Hartlepool’s ‘anime on prescription’ project

Author: Sara Toal
News Icon

When Dawn Robinson started her role as a young people’s community development worker in Hartlepool, young people had already highlighted the problem – there’s not enough to do – and provided a list of 10 projects they’d like to see happen in their town. That was in March 2023 and she hasn’t wasted any time tackling the list and addressing the health inequalities faced by young people in Hartlepool, ranked as the 5th most income-deprived of the 316 local authorities in England (source: Exploring local income deprivation (

Dawn is based with the HartlePower VCS development team and works closely with the young people’s social prescribing team to offer joined up support.  Together they aim to identify barriers and support young people into activities and experiences that will enable more positive emotional wellbeing.  Dawn’s role has been funded by the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) through its Healthy Communities and Social Prescribing place-based engagement and support budget allocation. The allocation and distribution of this funding has been managed by VONNE, supporting thirteen organisations to improve the social prescribing offer in their localities.

At the top of Dawn’s list was an anime and gaming project, with a large number of young people interested in meeting with others who share these interests and learning drawing and animation skills.  Dawn approached Geek Retreat, a business based in Hartlepool, and together they set up a pilot project of 12 Tuesday night sessions.  From day one the group has been well attended and is mainly made up of young people with additional needs, ages 11-25.  It has quickly become an important social lifeline for young people who may be marginalised or experience isolation.  Dawn and the Geek Retreat staff have supported the session, which is also open to parents/carers, but there’s also an emphasis on peer support and skills sharing. A young person has been employed to teach animation skills, two young women teach 3D painting and young people have the space to share knowledge about gaming.  The project has led to young people attending Geek Retreat on other days of the week and also taking up volunteering opportunities more widely.

Geek Retreat itself is a franchise of gaming cafes aimed at young people.  The Hartlepool site, based on the High Street, is run by Adam and Chris; as a result of the project they are taking part in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) training and are hoping to be set up as a Community Interest Company (CIC) by the end of the year.  As the pilot comes to an end, they are keeping the Tuesday sessions running with Dawn dropping in from time to time.  Charlotte is a young person who attends the sessions. Her mother says:

“Charlotte really enjoys the games and cards, it’s a safe and happy place for her, she has also made friends. It has brought Charlotte out of her shell and I have never seen her laugh and smile as much.”

Dawn’s other projects include setting up a transport forum, with the aim of improving public transport in Hartlepool and the surrounding area of East Durham, and providing much needed bereavement counselling for young people with additional needs.

Looking ahead, the Geek Retreat project looks set to go from strength to strength, and as Dawn doesn’t need to provide such intensive support there, she’s freed up to work on the remaining projects on her list. Her role is part of the ICB’s ‘Healthier and Fairer’ programme, aimed at reducing health inequalities across the North East and North Cumbria. This work funds twelve other projects like Dawn’s, co-ordinated by VONNE, to build social prescribing capacity where it’s most needed and supports organisations region-wide to address health inequalities. 

You can learn more about the Healthy Communities and Social Prescribing programme here and join the Healthy Communities and Social Prescribing Network to receive regular news and information about social prescribing in the North East and North Cumbria.