No previous studies have evaluated arts based recovery college courses. Yet arts may assist in personal recovery, as often defined by service users, through social connection and personal meaning. This interdisciplinary study evaluated (i) whether self-reported wellbeing and arts activities increased following arts based recovery college courses, and (ii) how students, peer trainers and artist-trainers understood courses’ impact. The design was mixed-methods. Of 42 service user students enrolling, 39 completed a course and 37 consented to provide data. Of these, 14 completed pre and post course questionnaires on mental wellbeing and 28 on arts participation. Post course focus groups were held with six of eight peer trainers and five of seven artist-trainers, and 28 students gave written feedback. Twenty-four students were interviewed up to three times in the subsequent nine months. There were statistically significant increases in self-reported mental wellbeing and range of arts activities following course attendance. At follow-up 17 of 24 students reported improved mental wellbeing, while seven reported little or no change. Some spoke of increased social inclusion and continuing to use skills learned in the course to maintain wellbeing. Initial in-course experience of ‘artistic growth’ predicted follow-up reports of improvement. Future controlled studies should employ standardized measures of social inclusion and arts participation.
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