Category: Winners

2022 UK Award Winners

The virtual awards ceremony can be viewed below.

2021 UK Award Winners

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Most innovative mental health intervention

Most innovative proactive wellbeing intervention

Support During the Pandemic

Inspirational mental health story (over 18s)

Public nomination for an outstanding professional

Outstanding contribution to the mental health and wellbeing sector

Most Innovative Mental Health Intervention

Suicide Crisis

Suicide Crisis is a registered charity which provides Suicide Crisis Centres in Gloucestershire. It also runs a separate Trauma Centre (focusing on early intervention to help prevent people from deteriorating into suicidal crisis).

We provide a combination of Suicide Crisis Centres, home visits and emergency phone lines for our clients. This provides more ways for them to access us, and more ways for us to reach them.

Our Suicide Crisis Centre was devised and set up in 2013 by a psychiatric patient who had recently experienced suicidal crisis herself. She had been under the care of the crisis team (crisis resolution and home treatment team) and had been admitted to psychiatric hospital in 2012, following a traumatic experience.

There was initially huge scepticism that a “psychiatric patient” could set up “such an ambitious project”. But it was her lived experience that provided such important learning and understanding of what is helpful to people in suicidal crisis. It gave her a profound insight into what crisis services should be providing. She was able to see why the crisis team (CRHT) wasn’t working for some people, and that some people needed a very different approach and ethos to help them survive suicidal crisis. She has said: “In many ways, I set up the opposite of what I experienced under psychiatric services”. 

Although our services are very different from psychiatric services, we include psychiatric professionals in our team, recognising the skills and knowledge they have. Our advising psychiatrist and other advising clinicians provide specific information and guidance, and give advice about specific matters that may arise when we are working with clients. Our team members who work with clients in crisis have a combination of counselling training, suicide intervention skills training, input from our psychiatric advisers (especially in assessing suicide risk) and training in the lived experience ethos and approach of our charity.

Going above and beyond the expectations

In the eight years that we have been providing services, no client has died by suicide during the period in which they have been under our care, whether they have been under our care for a period of days, weeks or months. This is unusual in a crisis service, and it has led to national and international interest in our work, including from the Ministry of Health in New Zealand.

We have frequently used the following phrases to describe our approach:

“We do everything we can for each individual to help them to survive” and

“We are tenacious in helping people to survive suicidal crisis”.

In order for every client to survive, we feel it has been necessary to go above and beyond what would be expected of a crisis service.

For example, we have noted that some men say they only feel able to be supported by one member of staff – the person who first assesses them.

Some men find it extremely difficult to ask for help. In coming to see us, our male clients take the hugely courageous step of expressing their deep emotional pain, their distress and their fears to another person. This may be something that they have never revealed to anyone before because they have spent their adult life keeping this part of them hidden. They may only feel able to show this level of vulnerability to one member of our team.

A high-risk male client told me retrospectively that if I had passed him to another member of our team for subsequent appointments, he would not have come back to our Centre.

Our experience shows that in order to help such men, who are the least likely to disclose their risk to anyone, organisations may need to put in place very specialised and targeted support as we have done, and go above and beyond what they would usually provide. It has always been our aim to reach people who would not usually seek help from any other source and whose silence about their suicidality puts them at great risk. They may tell no one.

We know it is exceptionally difficult for crisis services to put in place such individualised crisis support. In most crisis services, a team becomes involved in someone’s care, when they are in crisis. But we felt it was essential to adapt our service, to ensure that our high risk clients survived. After a period of time, the men were able to accept a second member of our team to co-support them, but in the early days, this sense of continuity with one person was vital for their engagement.

Our tenacity and “going beyond what is expected” are also demonstrated in our commitment to reaching clients. Last year we were able to drive through areas of flooding to reach them, because of our highly trained professional drivers who were able to safely drive through water to reach the homes of clients in crisis.


1. The Suicide Crisis Centre was devised and set up by a psychiatric patient. The concept of a psychiatric patient setting up a crisis service was considered radical in 2013. It is still exceptionally unusual. It goes beyond co-production. It turns the traditional MH service model upside down – the psychiatric patient creating a service and employing psychiatric advisers. Our advising psychiatrist used to like to remind her: “You’re my boss”.

2. The model of service is a combination of Suicide Crisis Centres, home visits and our emergency phone lines. We know of no other crisis service model which provides this combination. Our suicide crisis service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Our first client showed us we would need to provide home visits, back in 2013. He had been through severe trauma and was unable to leave his home. He was too afraid to travel to our Suicide Crisis Centre. So we risk assessed the situation and went out to him. We realised that we would have to provide home visits, if we wanted to reach everyone who needed our services. We were able to adapt our service in the first few weeks to create a model which would really provide what our clients were showing us they needed from a crisis service.  

3. Altering the traditional power balance: Our clients are much more in control of their care than under traditional services. Our clients decide how often we see them (every day if they wish), they decide the kind of care and support they receive from us, and they decide when they feel ready to leave our service.  Under traditional services, psychiatric clinicians usually make these decisions for the patient/service user.

Although we place our clients in control of their care as much as possible, we actively intervene to protect their life when they are at risk of suicide.

People who have experienced trauma may find feeling in control extremely important. They may have felt a loss of control during the traumatic event – and so subsequently losing control (or having control taken from them) is something they may find very difficult and distressing. Men also often find it very important to have a sense of being in control of their care – to counteract the feeling of vulnerability which they can experience.

4. We know of no other crisis service where the team has the combination of different training that our team has. All but one team member is a qualified, BACP-accredited counsellor. They have additional suicide intervention skills training, via the ASIST course. They also have input from psychiatric clinicians – in particular in assessing suicide risk. And of course they have the vital training in the lived experience ethos, approach and methods of our charity which are described in detail in the book “Suicide Prevention Techniques: How A Suicide Crisis Service Saves Lives”

Sustained impact

Our clients provide the best evidence of the impact being sustained over several years. For example, Allan Fawlk is now a trustee of our charity and also works as a driver/support worker. He has safely driven members of our team through the most adverse weather conditions to see clients, including through floodwater. He is a skilled driver (a former postman who used to drive post office vans).

Allan is well now, but in 2013, he was a client at our Suicide Crisis Centre. He accessed our services after a series of adverse life events. We assessed him as being at high risk of suicide, and we were very concerned that we might lose him. We worked tenaciously to support him through his crisis.

Sometime after he recovered from his crisis, Al wrote a comment on the charity’s Facebook page:

You remain in my pocket for life, supporting, guiding and aiding my recovery. Still here, thanks to the Suicide Crisis Centre.”
His comment highlights the strong connection that we build with our clients. It is as if he carries us with him (in his pocket). And his comment shows how the impact of our care and support continues after he has left our services – his eloquent quote highlights how the things he learned and experienced under our care have stayed with him, and continue to assist his recovery.

As well as the sustained impact on our clients, the wider impact of our work is shown through the books about our Suicide Crisis Centre, which continue to inform people about our methods, approach and ethos. The book “Suicide Prevention Techniques: How A Suicide Crisis Centre Saves Lives” (published in 2018 by Hachette UK) explains in detail why all clients have survived under our care. It was this book which led the Ministry of Health in New Zealand to contact us about our work. We continue to be contacted by individuals and organisations about the book:

Another book focusing on our methods, ethos and approach will be published in the autumn of this year.

Most innovative wellbeing intervention

Blackdog Outdoors

We, at Black Dog Outdoors, are all keen on the promotion of improved mental health and wellbeing. We’re also passionate about outdoor activities, predominantly climbing, paddle sports and hill-walking / mountaineering. Recent studies have shown that there is a positive link between outdoor exercise and improved mental health and well-being, which is now being promoted (and socially prescribed) by the National Health Service. This is a positive step forward however, for many people, their poor mental health may actually prevent them from getting outdoors.

We’ve established our organisation to support those affected by poor mental health into accessing outdoor activities. In addition to our website ( we organise walking, climbing and paddle sport events throughout the UK that are free to attend for those affected by poor mental health. These events are managed by qualified outdoor professionals and supported by Mental Health First Aiders to ensure that the attendees are safeguarded and can fully enjoy the experience, meet like-minded people (without fear of being judged), and gain some confidence in their own abilities.

We are also active on social media through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where we promote the benefits of outdoor activity.

Going above and beyond

The Blackdog Outdoors team all have full-time jobs but give up their time voluntarily to support those affected by poor mental health. Often this means us driving across, down, or up the country to one of our many national parks to host an event. We receive no income from this and operate on a non-profit basis; i.e. any money received through donations goes back into providing safe and fun experiences for the attendees. Our event leaders have all completed Mental Health First Aid training, again in their own time, to ensure that our attendees feel fully supported during our events.
Some of our team members sit on the British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC) Equity Steering Group, which is a committee of BMC members that focusses on supporting under-represented groups into the outdoors. Through this forum we have linked up with other similar mental health support organisations, such as Climbing Alongside Mental Health (C/A/M), to support their work and hold joint events.
We have given several online presentations during the recent COVID pandemic, as well as producing articles for outdoor magazines, to promote the mental health benefits of getting outdoor exercise during local and national lockdowns. Again, these have been produced and presented in our own time outside of work.
We organise walking events for Trail Magazines online community, Mountains for the Mind, which is a forum for those with poor mental health to inspire each other into getting outside. We also work with various local authorities to provide outdoor events for people that are referred through social and green prescribing.


We ensure that our events are free to attend for those affected by poor mental health. Rather than charging a ‘booking fee’ we provide an opportunity for attendees to donate to the charity where they can. This approach removes any financial barriers that may exist for some of the attendees and means that we are not reliant on booking numbers to make an event viable.
We ensure that all our events are run by qualified outdoor professionals and supported by mental health first aiders – all volunteers giving up their time to provide a fun, supportive and safe experience for the attendees.
We provide opportunities for trainee leaders / instructors to join events and gain experience of group management, which is difficult to attain when working towards outdoor qualifications. This experience also provides them with an insight into how the attendees can benefit, mentally, and how they can help to make a difference for people’s wellbeing when qualified.
We work with, and promote, other charities to provide access to the outdoors for under-represented groups.
We provide subsidised navigation training to help upskill and empower people to get out on their own – confidence through competence.
We work with governing member organisations (British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Training Association, Scottish Mountaineering, British Canoeing) to promote mental health issues to their members and the outdoor community in general – some links to this work are below:

We believe that this holistic and sustainable approach to our work sets us apart from other organisations.

Sustained impact

We launched our website in November 2018 and held our first group event in April 2019, which was an organised walk in the Peak District. Since that inaugural event we have held a further 34 throughout the UK, engaging with more than 400 attendees as far South as the New Forest, and as far North as Fort William.
We issue a feedback survey to our attendees and a screenshot of some of the data is included below. Testimonials from attendees and supporters of our work can also be found at
Included with this entry form is a short video testimonial from one of our event attendees, Mark Hunter, which he has given us permission to use for promotion of our work.

Extract of survey feedback:

Did attending the event help improve any of the following:
Feelings of achievement / accomplishment?96%24
Self confidence / self belief?76%19
Connecting with others?84%21
Connecting with the outdoors?76%19
Being present / mindfulness?64%16
Providing an escape from ‘every day worries’?88%22

Support During the Pandemic

Bedford Borough Council

Team BEDS&LUTON are one of 43 Active Partnerships across England. Our vision is to have a Healthier and Happier Bedfordshire. We bring together a range of groups across Luton, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire, including community organisations, national governing bodies, coaches, clubs and volunteers. Supporting, developing and promoting physical activity in the local area so everyone can have the opportunity to achieve a healthier, happier and more active life.

Our mission is to work in partnership to support, develop and promote safe, high quality and inclusive opportunities for people to participate in sport and physical activity for life.

In the context of this application, Bedford Borough Council are one of our key stakeholders to deliver a healthy and active lifestyle to the residents of Bedford Borough and we saw first-hand the amazing work Robert has to engage all residents during the pandemic to remain active. We work with many other local organisations and local authorities across Bedfordshire, but the work Rob within the Bedford Borough Council Sport Development Team has been above and beyond the expected levels seen across the country.

Going above and beyond

Robert has been instrumental throughout the ongoing pandemic to ensure that the community across Bedford have been able to access online free movement and physical activity sessions via ZOOM. This has been provided by the local council and Robert is a key part of the Sports Development Unit.

Whilst the younger population embraced the online world, the older generation struggled with it more and found going online quite hard. It was a big learning curve for large parts of the community as many of the activity sessions were designed for the 50- 80 age group who had never used a video conference software before. We interviewed many of the participants and all said that Rob went above and beyond his normal role at the council. The sessions have become a lifeline for them during the ongoing lockdowns and helped them established a routine and a virtual connection to the local community. All sessions were free and the variety and depth of sessions was far more innovative than many other council ran sessions in the area. Rob made himself available to help individuals with their computer issues and helped several couples find the right way to get online easily and without the need to buy any new equipment (for example using their mobile phone to do the classes if their computer did not have a video camera).

You can see a video of the impact it had on one couple here:

“The online exercise classes concept was completely new to us and one which we probably wouldn’t have gone looking for before the Pandemic but now we really understand the benefits and would gladly recommend to anyone how good there are. The technology side of it is a little daunting at first but you quickly overcome that. You also get lots of support from Robert at the council if you need it.”

After a session they have a coffee and catch up which really helped the community stay together and talk. With many of the participants being on their own this really helped motivate and improve mental health during a very lonely time.

Making an impact during the pandemic

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, with alot more time spent at home and the closure of a majority of services and business, it has been really difficult for the community to become and remain physically active as well as socialise with friends and family. Robert worked tirelessly in his role at Bedford Borough Council to ensure sport and physical activity sessions were available online throughout the ongoing pandemic and national lockdowns. Robert adapted his areas of work which focussed predominantly on mental wellbeing with a link to CAMHs and activity for older adults linking in with numerous care homes. Robert reacted swiftly to the initial lockdown in March 2020 providing online sport and physical activity sessions online via a secure platform, delivered by a qualified coach with the opportunity to socialise at the end of the session to make new friends and ensure the community felt connected.

A key area of Rob’s work which he feels strongly about supporting surrounds mental wellbeing. Prior to the pandemic he worked with CAMHS (Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service) to provide unique sport and physical activity sessions with a CAMHs support worker on hand to support the young people or provide guidance to any parents or carers who had questions or needed support. The session typically had around 8-10 young people attending each week with the activities including badminton, table tennis and yoga, unfortunately due to the pandemic and closure of leisure facilities the session disappeared overnight. Although, Rob adapted the sessions and service to run online, with different activities, adopting a multi-sport fitness session as well as continuing the yoga online with support from CAMHS participation officer. The virtual session has continued to grow in number with accessibility no longer an issue and young people looking for ways to become and remain active whilst wanting to make new friends and socialise, below are some quotes from participants and parents who have been involved in the programme:

Participant- “Despite the pandemic, I think using sport to help people with conditions like mine is positive- it gives me motivation to carry on and I need a place where I can meet other people like me and talk. Exercise helps take my mind off things.”

Parent- “The Young Minds Yoga is a weekly exercise session which gives young people the chance to relax and discuss problems with professionals if they want to. Their parents and carers can also stay and chat to the Children and Adolescents Mental Health staff (CAMHS) or each other which provides peer to peer support which I think is great for us.”

Rob continued his partnership with care homes and understands the importance of movement and impact of loneliness on this age group, providing an EngAGE together programme as part of his role at Bedford Borough Council’s Sport Development Team. The EngAGE programme offers physical and social activities with the intention of improving mental and physical wellbeing. All the sessions are chair based and specifically designed for older adults and isolated older people, to date Rob has facilitated 33 weeks of the EngAGE programme with 88 live sessions offering a range of activities including; chair dance, chair yoga and chair cycling reaching over 307 participants. The feedback from participants and partners has been really positive and complimentary of the work Rob has done and how he has gone above and beyond his role, taking the time out to ensure individuals have the opportunity to be active in a fun and comforting environment despite this being their homes and ensuring individuals, specifically the elderly are able to access the online sessions, supporting them with technical queries and even arranging weekly 30 minute catch up meetings with residents who said they felt lonely.

Innovative ways of working

With the face-to-face opportunities for residents to get active stopped overnight, Robert innovatively moved the sessions he could online to give the current services users access to still staying physically active via the newly created website. Then at speed the sessions multiplied to target a wide range of residents to stay active. For example, the Keyboard Warriors session was to target those working from home who have been sitting at the desk all morning to get up and move to reduce the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

“I miss not being able to attend sessions face to face and whilst I would prefer this method, I like having the online sessions, it gives me something to look forward to and gives me a routine and structure to my week with my school being closed.” -Yoga Participant

To date since March 2020, Rob has facilitated and organised 872 hours in total of online activity sessions with the total of 17,321 attendees across all the session which is an incredible amount. The statistics below demonstrate the incredible growth and sustainability of the sessions.

“As an instructor, it’s been challenging to not be able to deliver but I am grateful to be a part of this project and see the regular participants logging in. The participants help me have structure and feel like my virtual family.” – Coach

With recent concerns by local residents returning to face-to-face activities even though restrictions have eased due to the new variant within the borough the online sessions have still continued to support every staying active. Not only were the sessions about keeping moving but also gave opportunities for people to have conversations with other participants with a chat after each session.

Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy

Nordoff Robbins is the UK’s largest music therapy charity dedicated to bringing high quality music therapy to as many people as possible. We use music to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation. Our music therapists are expertly trained to tune into each movement, reaction and expression of the individuals they work with to discover how music can enrich their lives. This could be to unlock memories, to communicate where words have failed, to socially connect with family and friends, or build confidence and self-esteem. We provide a range of different sessions for children and adults of all ages in our bases across the UK including London, Manchester, Newcastle and Scotland – from one-to-one music therapy to shared sessions for groups of different sizes and formats. All these sessions are free. We also work in partnership with over 200 organisations to bring music therapy to as many vulnerable people who could benefit from it as possible. These include schools, care homes, hospices, hospitals, mental health services and brain injury units.
Music therapy is a registered profession regulated by the HCPC, and its cognitive, emotional, physical and social benefits have been well-established over the profession’s history since the 1950s.
One of our much-valued partnerships is with the Mountbatten Group supporting people living with or affected by death, dying and bereavement across the Isle of Wight and Hampshire. We began providing a music therapy service at Mountbatten Hospice, Isle of Wight, in 2016 and this was extended to Mountbatten Hospice, Southampton, in 2018. Music therapy sessions are provided individually and in groups to inpatients, day patients, children, young people and adults externally referred into the hospices’ psychology service, bereaved family members and carers, and the Mountbatten Hospice community. Our provision at each hospice also includes a community choir comprised of patients, relatives, staff, volunteers and members of the local community. The Isle of Wight choir being longer established has been particularly impactful, attracting 70-80 singers each week, and has been demonstrated through a qualitative research project to have given participants a stronger sense of connectedness, improved physical health, improved mental and emotional wellbeing, a sense of purpose and a changed perception of the hospice.* Music therapy groups are also run for people with dementia and young adults with life-limiting illnesses.
Our music therapist at Mountbatten Isle of Wight, Fraser Simpson, is currently part of an international research study examining music therapy in hospice settings sponsored by Exeter University supported by an AHRC research grant, entitled Care for Music: An ethnography of music in later life and end-of-life settings (

*Ambrose, A (2017) Hospice in Harmony. University of Southampton.

Above and beyond

In 2019 Nordoff Robbins conducted an evaluation of the service at Mountbatten Isle of Wight with 129 participants amongst service users, families/carers and staff. The evaluation report showed that Nordoff Robbins music therapy was seen to have a positive impact in four key areas:

  • enabling people to engage in music by 98% of respondents.
  • quality of life and well-being by 96% of respondents
  • interaction, communication and/or relationships by 95% of respondents
  • working environment in partner organisation by 99% of respondents
    The following results were identified in the area of ‘quality of life & wellbeing’ in examining music therapy’s impact on service-users:
    • 100 % for supporting relaxation, improving mood and relieving stress
    • 100% for enhancing quality of life, improves sense of wellbeing, supports independence and opportunities for choice
    • 99% for increasing motivation, enthusiasm to interact and participate
    • 98 % for providing emotional support, outlet for self-expression, helps regulate emotions
    • 97 % for providing a distraction form everyday life experience, relief from pain
    • 91% for reducing symptoms, reduces depression or anger

Here are two personal stories of people who have benefited from the music therapy service at Mountbatten Isle of Wight.

Vignette 1: Joy’s story

Singing in the Mountbatten Community Choir helped Joy to feel herself again, after her beloved husband Andrew passed away. Joy, who has been singing with the choir for several months, described the positive impact it has had on her:
“I lost Andrew on Easter Sunday this year. We’d been married 43 years, we were best friends and I couldn’t imagine not having him with me. When he passed away at Mountbatten Hospice it was devastating.
However, joining the hospice choir has been my life saver. I look forward to it every week. When I’m singing I get a special feeling – it’s as though Andrew is standing right beside me. It’s the only time that this happens.
Everything in life is difficult now, but when I’m concentrating on singing I forget everything else and it takes me to a different place. The songs we sing are uplifting and I go away contented and peaceful. Often I am awake at night, but after choir I sleep well. It’s like a kind of anaesthetic.
Singing is so enjoyable but it’s more than that. The choir is like a kind of counselling. When I am singing my heart wells up and all the deep anxieties, the stresses and strains I’ve been carrying around all week all come out when I sing and are lifted away. At choir I feel like I come out of my bubble – I feel like a person again. It does me the world of good and Andrew would want me to be enjoying myself. It’s a blessing!”

The story is also available via this link:
Vignette 2: Richard’s story
Richard, 82, has early stage dementia as well as Tourette Syndrome and lives at home and is looked after by his wife. Richard has reduced mobility due to scoliosis, which makes it hard for him to get out and about. He has limited opportunities for activity, occupation and social interaction. His increasing care needs are placing a strain on both himself and his wife. His isolation and poor health leave him with little agency or creative choice.
Richard has been taking part in music therapy sessions for two years. Initially attending a group for people with dementia, he had the opportunity to continue his life-long love of music-making by singing and playing instruments. The improvisatory nature of the music-making allowed Richard significant moments of creative development and imagination that enabled his musical expression to blossom. Richard also liked to use a drum stick to ‘conduct’ the music therapist playing at the piano, becoming animated in the control and connection he experienced in this role.

When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, Richard’s music therapy sessions continued online, and this has provided an opportunity for Richard’s wife to join him in the sessions. She said:
“Richard has always enjoyed music, he can get lost in some classical orchestral music, deeply involved in it. Music is like a switch, his mood changes almost instantly, first his foot starts tapping and then his grumpiness just disappears, he seems to forget it. When he is singing he doesn’t twitch [a symptom of his Tourette Syndrome]. Music seems to be a key that closes the dementia fogging and unlocks or loosens some clarity, he is certainly better for it.
“He really enjoys his times with Fraser, he was quite uncertain at first but soon he seemed to develop a unique sort of relationship, I think it’s because he can be himself during these sessions, and doesn’t have to struggle to hide his Alzheimer’s, perhaps music breaks down barriers. His confidence has improved as well. I am amazed at how happy he looks when conducting. Some music brought him to tears, some songs made him cry, it seems to waken his emotions.”

Here are some further comments taken from the above mentioned 2019 evaluation report, providing evidence of the impact of our work on participants’ mental health and wellbeing:
“Suddenly experiencing a life changing condition and no longer able to carry on with my normal way of life I needed an outlet to help me to adjust. Music Therapy has helped me immensely to come to terms with my new way of life by giving me something to look forward to each week and helps to take my mind off how I feel.”

“It’s been an exploratory musical journey that has also helped me explore and address personal difficulties. My Music Therapy referral has been a great emotional support in helping me be able to function generally after losing my Dad in June.”

“I worked at the hospice for some nineteen years and am recently retired. In my opinion music therapy brings so much to staff and patients, a very positive experience that can be shared. Music very easily changes our moods, brings memories to the fore, gives an experience that we may never have had, how wonderful for those, in the later stages of life, can experience the wonders of music be it learning to play an instrument, singing or just listening…”

A short video about one patient’s experience in music therapy can also be viewed here:

The development of the hospice’s community choir has been a particularly noteworthy phenomenon. We will focus in particular detail on the choir in the following sections but would like to highlight here its central role within the music therapy service provided by Nordoff Robbins.
The choir has served to ‘open the doors’ of the hospice to all and reveal it as a friendly and welcoming place, changing the concept of death and dying by opening conversations, and reducing the isolation felt by many bereaved and dying people. It makes a valuable contribution to Mountbatten Group’s 2020 Strategy* of challenging the stigma associated with hospices and changing public perceptions around death, dying and bereavement.

There are extensive benefits of drawing normally segregated people (ie staff from different departments within the hospice, patients, members of the public) together in a common purpose where differences do not matter.
The choir is also an arena where many people sharing common experience can offer and gain mutual support. The joy and physicality of singing has provided a welcome outlet for many in contrast to the difficulties faced in their life experiences. Members commented in the 2019 evaluation report:
“Music for myself and my husband has completely changed our lives. I have breathing problems and I am sure it ‘helps me to breathe’. We get out and interact socially, meet people and have made friends. We both feel that we now ‘depend’ on this music time and would be lost without it, it means that much to us both. I would give our musical director called Fraser a medal if I could, he is so very patient and kind, and brings out the best in all of us.”

“I joined the choir from the beginning and I really enjoy singing with the other choir members. I have certainly learnt a lot as I had not sung in a choir before. I think it has increased my powers of concentration and recall when remembering words and parts. It has been an opportunity to experience music and join in with others. This is a very powerful experience we have surprised ourselves and gained lots of confidence. The most important thing to say is how much fun it is, and how much I enjoy participating. I really look forward to going and always feel great afterwards.”

“Being a member of the Hospice Community Choir is helping me through a very sad time in my life. Having lost my husband earlier this year. Everyone is so welcoming. There is a feeling of togetherness and when we are singing all the mental stress and pain I feel a lot of the time through my loss just lifts. I am sure everyone there has their own story and you can tell that everyone there really feels that it is a very important time of the week.”

“Being part of the choir has added more depth and wellbeing to my life. I lost 4 very close members of my family to cancer, my brother the youngest member suffered a great deal, without the hospice it would have been unbearable. Coming to the choir at the hospice has helped me to come to terms with his passing and enabled me to laugh again and look forward to the future. I hope the choir will continue, it’s good to see us all grow in confidence and to come to terms with our losses.”

“Singing in the hospice choir is helping a dear friend to work through a period of deep depression and enabling that person to support bringing another person into the choir. It’s a safe place to be as you are.”

“Participation in music of any genre is good for well-being. From never being in a choir and having just lost my wife to cancer (starting at a very low ebb), the experience has changed my life for the better.”

*, (2020) Mountbatten Group Strategy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2021].

Making an impact during the pandemic

When the pandemic hit in March 2020 the onsite music therapy services were initially suspended, and those aspects of the work that could be delivered online were transferred to Zoom.
The problem of latency (sound delay) when working online is a significant one for music therapy – it makes it almost impossible to make music in time together, which is the cornerstone of the work. The situation required a creative approach by the music therapist who tried out and discovered other ways of working that could be of benefit to service users, which included:
• Songwriting
• Music appreciation sessions and musical ‘discovery’ projects – group members introducing their musical passions and new discoveries to each other
• Singing together with users muted (only the music therapist is heard)
In this way, at Mountbatten Isle of Wight, a pre-pandemic open group, a group for young adults with life-limiting illnesses, a dementia group and the community choir were successfully taken online. Over the course of 2020 starting from 26th March up until 21st May 2021, 292 sessions were delivered in the partnership of which 165 took place online. An average of 36 people attended the online choir each week and an average of 14 people attended the other groups. Alongside the online work we were also able to resume 1:1 sessions onsite from September 2020.
Our music therapist has written about the challenges and the successes of the online choir in his article here:
Although members could not hear each other sing and felt the musical limitations of that situation, there was something important that was not lost, which was the sense of community that is such a vital part of the choir experience. It offered relief from the social isolation experienced almost universally during the pandemic. As one member said:
“Thank you so much for sustaining our choir throughout lockdown and beyond. It has been such a joy and tonic to positive well-being to sing together on Wednesday evenings and in a strange way I have felt I’ve got to know choir members even better even though we’ve been apart.”

Giving members the opportunity to share and reflect during the choir session brought a new intimacy between members and the realisation that the Zoom choir is not merely a watered-down version of the ‘real thing’, but brings its own unique enrichment.

The novelty of taking the choir online (the Mountbatten choir being among the very first choirs to do so when the pandemic hit) was featured on the hospice website and attracted the interest of the local Isle of Wight press:
The situation gave rise to an unexpected benefit that the choir was able to invite and welcome members of the pre-lockdown choir at Mountbatten Hampshire in Southampton to its online sessions, enabling members of the two communities to get to know one another in a way that would otherwise not have happened.

Innovative ways of working

How is the impact sustained over at least two consecutive years? This might include data, testimonials, feedback or other types of evidence. (for the pandemic category, please describe how you have found innovative ways of providing or growing services)

A song-writing project undertaken with the above-mentioned group of young adults with life-limiting illnesses was begun in the early weeks of 2021 over Zoom. The finished song, written by the group members with the support and guidance of their music therapist was entitled One Day Soon, a song of hope that expressed the isolation experienced during the pandemic and the growing optimism of return to normal life.

Kate Newitt, a member of the young adults’ group who worked together on One Day Soon, said: “For anyone living with a disease or disability, coronavirus has been another hurdle in life to conquer, but this time we were all in it together. We started many new indoor projects during lockdown but what I looked forward to so much was the Wednesday groups on Zoom. It was lovely to have the human interaction and meant we felt less isolated and still like a team. When hearing that restrictions would start to be eased, we all thought it would be a perfect time to write a song, representing hope. It was great teamwork as we could all connect together and understand each other’s feelings. We hope you all enjoy the catchy lyrics as much as we did creating them!”

When the song was played to members of the community choir, it struck a chord of common experience, and the choir decided to make a virtual recording of the song. For the singers this project – the learning and recording of the song – was an exhilarating experience bringing a shared sense of purpose that for many had been sadly missed during the months of lockdown. Choir members commented:
“Our Wednesday nights during the last 12 months have been a great help with the isolation we have all suffered, but this piece of work has brought us all closer together, and the younger members of Mountbatten have developed a great song which they should be very proud of. It will always be an event that will stay with me.”

“Taking part in the recent video project provided a very welcome sense of purpose and belonging. I detected amongst my choir friends a glimpse of the old ‘esprit de corps’ that makes the Mountbatten Community Choir so special to us.”

“I think the young people just caught the mood of most people at the moment longing to get out of lockdown which must be especially trying for them. It was an honour to put voices to their words.”
“Such a privilege to sing a song of joy and hope. We had such fun doing the recording.”
“It was a much-needed boost to us all.”

“Such a great opportunity to share music and create friendships.”

“I really enjoyed every minute [of the recording], I felt as if I had had a night out with a lot of friends, ended on a high.”

“It was a great night. A good laugh and lovely to be able to feel that we were all doing something ‘together’ although apart.”

“It felt like a family gathered around the piano when we all stayed to listen and encourage each other as we sang and recorded our parts… we are all healed in some way when we sing together, and this experience was another tonic.”

The song was released through Mountbatten’s media channels to mark the anniversary of the first lockdown (23 March) and was reported in the local press. The One Day Soon project was an outstanding achievement for all involved and additionally brought together different service user groups from the hospice communities that in normal circumstances would have remained apart. The limitations of online working were transcended, and music undeterred did its work of connecting, uplifting, enlivening, and enabling.

Nigel Hartley, CEO of Mountbatten Group, said: “With the gradual easing of lockdown we have all got hope in our hearts. The pandemic has been tough for everyone, especially for those who live with an illness. Reflecting on the last year as we mark the anniversary of the first lock down is important and we should all take a moment to remember those who have lost their lives to COVID and other illnesses as a result of the pandemic. The song ‘One Day Soon’ is like a beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel and gives me a sense of better days to come. It’s a fantastic effort by the choir members hailing from both sides of the Solent and it makes me ‘proud to be Mountbatten’.”

Nordoff Robbins’ aim of ‘musicalising’ the communities of our Partner Organisations, bringing to them all that music can afford, and thereby enabling them to take such pride in themselves could not be better illustrated than by this story of innovation, creativity and transformation.

The full story including the song itself can be viewed here:


onHand is an award winning volunteer matching solution. IBM describes us as an “Uber for Volunteering”. Our mission is to make it simple for businesses all over the UK to engage employees whilst also giving back to communities. Our on-demand volunteering app makes it fast and easy for people, charities and organisations to receive help. Our solution has the ability to capture the huge rise in social good to come out of the Covid pandemic and harness that good for all our futures and across the UK.

Today, onHand matches vetted volunteers with older adults and vulnerable people who need help with simple tasks such as shopping, medicine collection/drop offs, urgent errands and other essentials. By tapping into the sharing economy we can address one of society’s most pressing issues, at a time when NHS resources are most strained. Prior to Covid, onHand’s volunteer matching platform had established itself as a disruptor to the care industry, using tech to simplify the way volunteers and older adults connect. The response to our platform has been applauded by various industry experts such as the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and across the media.

Charities and organisations refer their clients and activities to onHand so that we can use our tech to match them with local, vetted volunteers. We work closely with the British Red Cross, NHS referrers, Age UK, Independent Age, Pret Foundation, North and South London Cares, W12 Together, The Youth Group and Surfers Against Sewage to support their causes.

Above and beyond

There are several different areas of the business which have gone above and beyond what we expected for onHand in 2020.

UK expansion

Prior to the Covid pandemic, onHand expected to grow at a steady pace. We started by helping hundreds of older and vulnerable people across London with basic tasks like shopping, changing a lightbulb and companionship, and we were considered a disruptor to the care industry. 2020 and the Covid pandemic saw the greatest outpouring of civil society in a generation. When the outbreak hit the UK, we saw an opportunity to help more people. We developed our app within two to four weeks of the first UK lockdown, and are now helping 10,000s of people across the entire country. We didn’t expect to be operating nationwide this quickly and efficiently.

Employee wellbeing

We knew that volunteering had a positive impact on wellbeing when onHand began, but the pandemic saw a huge rise in loneliness and mental health issues. The CIPD 2020 Health and Wellbeing Report named mental ill health as the single most common cause of long term absence from the workplace. Employers not only needed a way to engage employees who were working remotely or on reduced hours, they were also taking a much greater and necessary interest in supporting staff wellbeing.

77% of employees surveyed by Deloitte say that volunteering is “essential to wellbeing.” In order to help even more people, we altered our business model. Today, onHand partners with corporations to help them support their employees; offering them wellbeing resources and engaging them in volunteering activities. Volunteering with onHand throughout the pandemic has given employees a purpose when they needed it most.

The response to our platform has been applauded by various industry experts such as the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and across the media. We’ve been named the ‘uber of volunteering’ by IBM and have now partnered with over 50 businesses that want to do more social good. Whilst there are incumbent organisations providing Corporate Volunteering programmes, we know of none that are able to enable local and safe opportunities, solving for remote, shift, seasonal and office based employees. With onHand, volunteering is kept close to the employees location and so works for remote or office teams.

onHand now holds regular webinars with other professionals to help corporations further support their staff in all different areas of wellbeing – financial, social, physical, emotional etc. We also offer our partners free wellbeing content to combat stress, loneliness and burnout, as well as company culture resources.

In our North East Impact Report, created in association with the National Innovation Centre For Ageing and Newcastle Building Society, 80% of volunteers surveyed said volunteering through onHand has had a positive or very positive impact on their wellbeing.

Friendship and loneliness

onHand was already helping to tackle loneliness pre-Covid, but on a small scale. Our expectation was to steadily continue providing older people with companionship and expand nationwide eventually. Covid-19 saw loneliness in the UK reach peak highs and the group most affected were 16-44 year olds (ONS). Thanks to our matching technology we were able to create intergenerational friendships all over the UK and build ‘social capital’ for tens of thousands of people of all different backgrounds and age groups at a time when it was needed the most.

Neil, a Newcastle Building Society employee was matched with Jean, an elderly resident in the North East who lives on her own. What started as a few gardening ‘missions’ grew to weekly phone calls and, when social distancing rules were eased, ended with socially distanced dog walks. Neil helped Jean find the confidence to go out for walks – something she wouldn’t have been able to do alone.

“I don’t think Jean realises, as much as I’ve helped her, she’s helped me too. Having that human contact, albeit socially distanced, has helped me with my own mental health and wellbeing, by being able to get out and about, talking with people I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to meet.” – Neil

“It really has brightened my life. Neil is a guardian angel. He’s such a nice young man. I’ve never experienced any volunteer help before. I’m so pleased to receive the help.” Jean

Jean wasn’t able to find help from other volunteering organisations because she lived too far outside of Newcastle, where fewer volunteering organisations operated. Without onHand Neil and Jean, much like hundreds of our other matches, most likely wouldn’t have met.

Other areas of growth

The unexpected expansion that onHand had in 2020 allowed for us to grow in other areas and have a bigger reach. We recently introduced different volunteering opportunities to put the user in the driver’s seat and have the ability to choose activities that really interest them, creating even more of a strong sense of purpose, and a better user experience for the volunteers.

In February we added Youth Mentoring opportunities to our app for the first time. Within just a few weeks we were on track to schedule over 500 Youth Mentoring sessions. We just started tackling food waste, partnering with the Pret Foundation to take excess food to homeless shelters. We’ve also added environmental support in some areas of the UK, organising beach cleans for our partner volunteers to take part in, as well as tasks to increase biodiversity in other areas. We’ve built an even stronger sense of community in our volunteer base by adding in a wider variety of opportunities.

Impact during the pandemic

Every interaction we enable generates social impact. From a simple call to walking someone’s dog. We track all activity from incoming requests for help, to being live on app, matched, completed, and repeated. We produce regular case studies for referrers and partners, gathering statistics and feedback from beneficiaries to keep track of impact.

Since January 2020, we have delivered over £80,000 worth of food, equating to ~45,000 meals (based on ONS data) and spent over 2 months on befriending calls (when adding all our calls together).

A new report conducted in association with the National Centre of Innovation for Ageing also has showcased the North East impact on service users receiving help and employees who are giving help.

● 91.7% of respondents said that using onHand has made them feel either a lot, or a little, better than usual. Reasons for this include having someone to talk to, building confidence, and benefiting their mental health.

● Hardly any of the requesters who responded to the survey had concerns about using the onHand service. Although, 91.6% were concerned that it was ‘too good to be true.’

● 100% of people requesting help from onHand said that it had either a positive or very positive impact on their life.

Volunteer impact:

Micro-volunteering using the onHand app has also had a positive effect on employees. 80% of employee respondents said that onHand volunteering has had a positive or very positive impact on their own wellbeing, with 46% adding the app has helped them combat feelings of loneliness or isolation by providing them with someone to talk with, and helping them forge connections.

Referrer impact:

Covid-19 has left a huge strain on the NHS and councils that have limited resources. onHand has helped relieve some of that strain and the charities and organisations we work with have expressed how much of a positive impact our volunteers have made on them and the people they refer to us.

● “Your ability to find befriending volunteers is invaluable to our clients. The fact you can provide this for all age groups is also an added bonus as befriending support for under 60’s is indeed very difficult to find and almost non-existent.” – Age UK Islington

● “Just A BIG THANK YOU!! You guys have been amazing for the past year… Thank you on behalf of everyone you have supported… Keep up the great work! “ – NHS

● “Great communication from the team, which enables us to see the outcome of our initial referral. Also, all the referrals made have been responded to quickly, and volunteers matched to our referred Service Users very promptly. Great service all round.” – British Red Cross

Innovative ways of working

Prior to COVID-19, onHand was a charged-for service, with the person receiving help paying £10p/h (80% going to charity, 20% going towards DBS costs and staffing). onHand has now waived all charges for those who can’t afford it, thanks to our partnerships with corporates wanting to do more social good.

We developed our tech to meet the growing need for help within 2 to 4 weeks of the pandemic starting. Our project now delivers systems innovation, using tech to find and automate matching of volunteers with people in need. The onHand app has the ability to vet and track volunteers and allows volunteers to instantly claim shopping refunds, payment of which are then automated back to the volunteer. No other app has this level of functionality built in, proven and easily activated. As a result, the number of onHand volunteers has grown by 250%+ since the start of 2020 and the number of people requesting help has more than doubled.

Council Partnerships:
During the first Covid peak, with local services overrun and spiralling food parcel costs, Lambeth council partnered with us to help deliver food to isolating residents. They purchased bulk packages of hours from us to help them support their residents. Our matching tech could help 1000s of people quickly and save the council from the crippling costs of food parcels. Volunteers are continuing to help out in the London borough.
Some quotes from the people we’ve helped in Lambeth:

● “I love my weekly phone calls with Donna, I feel like I can talk to her for hours. Chloe, who does my weekly shop, is amazing. She can find everything in Tesco so quickly and easily. She didn’t even mind going out in the rain for me!” – Ernest

Ernest lives alone and has regular phone calls with volunteers to keep him company. He also received regular shopping help from onHand as he’s vulnerable and shielding. Donna had similar kind words to say about Ernest as well…

● “He’s such a lovely guy, I feel like I’ve known him for years, not months” – Donna

The partnership between Lambeth council and onHand helped to combat loneliness in younger people too. Intergenerational friendships have been formed through the service, creating a sense of community.

● “As usual, Walter was a ray of sunshine and happy to have his paper and a window chat. It’s like having a grandfather all over again!” – Alexander

Corporate Partnerships:
onHand now partners with businesses to get their employees volunteering. As well as creating social impact in local communities this aids with employee engagement and wellbeing by making team’s feel good by doing good. So far in 2o21, onHand has seen a 240% growth in corporate partnerships. These include large organisations like Newcastle Building Society and Softcat plc and high growth companies, like FinTech leader, GoCardless, and FemTech pioneer, Elvie. Most recently we have partnered with the Trainline.
Businesses give employees an estimated 11m days of volunteering time every year and Deloitte reports 70% of employees want to volunteer more often. However, “traditional” corporate volunteering simply does not work. Engagement in employee volunteering is just 14.3% (London Benchmarking Group), meaning 200 million hours of corporate volunteering go unused. With numerous studies finding career choices, especially for millennials, are increasingly based on an employer’s social impact, the opportunity has never been stronger to help corporations engage their employees in volunteering en masse. It was always our view to expand onHand and provide help to the entire country. To do this we partnered with businesses wanting to engage their employees in social good.

We’ve seen first hand how volunteering can have a huge impact on wellbeing, for the volunteer and for the person they help, with our ‘‘Heroes’ saying that they’re “the happiest [they’ve] been in a long time” thanks to onHand.


Sanjay Lobo, onHand Founder and CEO was awarded with the Tech for Good Great British Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2020. Following this, he was presented with the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. onHand won the Lord Mayor’s Community Partners Award for their ‘Innovation During Covid” and successful partnership with Lambeth Council. Winning awards has given onHand wider exposure, supporting our growth and sustainability.
Governmental Support
onHand was developed with the support of a £75,000 grant from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Healthy Ageing challenge via COVID fast track funding. This allowed our team to automate the end-to-end volunteer matching experience – including built-in automated ID and DBS checking, the ability for volunteers to search for help opportunities and contact the person in need directly through the app, as well as submission and daily automated refunding of reimbursement (such as for shopping).

onHand has benefitted the lives of 10s of thousands of older and vulnerable people all over the UK over the past 2 years. The help that they have been given by volunteers has enriched communities and boosted morale for employees who take part in volunteering activities. One employee even said “If I could do this full time I would!” Our aim is to continue to grow our pool of corporate partners and further expand our variety of volunteering opportunities to be even more diverse and accessible to more people and causes. We want to go from 10,000s of missions to 100,000s.

Inspirational story

Harry Bliss

At a glance, Harry Bliss’s story seems to be one of positivity and inspiration. Over the last 18 months, he has saved at least 4 lives through his work driving positive mental health outcomes across leading UK businesses.

But scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll see that his achievements are deeply intertwined with a heart-breaking reality.

If you ask Harry what one thing drives him every day, what keeps the fire in his belly roaring, you will only get one answer. Harry is driven by a desire to prevent more tragedies like one that touched him incredibly personally: the death of his friend and mentor, James, who tragically took his own life.

For a long time, Harry has been aware of the importance of mental wellbeing. After experiencing his own mental health struggles during university, he graduated determined to use his knowledge to galvanise change in the way people view, approach and deal with mental wellbeing in the workplace.

At the age of just 24, he took a leap of faith, and founded his own company: Champion Health. Champion Health would work with organisations to help them be proactive about looking after the mental health of their employees. In doing so, they would ensure that struggling employees could quickly get the help they needed.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, establishing a business is incredibly difficult. Harry knew he had the drive, the idea and the vision to make a real difference, but he was also aware that he lacked experience in how to run and scale a business from an operational side. Without that, he would not be able to get the Champion Health platform into the hands of the organisations who needed it.

To address this issue, Harry approached a friend, James, whose children he had coached at the local cricket club. James was the director of a global organisation and, according to Harry, knew business like the back of his hand. Despite being one of the most time-poor people Harry knew, James agreed to guide Harry through the early stages of building a company. The two began to meet up regularly, and the relationship quickly developed into a mentorship, as well as a close friendship.

James was the sort of person who looked to have it all. He was a husband to a wonderful wife and father to two amazing children. He had cultivated a successful career and lived in a lovely house in a lovely area. He was an incredibly well-liked member of the local community and had an extensive network of friends and loved ones. He was also a brilliant mentor. Harry really looked up to James, not only as a businessman but also as a person.

All of this made what happened 6 months into Champion’s journey even more heart-breaking for Harry.

James, who had become such a huge part of Harry’s life, tragically took his own life, due to a short but acute bout of workplace stress.

Their story

Receiving the news was devastating for Harry. Even now, three years later, he still finds it difficult to talk about the day he found out that James had taken his own life.

But alongside the grief he was experiencing, Harry also found a new level of drive. Not only was he going to ensure that James’ legacy lived through Champion Health, he was also going to do everything he could to prevent what happened to James happening to others. Champion Health’s guiding mission had now been clearly established: to change and save lives.

Harry knew that this would take time. The sad truth is that one in five working-age adults contemplate taking their own life. Harry knew that saving even one of these lives would take an extraordinary amount of hard work and sacrifice. Champion Health was barely an established company and Harry would have to work through the grief he was experiencing, whilst being acutely aware of the absence of his mentor.

This didn’t stop him. For the last 3 years, Harry has worked tirelessly, directing any available resources towards improving Champion Health. These resources have included an incredible amount of his own time. By Harry’s own admission, there are important areas of his life which have had to take a back seat. But the hard work has paid off emphatically, as Harry’s commitment, motivation and clear vision have translated into life-saving work.

In the last 18 months, he has been informed that the platform has saved at least four lives. The first time Harry was told this news, he was brought to tears.

He is now responsible for a team of 10 with an additional 40 professionals and academics working with Champion Health, all of whom were made aware of the “why” behind Champion Health the minute they joined the company, all of whom are committed to the mission of changing and saving lives.

Harry’s story is inspirational because it is an example of someone flipping adversity into opportunity.
Harry has led the Champion Health team on an incredible journey since 2018, not only in terms of business, but more importantly in terms of impact.
Throughout all of this, Harry has ensured that the legacy of James is never forgotten, and that the “why” behind what Champion are doing is always made clear. The mission always comes first.

Nothing proves this more than the actions Harry took during COVID-19. As the pandemic took hold, Harry could see the negative impact it was having on the nation’s mental health. He responded by offering Champion Health’s online mental health training free of charge to anyone who wanted it.

It was a huge risk for such a young company to take, but Harry knew Champion Health’s platform could make a real difference to people’s lives at this much-needed time. The training reached tens of thousands of people and over 400 organisations across the globe, including the NHS.

The Champion team, led by Harry, have also worked hard to raise awareness of suicide, and to stimulate conversation about it. Their Suicide Prevention guide (find the link below), which they released on World Suicide Prevention Day 2020, drew widespread praise due to the effectiveness with which it tackled such an important topic.

Champion Health has grown significantly over the last 3 years and the company now works with key clients including the NHS, Honda and Rabobank. The company was successful in achieving significant investment in 2020 to support its fast growth. A product of his own success, the workload on Harry has not eased yet. However, despite often working 6-day weeks, Harry is always willing to make time for others, and to talk to them about mental health.

He has drawn on his own experiences to deliver guest lectures about mental health to students in various UK universities, as well as some local primary schools. It is an impressive feat for someone so young to be trusted with guiding others on such an important issue, but Harry is incredibly capable and keen to share his expertise to help others succeed. He is unafraid to be completely open and vulnerable about his own mental health, and that inspires others to do the same. In this way, he has been ahead of his time. Leaders everywhere are starting to realise the advantages of talking to people about their mental health. Harry has been doing this for years.

Harry and James’ story is also inspirational because it is an example of something so tragic being used to drive something incredibly positive. James’ story will always be intertwined not only with Harry’s story, but also with the story of Champion Health, and the people they help. His legacy lives through Harry, and lives through Champion Health.

What Harry has achieved was made possible because an incredibly busy person made time for a young man who needed a mentor. He has never forgotten that, which is why Harry always makes time for others, and particularly those who were close to James. He makes it clear to everyone the role that James played in his life, and the role James played in the journey that Harry and Champion have been on. Recently, he took the decision to sponsor Holmesfield Cricket Club, the place where he met James.

Having worked with Harry for a year now, I am very aware of how busy he is, and how hard he works. You’ll often find him still working late into the evening, or on a weekend. One time he does not work though, is 5pm until 6pm on a Thursday. That is the time he spends coaching cricket to James’ kids. No matter how busy he gets, Harry will always make time for James, just as James did for him.


On Friday, March 13th 2020, I walked into The Starling Cafe in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, for a meeting with Harry Bliss. His LinkedIn profile photo was pretty small and somehow, the name Harry Bliss conjured up expectations that I might be meeting with an ageing 1960’s Michael Caine movie character. Imagine my surprise, when sitting waiting for our meeting was a young, fresh-faced, twenty-something, armed with a laptop, who told me how he had founded a tech company to support the mental and physical wellbeing of thousands of company employees in the UK. Within days of our meeting, I joined the Champion Health team and with eyes wide open, I have since been part of a journey, that, at times, has taken my breath away, as Harry and the young team at Champion have developed a platform of wellbeing solutions, which is fast becoming the envy of all other wellbeing solution providers globally and has already been dubbed ‘The Netflix of Wellbeing’. Technical abilities, ambition and drive, should all be prerequisites to enable Harry to have achieved what he and Champion has in just a couple of years. However, I have rarely seen such inspiring, compassionate, value driven leadership in any entrepreneur, let alone one so young and I have known and worked with many over my 40+ year career in consultancy. Without question, Harry has great business acumen, but he has something else that you can’t teach, he cares about people and is passionate about making a difference in this world – he’s already achieving this, and the future of workplace wellbeing is going to see a seismic shift in the next 5-10 years as Champion Health continues to deliver on its mission.
Steve Phillip
Founder, The Jordan Legacy

Harry came into my school and spoke to the whole year group, not directly about death, but about personal wellbeing and how to look after your own mental health. Harry was brilliant at relating his message to a group of 9/10-year olds and his interactive, caring approach allowed them to feel at ease at once. The children Harry spoke to have regularly asked me about different aspects of the message Harry shared. It clearly stuck with them and I can’t thank him enough for his help in a situation that I would otherwise have found incredibly challenging.
Joe Cooper
Teacher, Birkdale School

Since meeting Harry I have rarely seen someone so driven by the mission they are on. A mission to change both the conversation, awareness and attitude towards mental health and wellbeing for everyone. When you then understand the backstory of what happened and how his life could have taken a very different path, you realise how unique he is. I hear many people talk on this topic, but few take action. Harry is the exception, not only has he taken massive action but he is making the world take notice. I can’t think of a more worthy tribute to his friend and mentor.
Matt Macri-Waller
Founder and CEO, Benefex

I was introduced to Harry through our late friend, and Harry’s mentor. From the early stages of Champion, you could see someone who wanted to make a real difference. However, following our mutual friend taking his own life, you could see that it lit a spark for Harry and the team at Champion to go that step further. Flipping adversity into opportunity is something that I admire the team at Champion Health for, and it’s been wonderful to see Harry grow and have the impact that he’s having.
Leon Taylor
Olympic medallist, BBC commentator and mental health advocate

Having worked with Harry and Champion Health across a number of different projects it is totally apparent how clearly the company’s mission and purpose are built on Harry’s powerful experience of losing his mentor to suicide. Everyone at Champion is infused with a passion and energy for positively impacting the health and wellbeing space and ultimately saving lives and this shines through all their content and interactions. It is hard not to be inspired by spending time with Harry and his team and I have every confidence that they will continue to make real and lasting human change.
Jamie Broadley
Staff Wellbeing Lead, People Services: Derbyshire Community Health Service FT

Harry Bliss is the embodiment of turning tragedy into purpose. When you meet with Harry you can instantly tell that the business he has grown has come from a genuine and passionate mission to do good, to help others, and to prevent others suffering. Harry has ensured that when building Champion Health its culture keeps true to this mission, even if it makes it more challenging for his business to grow. Harry is what I would consider as ‘productively dissatisfied with the status quo, always pushing to do better, do deliver more, and to reach more people who need help’. He not only delivers a service that does good, but one that actively transforms the mindsets and actions of the businesses that work with him. I can speak from personal experience, that after working with Harry and Champion Health, neither I nor our business will ever be same.
David Angrave
Chief Operating Officer, Twinkl

Some people just have something special, and this is Harry. I came across Harry on LinkedIn and was instantly enamoured by his personal mission to support others’ wellbeing through his young company Champion Health. I reached out to see how I could get involved as I lost my dad to suicide when I was young so mental health, wellbeing and suicide are deeply personal issues close to my own heart. It was clear that Harry was (and remains) incredibly mission-led and how much he cares about supporting people. When he told me he had just made Champion’s online mental health training free, to keep support free for people for as long as possible throughout Covid, I knew he was a credible driving force. There is no doubt that his friend and mentor James’ legacy will live on via the work Champion Health is doing. Harry has built an incredible team and he is a natural, authentic leader, leading from a place of vulnerability. I challenge anyone not to be moved when hearing Harry speak about his mission which I’ve absolutely no doubt will be a success.
Ellie MacDonald
Founder and managing director, MacComms

Life changing events can make you stop in your tracks. Life gets put on hold for a time as you take stock, re-evaluate, and move forward again often in a new direction, with a different focus and drive. Whilst Harry Bliss was already on the road with Champion Health and knew the general direction he was travelling, tragically losing his friend and mentor has focused his journey. His destination is now very clear, to make a positive difference to as many people as possible and to save lives. I have been travelling with Harry from the early days of his journey and am privileged to be a part of his trip. His bus is filling up nicely as he surrounds himself with a remarkable team. Champion Health are, and will continue to make an impact on so many people’s lives. They have only really just begun.
Jonathan Daniel
Director, Fitback

I met Harry when I was working as Head of Wellbeing for BBC Studios. What immediately strikes you about him is how open and honest he is, how clear his vision is, and how driven he is to achieve it. When you hear the “why” behind Champion, you understand where all of this comes from, and you can’t help but buy in to Champion Health, and Harry. I’m delighted to now work alongside him as we strive to drive positive mental health outcomes across UK organisations.
Jack Green
Olympian, Mind Ambassador and YoungMinds Ambassador

Harry spoke to Rachel (my colleague) and I at Sheffield College about 18 months ago, he told us his inspirational story and his passion to make positive change and to support others understand and find ways to improve their mental well-being immediately shone through. Since then, Harry’s company, Champion Health, and the Sheffield College have become firm partners and Harry continues to ensure tragic events remain a catalyst for positive action. He has supported many of our students during particularly difficult times through numerous innovative initiatives.
James Smythe
Vice Principal Student Experience, Sheffield College

Harry’s passion shines through in everything he does. He’s trailblazing in the mental health space turning adversity into opportunity and changing the well-being landscape for the better.
Jodie Hill
Managing Partner, Thrive Law

Harry has taken his own personal experience and turned it into his Purpose. Most businesses struggle to define their mission and vision and yet Harry has achieved this from day one. This is what attracted S&G Response to partnered with Champion Health since 2019 and their intuitive online evaluation tool has been a central plank of our employee mental health support strategy.
Andy Whatmough
Managing Director, S&G Response

I met Harry when he was 23, full of energy, enthusiasm, and a passion to make a positive difference. Whilst Harry’s experience and knowledge in how to run a business was lacking, you could see he truly cared about the mission he’s so clearly set out on – to change and save lives. It’s no surprise to see where Champion Health are now, and having the true impact that society needs. When James ended up taking he own life, I could see an additional level of drive in Harry. The business had turned from something that he wanted to work to something that he needed to work. Harry had set up the business from scratch with no experience, and to see them working with global organisations now it gives me a huge amount of pride to say I supported him at a time when Harry needed such support.
Maurice Miller
Adviser to Harry

“When I first started struggling with mental health, I was really lucky that a close friend recognised the signs and helped me get the support I needed. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. It is because of my own challenges that I was so keen to take Champion Health’s online mental health training course during COVID-19. If you haven’t already, I really recommend taking course. Thank you to Champion Health and Harry Bliss for empowering me and giving me the confidence to be ‘that friend’ to someone else should it be needed.”
Amelia Selby
PR Executive, Twinkl

“We chose Champion Health based on a number of factors, mainly around the credibility of the co-founder, Harry Bliss, and the story which sits behind the foundations of the company. Harry is a seriously impressive young entrepreneur, with huge amounts of integrity and an excellent product offering.”
Chloe Dekowski on behalf of the Executive Committee at Rabobank

Media coverage—dad-shares-story-sons-suicide-police-reveal-mental-health-incidents-rising/

Mental Health in the Workplace: 6 Tips from HR Experts

Supporting evidence

The why behind Champion

Champion’s suicide prevention guide

A LinkedIn post from Harry Bliss, about James

Kate Rodgers

Kate is an amazing woman. Not only is she my wife, but she is also my best friend and soul mate. That’s all the clichés out of the way.

My Kate, who is from Canada but has lived here 28-29 years, is truly an amazing woman. At the very young age of 24, having just left drama school as the girl most likely to succeed, kate started on her road to acting work and theatre success. After almost 6 months of working in schools and colleges, teaching drama, Kate began to show signs of not being well. She was not getting the acting work she was told she would be getting and was working in restaurants to supplement her teaching income.

Because of her work load and the hours, Kate’s health began to deteriorate and her mental health was beginning to suffer; badly. She was sleeping sixteen hours on her days off and going for long walks in the middle of the night, she could not sleep. Her dream, of making the world a better place through her theatre work was slowly slipping out of reach. Kate did not end up in the big theatre in Down town Toronto, but ended up in the psychiatric wing of the big hospital in downtown Toronto. Her family thought this would be the best thing for her. So began her journey of mental health and mental illness, but more so, her journey of maintenance and recovery. It was going to be a long road and she was not prepared for much of what was going to happen.

Their story

Having found that life was just too challenging, Kate found herself in what was called, at the time, the revolving door syndrome. She was in and out of hospital and she was in and out of psychosis. We are still not sure how the illness came on her, but the way she was behaving, convinced the system to offer her medication. In some cases more medication than her body could cope with.

She was in and out of the general hospital for many months and with each visit, they changed her medication. Her body was going through chemical warfare. During this time though, she knew that the treatment she was being given was there to help with her recovery. She kept telling her self that; “she would recover, as a year ago, she was fine”. However, some of the treatments were a bit harsh and on one occasion whilst in hospital, the authorities deemed it necessary to chain Kate to the bed, with leather shackles around her wrists and ankles. They thought she was being too disruptive on the ward; whereas Kate saw it just being theatrical bravado and being over the top. They chained her for almost a week and it was whilst there that she found a sense of calm and started to reflect on what was happening. And when she was calm they released her. She asked why, and they told her that her behaviour was inappropriate. She was confused, as her behaviour as a classically trained actress, to her, was appropriate.

From this action, it led the authorities to sending Kate to a long term psychiatric unit with a prognosis of several months plus. This broke her heart; as all her dreams of an acting career and working in theatre and making the world a better place through her art and theatre where, in her mind, gone. Years of hard work and study all for nothing. She had read and heard about the long term unit and had gathered that not many people ever come out in the short term. The saying was, “this place is full of human shrapnel”

Kate was only in there a few months and, eventually, asked to sign herself out. She was not certified so she was allowed to do this. They told her if she left she would find it difficult getting back into the system. She said she was ready and would take her chances in the outside world. Brave or just silly? She needed to find out for herself.

When Kate got out of the psychiatric system, she went to live at her sister’s house and whilst there started her own journey of recovery and self-help. She knew she needed some type of medication and found this at her GP’s. She knew she needed to take better care of her self physically and started a regular exercise routine. She knew she needed a better diet and change the way she ate completely. She also knew that she needed to help others understand their own journey of mental illness. To encourage people and tell them that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. She had a burning need to help others.

She did this by buying her own medical records and researched what had happened to her of the many months she was in hospital. She read and studied the medication she was given. She studies the diagnosis they gave her; of which there where many. Piece by piece she built up a picture of what had happened and what she went through. This was very good for her recovery journey, as some medications took away the memory of what she was going through, at the time, whilst on that medication.

From all this research, she wrote a play called ‘Cracked Up’. Cracked up mentally and cracked up with laughter. It was based on her behaviours whilst in hospital; some of the things she did, according to the records. She discovered some were very funny. So, cracked up mentally and cracked up with laughter was the theme of the play. It was a one woman play and Kate was to be the star. She wanted to act and share her story. She wanted to tell her story in the hopes that it would help people with their recovery journey.

That play became incredibly successful and filled the theatres were ever it played in Canada. It also did a national tour of New Zealand. Whilst in New Zealand, Kate was asked to speak in many diverse places such as schools, libraries and women’s refuges and safe houses. It played to theatres in England and Ireland. On the back of the play Kate started to be asked to come and be a guest speaker at many mental health conferences around the world. When we began telling Kates story, she often says she was the ‘lone wolf in the prairies’. But thanks to Kate and her openness, honesty and her constant encouragement, many people have followed suit and are now telling their story publically; from general public to celebrities. We always had sad stories of mental health, but Kate’s message is one of hope and optimism.

Her knowledge and expertise and gift of positive storytelling with positive outcomes have been sought by many. She has now spoken in over 25 countries to many groups of people; from big businesses such as high street banks to smaller self-help groups and the message is always the same; DO NOT SUFFER IN SILENCE. If you feel that your mental health is struggling, talk to someone. She has, over the years given a voice to people who often find it difficult to speak for themselves.

Kate is also one of the directors of a theatre company for people with mental health challenges. The entire members have now found a voice and a platform on which to use that voice.

Kate has never hidden the fact that her mental health is a constant challenge. Kate had never hidden the fact that some day she really struggles; But Kate has also never stopped voicing hope and encouragement to others. She is and has been a great advocate and is no longer that lone voice. We have come a long way in the last 35 years when it comes to ‘telling your story’ and I truly believe and yes of course I am bias as her husband, but I genuinely believe Kate was one of the early pioneers when it comes to telling your story about mental health. We now have new directives such a social prescribing where creative and storytelling activities are greatly encouraged and many people are sent to Kate and I’s theatre group to do just that.

I saw, the play Cracked Up and it certainly woke me up and opened my eyes about a subject I used to fear and shy away from and now, almost 30 years later I am still married to the woman who changed my entire mindset when it comes to talking about your mental health. I have many photographs of Kate delivering speeches to many thousands of people, knowing that at least one in four of her audience will have been touched by Kate’s words and the other will have taken it all in.

Over the last 35 years, I know Kate has changed the hearts, minds and attitudes of many people when it comes to mental health; from health care professional, decision makers and service users. I also know that she is very humble when it comes to praise and thanks. She is very kind with her time and very grateful for all she has in her life.

For me as her Husband, friend, soul mate and sometimes, as and when needed, carer; I would really like to see her recognised for the work she has been doing since the day she discharged herself from hospital over 35 years ago. She found her voice then and now, has given a voice to many thousands of people since then. Without her, many people would still be silent. Without her, many would still carry around with them some kind of stigma towards mental illness. Without her many people would have no voice to encourage others on the recovery road. Without her I feel we would not have come as far as we have when it comes to finding your voice.

Thank you so much for reading this.(A very proud and better informed husband)

Kate – Just to say what a wonderful job you did entertaining and enlightening us the other evening! I found your humour both provocative and stimulating. The bravery you showed talking so openly about your mental health, was fearless and very funny, and I think it was valuable for my colleagues to see that modelled, and to be reminded of the “humour” in us all. Many thanks.

Jay Williams, Culture Development Manager, Improvement and Performance Services

You truly are an inspiration at the end of a hard long day. It’s so easy to feel down, low, think how hard the day has been… this exercise you shared turns that on its head. I’m usually half full but struggled recently … then you arrive! Thankyou Kate. Kate Chilton NHS Practice Manager.
Bill and Kate are two of the most genuine, compassionate and caring people who I always feel I can turn to for support, and have done so, over the years.
I learn best by a mixture of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning aka doing. Therefore the use of Theatre and drama as a therapeutic tool is both extremely important in terms of both my journey of recovery AND by general development as a person on this planet. This is also the case for so many other others. Whatever learning style or level of wellness a person has, Stepping Stone Theatre has developed to cater for everyone. Rosie, a service user.
Kate’s writing group has been a breath of fresh air through the pandemic. It has enabled me to express myself and make new friends, all the while confronting my issues in a safe and supportive space. I have nothing but thanks and admiration for what Kate has achieved in these few months! Gryph.
For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. Every Friday, since last April, I have attended the Stepping Stone Scribblers writing workshop with a lovely bunch of people who have become friends. We have great fun, get all creative, and under the gentle but firm tutelage of the wonderful Kate the Great, I have rediscovered my muse. This year I have written a poem a day, and have posted them on Instagram. Also I won a prize for one of my poems in an online poetry competition. This would not have happened without the encouragement of Kate. Thank you Kate. Dave (a scribbler)

Stepping stone was a great opportunity for me and I hope that I can re-join in the future when things are a little more normalised whatever that means, I applied and auditioned for the course and was accepted onto it which I start in September, and if it wasn’t for you guys telling me that I can achieve what I want to achieve I don’t think I would’ve ever done it. The first day at stepping stone was so hard for me because I didn’t know anybody but everybody made me feel so welcome and coming to you and joining was the best decision I ever made in my life. Kate and Bill you are amazing at what you do for us. Ben (former member, but I’ll be back)

Stepping stone has helped me and my son. I first found out about stepping stone when my son joined the theatre group and invited me to go see a show. I was shocked at what I found out about my son and his mental health struggles. Some things he had never told me. But bill and Kate was a great help to my son after attending many shows I started to understand my son’s behaviour. Then the lovely Kate invited me to join the scribblers writing group and through this I have made some wonderful friends and have learnt to be open and honest about myself and to know I’m not alone with my struggles and fears. I would like to thank bill and Kate for their hard work and support they give to others. love from Dee (a scribbler)

“Kate’s work is insightful and very inspiring.” Jenny Shipley, former Prime Minister of New Zealand

Public nomination for an outstanding professional

Sue Bell

Sue Bell founded Kids Inspire in 2007, a not-for-profit organisation providing mental health and trauma recovery support for children, young people and their families. It is a unique organisation with over 100 paid or voluntary staff working across Essex, and beyond. Through a range of therapeutic and community activities the charity promotes resilience, self-awareness, and relationship building to empower more positive life choices with those that it works with.

Sue’s vision for the charity inspires all those who work for her. She is committed to helping as many young people and their families who have suffered trauma as possible. Over the last five years she has qualified as the only Somatic Trauma Therapist in Essex. Sue continues to progress on her professional journey and is planning to embark on her doctorate later on this year which she plans to base on the model of what is practised at Kids inspire.

Likewise, Sue encourages her team to share best practices and continue their training meaning that the charity has an extremely qualified and experienced team. Through her leadership Kids Inspire has become the service of choice for referrals from local schools, GP’s, and social care.

Sue is extremely well known in her community for her support of children’s mental health. She has the backing of her local MP, local authority and numerous community groups including the Rotary, Lions and Round Table.

It is unimaginable to think what might have happened to all the thousands of children, young people and their families that are supported by Kids Inspire every year. Sue continues to support the most complex cases herself and always has a large caseload as well as her duties as CEO. Her ability to diversify meant that she swiftly mobilised her qualified, accredited team to deliver therapeutic provision remotely via videocall and telephone; enabling the charity to continue supporting children, young people and families throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Their story

From a young age Sue had an interest in human behaviour: having been a studious, yet rebellious teen herself, she often related to the young people she worked with throughout her teaching career. Despite the authority that more senior educational positions brought with them, Sue still felt powerless to put a child at the ‘centre’ of a case regardless of her role.

In 2007 it became clear to Sue that there was nowhere for children who were victims of distress, abuse or neglect to turn to for support. As a result, children who she worked with were engaging in self-harm and risky behaviours, such as alcohol/drug abuse, abusive relationships, educational exclusion, and social isolation, instead of receiving positive intervention.

Distressing situations of intergenerational family child abuse and flippant remarks from those in a position of power about “children being sorted out once they were in the criminal justice system” were the final justification Sue needed to set about change.

Already a qualified counsellor – working with behaviour support – and training to be a child and adolescent psychotherapist, Sue opened Kids Inspire, and for two years worked unpaid to prove how these children could be helped. In collaboration with a consortium of local schools, in the first year alone the newly founded children’s charity received over 250 referrals. The work did not stop there, with Sue working tirelessly fundraising and securing grants all alongside seeing her clients.

Early in the foundation of Kids Inspire, Sue identified the importance of family inclusive treatment, an approach which meant families often received therapy alongside their child to support long-term sustainable outcomes for all. The aim for Kids Inspire has never changed – the charity’s goal is to meet the needs of the child at the centre of each case in order for the child to thrive once completing a bespoke treatment plan.

Most recently, during challenging, unprecedented times delivery of mental health services – that are needed now more than ever – Kids Inspire remained open, adapting and shifting services online to continue offering seamless support. More recently, as demand for services increased and as schools reopened, the approach for service delivery has adapted again to a hybrid model – offering online or face to face bespoke treatment, responding to each child’s presenting issues on a case by case basis.

Their impact

The aim of Kids Inspire is to support disadvantaged children, young people and their families to build resilience, heal from trauma and reclaim their lives. The team treat each referral individually to understand the root of the problem. The clinical thinking results in targeting the intensive support to the family members that need it the most, while keeping the whole family in the treatment plan through regular consultations.

Numbers below are from April 2019 to March 2020:
• Total number of Individuals supported therapeutically: 2797 (797 more than the year previous)
• Intensive support: 1162 individuals (462 more than the year previous)
• Family members benefited by the treatment plan: 1635 individuals (335 more than the year previous)

Analysis: Last year, Kids Inspire, led by Sue Bell increased its beneficiaries by 40%.

The role of Kids Inspire throughout the pandemic has been on the frontline – helping individuals to adapt and cope. Sadly, the heart-breaking truth is that cases of childhood trauma in the past year have more than doubled with children and young people being triggered by the impact of the pandemic.

Kids Inspire, led by Sue Bell, played a huge role in protecting children, young people and families, making sure they were safe and that they had access to the best support for their long-term wellbeing. In the year following 30 March 2020, the team at Kids Inspire offered therapy to 2,539 children/young people and parents/carers.

Childhood trauma is an important topic and Covid-19 has reminded us of what vital services organisations like Kids Inspire provide. Whether that support comes via; Therapy, Mentoring, Coaching, Community projects, the Christmas Appeal or Lunch Club, they all go a long way to empowering children, young people and their families, and to easing the impact of childhood trauma and anxiety.

Funding and national recognition
Led by Sue the Charity has been extremely successful in applying for contracts with the local authority, National Lottery and other large grant funders. The charity has recently been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service thanks to the committed volunteers that choose to support the charity.
Sue was delighted to be a finalist of The Most Enterprising Women Award at the 2019 Essex Business Awards. The charity also won the 2019 Not for Profit Organisation of the Year at the Brentwood Business Awards. Sue has also been a runner up in the Clarin’s Woman of the Year Award and received a Mental Health Hero Award from the previous government.

“Sue was the one there for me when I truly had no one else. All others around me were either falling apart, pushing me away or simply not listening. Sue gave me space and time in which I finally felt heard, supported and safe to express myself however I could without fear of judgement. She gave me permission to fall apart with her and was there to help me pick up the pieces of myself when I was ready. Sue did nothing less than save my life, and I will never forget that.” – Young service user

“Your wonderful project and the incredible work that you do has been the pivotal catalyst for her growing self-esteem and capacity to enjoy life once again.” – Parent/ carer

“Sue’s vision for the charity inspires all those who work for her. She is committed to help as many young people and their families who have suffered trauma as possible.” – Paula Ashfield, Head of Fundraising and Communications, Kids Inspire

“The value, expertise, support and the social impact you have on children and their families has been there to see for many but getting this level of recognition (QAVs award) tops it all off for you all in an unbelievable way. Well done to you all at Kids Inspire and well deserved. It has been great to be able to play a small part in fund raising to allow you all to do what you do.” – Lee Elliston, Corporate Supporter

“Amazing, the lifeline we needed to make sense of things. Wonderful, kind support can’t thank you enough for helping to guide us together as a family.” – Parent/ Carer supported during Covid-19

Please note: One final thought has been included as an attachment and is a poem that one of Sue’s close friends has recently written about her in response to her achievements.

Outstanding contribution to the mental health and wellbeing sector

Alison Donkin

Ali is the heart and soul behind the creation of a new Recovery College for North Tyneside. Ali works for VODA, a registered charity that passionately believes in the power of volunteers and community groups to change people’s lives for the better. For nearly 30 years VODA has been the ‘beating heart’ of the voluntary and community sector in North Tyneside, providing essential support to hundreds of volunteers and community groups each year.

Two years ago VODA was approached by North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and asked to support the creation of a new Recovery College for local adults. Since then, Ali have worked alongside adults with lived experience of mental ill-health to build a successful and thriving programme called NT Life –

In something of a departure for VODA the job specification included lived experience as a desirable asset. This was a key factor in Ali being the standout candidate for the role and it has been a great appointment.

Above and beyond

Ali has established the NT Life service on the belief that people with lived experience of mental ill-health have a unique contribution to make towards supporting others to manage their own conditions. The key to the service development has been Ali’s ‘listen-first’ approach. During her first few weeks and months she carried out a range of outreach and listening events directly engaging with potential users of the service to find out what they would want. The services offered have been directly shaped by engagement with those who have support needs. We are very proud of the way Ali created the project from scratch, she laid a really good foundation for success.
Ali’s approach to delivery adopts an asset-based Social Action approach to her work, focussing on people’s strengths, identity and potential, rather than their medical diagnosis. Ali is able to draw on people’s own lived experience to support others and recognise the valuable role people with lived experience can play in ensuring services are designed around people’s needs.
During Lockdown Ali created an innovative approach to reaching out to and supporting NT Life volunteers and participants. 250 Little Boxes of Hope, containing a variety of items to be used for self-care, were delivered to people’s homes in response to the impact Lockdown was having on the mental health and wellbeing of NT Life participants. Ali was keen to take action upon becoming aware that many people were experiencing loneliness, anxiety, fear and for those already dealing with life and mental health challenges, it made those hardships heavier to bear. The boxes were a reminder that we were in this together and we’ll get through it. By receiving an unexpected gift Ali hoped it would remind people that they matter and that they were valued and that someone was thinking of them.
Ali contributes generously, outside of her immediate role, to supporting her colleagues as well as external organisations. Ali has delivered several free workshops on team building and personal development for the benefit of voluntary and community groups and young volunteers in North Tyneside. She has also delivered mindfulness sessions for her VODA colleagues to help deal with the pressures of home working and living through a pandemic.


“I was referred to North Tyneside Recovery College end of Cctober 2019 by my GP and counsellor after having two breakdowns and suffering from depression and serious mental problems for many years. I am a completely different person in February 2021 compared to the person I was in October 2019 when i first presented to North Tyneside Recovery College and it is 100% down to the empowering and inspirational impact and postive influence that Ali has had me. Ali’s warmth, energy and altruism had an immediate impact on me and the most important thing was that Ali believed in me when many others over the years had given up on me as a lost cause which had a very positive and transformational effect on me and I cant thank Ali enough for all the amazing hard work Ali has done. Ali helped to boost the morale of vulnerable people and people with mental health problems with messages, phone calls, helping people with errands and home visits during the lockdown in 2020 which helped prevent a decline in peoples health and and mental and many people are alive now because of Ali’s hard work and intervention.” Philip

“Ali is one of the most genuine, congruent people I have met in a world where authenticity is so often lacking. Her lived experience brings with it a deep empathy for and understanding of the challenges which most of us at NT Life face. She is without a doubt the superglue which has stuck our NT Life ‘family’ together, through thick and thin. Ali is always very inclusive and crucially makes sure that everyone is listened to, heard and understood. She has a great knack of being able to help others see different, more positive perspectives and has a gift for being able to spot others hidden talents/skills and bring them to the fore. I am in awe of how much she has helped us all to develop as individuals and collectively as a recovery college too. I feel pride in witnessing so many changed people, eureka moments and new learning that she has helped to inspire with her enthusiastic, engaging and fun nature.

Personally, I’m grateful for the support which Ali has given to me, including the ‘Talk Tech & Tinker’ sessions which I have run and now the ‘Snap Out Of It!’ mindful photography group. She is there whenever I have a question and works tirelessly behind the scenes to keep things going, including dealing with offering a safe provision during COVID-19. In fact, my perception is that a lot of the support she provides slips under the radar and would never be visible or apparent on an appraisal form- this puts me in mind of a quote from Albert Einstein: ‘Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts’. I ask myself, how could you begin to quantify the happiness, development, hope and purpose that she routinely brings to us at NT Life?” Paul

“She cares deeply for the college and for all of us and always does her best to help people. I know she has inspired lots of the students to be able to facilitate themselves. Ali’s had a rough few months in her personal life but always manages to paint on a smile even though she’s hurting inside. I know just how exhausting that can be, but when you’re working with people with mental health conditions, you have to be upbeat. It is very hard to do and Ali has done amazingly well in that respect. Running the college is not just a job to Ali, she’s in it 100% and you can tell she loves it. 😊” Julie

Sustained impact

One of the unexpected outcomes of Ali’s work has been the ripple effect that her passion and innovative approach has had on colleagues and external organisations. The Little Boxes of Hope project gained significant awareness via word of mouth and publicity, and as a result Ali received a number of requests to replicate this work with a number of charitable and private sector organisations. She was also asked to get involved with the Young Mayor of North Tyneside’s project for teenagers returning to school after lockdown.

Ali’s commitment to partnership working and collaboration has helped to sustain and grow the level of mental health provision across the borough of North Tyneside. Working alongside other charities such as Newcastle United Foundation and Meadow Well Connected Ali has been able to develop new approaches to supporting local residents using hooks such as sports and creative writing.

Ali has managed to build real capacity within the NT Life service by supporting individuals to gradually progress from learners to teachers. She not only offers her own support and guidance but enables individuals to gain recognised qualifications and develop as trainers in areas such as Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP).

“She is always encouraging and positive in her support for students and facilitators alike. So many have become much more confident and I would go as far as to say that their lives have improved greatly since joining the college.” Julie

Recently, Ali’s person-led approach has provided a blueprint for the development of a Young Person’s Recovery College. Ali has spoken to local service providers about her positive experience of involving people in the initial and on-going design of the NT Life service. This co-production approach is still a bit of a mystery and challenge for many of us, as it involves bravely sharing power with others, but Ali’s enthusiasm and success story has proved inspirational.

The NT Life programme continues to grow at pace thanks to Ali’s innovative and inclusive approach to providing mental health and wellbeing support. In recognition of this progress, we have been able to attract additional funding and Ali is now mentoring a new co-worker.

We believe that, thanks to Ali’s incredible talent, passion and commitment, the NT Life project will continue to go from strength to strength.

Annalise Baker

Annalise is Oakleaf’s Client Services Manager, responsible for the day-to-day management of the charity’s client-facing staff (of which there are currently 7, plus an additional 8 part-time), and ensuring high-quality service provision for our hundreds of clients managing their mental ill-health. A huge task before the pandemic, since Covid-19 Annalise has worked tirelessly to not only ensure continued service provision from day one of lockdown in March 2020, but also has facilitated new, innovative ways of increasing the support available and managed a huge increase in need from clients.

Oakleaf has provided vocational training and wider support to adults with mental health needs in Surrey for 24 years. In addition to mental ill-health many clients also suffer from low confidence, poverty and extreme social isolation, often alienated from family and friends.

Oakleaf aims to help clients secure the skills, confidence and training needed to achieve their goals, with a focus on returning to the workplace. To do this, we deliver work-related training and employment support, wellbeing activities, 1:1 emotional support and counselling. In the financial year 2019/20 we supported 582 people across Surrey, and support 350-400 individuals in any one week. Oakleaf clients suffer from a wide variety of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bi-polar and depression, although we do not require a formal diagnosis to access support. Oakleaf also hosts the Guildford Safe Haven, an evening service available 365 days a year for those close to or experiencing a mental health crisis, in partnership with another local charity and SABP/NHS.

Above and beyond

Annalise has worked at Oakleaf since September 2015 and has been Client Services Manager for two years this May. Pre-pandemic this role carried immense pressure, responsible for the department supporting up to 400 clients at any one time in their management and recovery from mental ill-health. Since Covid-19 Annalise has been on the front line of successfully adapting Oakleaf’s services to be delivered remotely, managed the huge increase in need and poor mental wellbeing within our client base, created innovative ways of supporting clients, and has looked after the wellbeing of her 7-person front-line team—including recruitment and training of new staff.

As venues started cancelling activities and the first lockdown loomed, Annalise worked with her team to move our first wellbeing activity online—an hour of mindfulness via Zoom on the 24th March —and invited all current Oakleaf clients via email. The session was popular, and during that first week of lockdown we held at least one activity every day including a general support group and fitness classes, despite having never delivered support remotely. While we closed Oakleaf in-person, virtual support has been available every single day of the pandemic thanks to Annalise and her team.

As demand for our services rose, this virtual support element grew to five or six activities every day of the working week. To date we have held 42 distinct virtual wellbeing activities via Zoom, ranging from creative (art, choir, poetry, book club), to physical (fitness, Tai Chi, yoga), to therapeutic (mindfulness, anxiety management, positivity hour, NLP) and to support groups (women’s, men’s, LGBT+). We delivered 293 separate virtual wellbeing activity sessions in the first four months of Covid-19, and between April 2020 and March 2021 we had 5,988 attendances to these activities, which is 900 more than the previous 12 months. All our virtual wellbeing activities are free of charge for clients. Even as we re-open in person activities, we will continue to offer a virtual programme.

Perhaps most importantly, in the first week of lockdown Annalise took charge of contacting every single active Oakleaf client, of which there were 327 in March 2020. She created a spreadsheet where all clients were divided up between the team, to contact—call, text, email, and finally letter—in the first few weeks of lockdown. This is in addition to fielding the many calls and emails from worried, distressed and unwell clients. Annalise and her team worked incredibly long hours at the start of the pandemic to reassure and support clients on an individual basis. When many other services cancelled their activities and did not go online for some time, clients expressed a lack of hope and many presented in crisis.

To add difficulty, Annalise developed symptoms of Covid-19 a week before the first lockdown, so quarantined and worked from home for the first time during this difficult period. A new mobile phone and number were procured and communicated out to clients, and a rota was set up to ensure the main phone line was covered.

What began as an emergency response, calling clients to determine how to best support them remotely, developed into a new standalone service of ‘Check in and Chat’ calls which Annalise and her team have continued throughout the pandemic regardless of the level of restrictions. Between April 2020 and March 2021, 2,357 total check in calls were made to individual clients. In addition to providing emotional support and reducing loneliness and isolation—often the call was the only the client received all week—these calls helped clients navigate new pandemic-related systems such as learning how to use Zoom and accessing benefits while most services were shut. Both at the start of the pandemic and now, any client in need of immediate support can receive a call or meeting to reassure, ensure safety, provide support and plan next steps. Despite increased workload this ‘drop everything and help’ approach ensures clients feel safe, valued and supported and represents Annalise’s ethos.

As 2020 progressed, Annalise ensured Oakleaf was flexible in its service delivery, creating schedules only two weeks in advance and moving activities in-person where possible (re-opening Oakleaf for the first time on 17th August). As we moved into winter and the January lockdown, the mental health of Oakleaf clients declined overall. The third lockdown, dark and cold days, prolonged isolation and no end in sight produced the highest levels of low mood, suicidal ideation and anxiety ever seen by Annalise and her team. Check in calls became longer, crisis became more frequent and members of the Client Services team required additional support themselves, which Annalise provided.

In addition, throughout the pandemic Annalise managed the Guildford Safe Haven service in conjunction with our two other community partners, local charity Catalyst and Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. This included coordinating a new system of operating, which Annalise suggested—restricting access to crisis only and a limit of 6 people to ensure social distancing. Annalise manages 8 additional part-time Safe Haven Support Workers, and in the past year this has included training staff on the Virtual Safe Haven, a secondary option to attending in-person. The Guildford Safe Haven has not closed any night since the pandemic begun.

The recruitment Annalise was responsible for over the past year also is important to mention. In the summer Oakleaf secured funding for a new role, Virtual Wellbeing Coordinator to support the new virtual activities, and in spring 2021 we secured three years of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to provide a new programme of personalised employment support for clients entitled ‘Pathways to Work, which included recruitment of two new Employment Advisors. This is in addition to recruiting for an admin maternity cover and three bank Safe Haven Support Workers to ensure cover for illness and quarantining.

Now, 14 months on, Annalise overseas a larger service provision than ever before including both in-person and virtual support. We feel she deserves recognition for her incredible dedication, hard work, courage and compassion to Oakleaf and its clients during such a difficult time period.


From our bi-annual client survey in January 2021, we were thrilled to hear that 95% of clients agreed Oakleaf helped them feel less isolated during the pandemic, and 92% agreed Oakleaf helped them improve their mental wellbeing.

Quotes from our Summer 2020 and Winter 2021 client surveys, representing the support Annalise oversees:

“I’ve received excellent support from Annalise, especially when I have struggled, she is invaluable.”

“Oakleaf helped me cope with when I couldn’t see any light.”

“Oakleaf has made me feel less abandoned and isolated during this time. The weekly calls have hugely helped get me through. Counselling was incredibly helpful with mental health and personal relationships.”
“I had only just started with Oakleaf when the lockdown commenced, so as you can imagine it left me stranded and very isolated. I am doing a range of different courses through Oakleaf and I am thankful for all their time, kindness, help and support. Every class and member of staff has shown so much commitment to help and understand every one of us, including myself. These classes have also given me a reason to get out of bed and provided me with a real drive and daily structure.” – John, current Oakleaf client
“When I had a wobble after improving month on month Oakleaf jumped in & put a weekly plan in place talking on a 121 basis until my anxiety & worry was back under control.”
Quote from Heather, Oakleaf Virtual Wellbeing Coordinator:
“I started working with Oakleaf in July 2020 – right in the midst of the pandemic. It has been great to be part of such an enthusiastic and hard working team. Annalise is the fantastic leader of our team, who leads with kindness, compassion and empathy. She always makes sure that there is time to discuss any concerns that you have, this goes for anyone in the team and of course our clients. She keeps the Client Services team moving forward throughout lockdown, for example creating my role as Virtual Wellbeing Coordinator, and then keeping up to date with restrictions easing to make sure clients can get back to in person activities as soon as possible.”

Quote from Kelvin, member of the Oakleaf Client Services team:
“Annalise continues to be an amazing and supportive manager to the client services team. Her passion, care and love for Oakleaf’s clients is second to none.”

Quote from Russell Lewis, Oakleaf client:
“The team were all really understanding and supportive when I was going through a very difficult time. Even since I left, the team have continued to contact me throughout these lockdowns to check that I am okay; their kindness and dedication to helping people has really changed my life. I continue to use the skills I learned at Oakleaf to manage my mental health on a daily basis and as a result of my experience at Oakleaf, I decided to apply to college. I am now in my second year and training to be a therapeutic counsellor so that I can help people the same way that Oakleaf helped me. I cannot thank Oakleaf enough for the services that they provided for me and continue to provide for people who desperately need connection and support.”

Sustained impact

The most significant measure of our success is the impact we have on the lives of our clients. Between April 2019 and March 2020, when Annalise was Client Services Manager, we welcomed 582 clients to our services and support activities, and 68 clients moved on from us into meaningful employment (including full or part-time roles, paid or voluntary). When Oakleaf first became a charity in 1997, we supported just 40 clients.

We are delighted when clients return to work with improved wellbeing, as this is our ultimate goal. Clients join us in difficult personal circumstances, but many can move back to the workplace or towards more constructive lives. Between April 2019 and March 2020, 96% of our clients either maintained or improved the management of their mental health, as reported through our Recovery Star evaluation system.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our clients, reflecting what has been seen nationally. In June 2020, Mind reported on a survey of 16,000 people during the first lockdown, revealing that 65% of adults over 25 & 75% of young people aged 13-24 with existing mental health problems reported worse mental health. Mind and others predict a prolonged worsening of wellbeing and increased numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.

Nonetheless, by staying in touch with and providing support for our clients through the lockdowns and various restrictions over the past 14 months, Annalise, her team and Oakleaf’s training departments have had a hugely positive impact. They used the following mediums to communicate and provide support: virtual (phone, email, text, letter, Zoom, MS Teams); creative in-person solutions (activities such as karate and mindfulness outdoors in the empty car park; large Perspex screens in counselling rooms to facilitate safe sessions; free counselling room hire for a private space for clients to hold their virtual sessions; loaning laptops to clients who needed them).

As mentioned above, 95% of clients in our January 2021 survey agreed Oakleaf helped them feel less isolated during the pandemic, and 92% agreed Oakleaf helped improve their mental wellbeing. Additionally, 87% agreed Oakleaf activities had helped them feel more confident. For those who took part in Zoom wellbeing activities, 96% found them helpful and 85% found them very helpful. For those who received ‘Check in and Chat’ phone calls, 100% found them helpful and 68% found them very helpful. We will continue to provide these virtual services post-pandemic, in addition to face-to-face support.

2020 UK Award Winners

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Most innovative mental health intervention

Most innovative proactive wellbeing intervention

Long-term impact

Outstanding contribution to the mental health and wellbeing sector

Inspirational mental health story (under 18s)

Inspirational mental health story (over 18s)

Lifestyle award

Most Innovative Mental Health Intervention

Penumbra Milestone

Penumbra Milestone is an alcohol-free 10 bedded step-down service providing short-term care for vulnerable men and women aged 18+ with a probable diagnosis of alcohol related brain damage (ARBD). Milestone is a partnership of Penumbra, NHS Lothian and City of Edinburgh Council (Health & Social Care). Penumbra staff consist of Nurses and Support Workers in addition to part-time NHS in-reach staff including Psychiatrists, Psychologists, an Occupational Therapist and Physiotherapist, Physician and a full-time Social Worker from City of Edinburgh Council who all work as an integrated team, collaborating to facilitate residents’ recovery.

This joined-up approach is a strong example of health and social care resources being used efficiently and improves the care provided to people by drawing on the valuable range of skills in the Third Sector, NHS and Council Services. Our residents are people who no longer require medical intervention but due to their cognitive impairment sustained though alcohol abuse, are not ready to go home. Prior to the opening of this service in August 2014, Lothians residents with ARBD were often stuck in an acute hospital setting unable to go home without support. Milestone provides a rehabilitative service for up to 12 weeks. Extended stays are sometimes necessary depending on the progress of each individual. Capacity is assessed throughout their stay and emphasis is put on individual re-enablement to improved and sustained functioning in the community.

In order to further improve resident’s outcomes in the longer-term, the model has adapted to provide post-discharge support to aid in the transition back to the community. As the pilot developed it was evident that resident’s vulnerability was heightened in these first few weeks once back in the community. Penumbra and Rowan Alba offer additional support at home after discharge and this new element of the programme allows people time to increase their confidence and embed their new lifestyle.

This innovative, integrated residential service for people with ARBD provides person-centred, cost-effective treatment which delivers significant savings to the NHS and substantial benefits for the residents.

Going above and beyond the expectations

There is a general consensus that most of the time a person with ARBD spends in hospital is of limited benefit to the person and is not conducive to supporting their ability to recover from this type of brain damage. A more detailed analysis in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh prior to the unit opening confirmed an average length of stay (LOS) of 83 days. However, the average medical acute phase of inpatient stay for the same group was just 11 days, therefore this resulted in every ARBD person potentially occupying an acute bed for an additional 72 beyond the ‘medical acute stage’ of the persons journey.

The Penumbra Milestone ARBD service provides a package of person-centered interventions in a residential environment that supports people with ARBD to improve their cognition whilst working with community based statutory and third sector organisations as well as families or carers to create an appropriate package of care for further recovery in the community.

The principle objective of the ARBD step-down service is to reduce the time that people with ARBD spend in Lothian’s acute hospitals. It also aims to improve outcomes for people with ARBD, their families and their communities. The team responsible for the ARBD unit have developed a unique and innovative new service that is releasing significant unscheduled care bed days in acute hospitals and is improving outcomes for patients, families and communities. Residents benefit from a holistic and intensive re-enablement service in order that they are able to return home, better able to manage their health, their addiction and their ARBD.

The service was developed in response to the requirement to find a better way for NHS Lothian and its partners to work together to better meet the needs of people with ARBD admitted to acute hospitals. These people were mainly revolving door patients, high users of A&E and acute bed days. The acute site experiences 2 savings. Firstly, one from a shorter length of stay in an acute bed prior to admission to the service and secondly, after discharge from the service, these people have less visits to A&E and much reduced hospital acute bed admissions with far fewer bed days. At least 50% of the discharged residents no longer use acute services for anything other than routine appointments.

The team provide specialist & intensive 1:1 and group re-enablement support for up to 12 weeks. It is a great example of health and social care integrated working to improve patient outcomes. Residents engage in a range of activities and therapy to improve their physical and mental health as well as promote/re-learn social and life skills. They are also supported to engage in community-based support services in the community that they will be discharged to, in order that they can continue to engage in them after discharge. This includes AA, SMART Groups, recovery cafes and so on. Residents are also supported to access other community services that will continue to support their recovery. This includes local sport and leisure facilities.


It is known that people experiencing ARBD have a range of complex physical, mental and social needs. They often don’t access any service interventions at all, living in severely poor social circumstances unable to plan and act to improve their health and well-being.

Conversely, other people affected by the condition can often place great strains on health and social care services who are ill-equipped to effectively meet their complex needs. 

A tragic example of this is found in the Scottish Mental Welfare Commission’s “Mr H” Report regarding a gentleman with ARBD. It was found that there was little knowledge of the condition among staff, communication was poor, there were missed opportunities to effect positive change and the lack of timely intervention was in part due to staff’s prejudicial opinions that the gentleman was making a “lifestyle choice”. It was also recommended that staff and services should consider using legal instruments (eg Adult Support and Protection Act and Adults with Incapacity Scotland (2000) Act more quickly to safeguard such individuals.

The Service was designed to be a major part of a new way to address the needs of such individuals. At time of writing it is the first and only step-down residential service in the UK for people effected by ARBD. It has been evidenced to make tremendous positive changes in the lives of people referred to the Service.

As well as improving individual’s lives, the Service has been successful in creating an innovative approach to relieve the pressures such individuals were placing on acute medical services due to delayed discharges.

The Service is innovative in its purpose and design. It has been successful in creating a Recovery focussed environment which is evidenced as achieving its goal of providing highly specialist assessment and treatment of ARBD and simultaneously reducing delayed discharges.

In answering how the Service does this in a safe manner, it must be remembered that our residents’ complexities are wide-ranging and there are numerous inherent high risks that require specialist management. Such risks include managing co-concurrent physical and mental illness e.g. Diabetes, Peripheral Neuropathy, Alcohol Liver Disease, Anxiety, Depression, Suicidality, PTSD, COPD, Asthma, Heart Disease etc.

A major factor in how these risks are effectively managed is connected to the range of expertise found within the Service. The staff team consists of highly specialist individuals from health and social care. There is a full medical review prior to discharge from hospital, a wide multi-disciplinary team to address the full range of possible requirements, knowledge and ability to access services to assist. The service has information sharing protocols in place to allow the sharing of information according to GDPR.  The culture and values of the service being non-hierarchal allows the partners to keep the resident at the centre and all support each other ensuring best practice.  The service is regulated by the Care Inspectorate and all elements of the service (Care and Support; environment; staffing and leadership) have received a score of 5 (Very good) and all staff are registered with appropriate regulatory bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council and Scottish Social Services Council.

Sustained impact

The evidence year on year since 2014 has shown Penumbra Milestone to be highly successful.

While the effects on the individual are significant and chronic, there is also a financial cost on health and social services to provide care for people with ARBD. It is, of course, difficult to put precise figures on the financial cost, though NHS Lothian Health Intelligence Unit estimated that the cost of accommodating people with ARBD in hospital beds is approximately £2million per annum for a population of c800,000. This cost is in part inflated by the difficulty in locating suitable housing and care packages to allow people to return to their homes and communities, causing blockages in bed flow. In addition, frequent attendance at A&E is common in those with chronic alcohol problems due to poor general health as well as injury due to falls.

Prior to admission to the ARBD unit, each resident spent an average of 54 days as an inpatient in acute wards, despite being medically fit for discharge on average on day 11. Each patient had an average of 4.39 admissions to inpatient wards and 5.13 presentations to A&E per year. In the first year of opening, those transferred to the ARBD unit from acute hospital wards spent an average of 27 days as an inpatient, a decrease of 27 days, which thereby released those beds for other patients. Each resident stays an average of 100 days at the ARBD unit (note that this average is significantly raised due to a very small number of residents for whom the guardianship process meant they could not be moved to more suitable accommodation). Based on the first 46 patients who are now over 12 months post-discharge, the average number of days spent in acute wards decreased from 54 to 16 days, with 63% having no return to an acute ward at all. In addition, 44% did not return to A&E in the 12 months post-discharge from Milestone, and a further 31% had fewer than 3 visits to A&E. Taking into account the reduction in inpatient stay prior to admission to the ARBD unit, the reduction in total inpatient days spent in acute wards post discharge from the ARBD unit, and the reduction in average visits to A&E departments post discharge, the estimated saving to NHS Lothian is approximately £1M per year, based on an average of 48 people per year using the ARBD unit. This figure considers the cost of funding the ARBD unit.

The initial drivers may have been financial but the impact on personal recovery for this population is quite remarkable. The concept of personal recovery relates to one’s ability to live a full and satisfying life as personally defined, whether mental health problems persist or not (Anthony, 1993). I.ROC was designed by Penumbra to measure the recovery journey of people using their services. The 12-item questionnaire is used to stimulate a conversation about how things have been over the last period, and to identify priorities for the future. Each item is scored on a 1-6 frequency scale, with a total score range of 12 – 72. Descriptive statistics for each I.ROC item and total scores are shown in table below.

  FirstFinalDifference% Change
I.ROC Indicator Average ScoreMental Health3.314.331.0230.8%
Life Skills4.024.960.9423.3%
Safety & Comfort4.175.331.1728.0%
Physical Health2.944.381.4448.9%
Exercise & Activity2.634.541.9273.0%
Purpose & Direction2.7341.2746.6%
Personal Network4.385.080.7116.2%
Social Network24.292.29114.6%
Valuing Myself3.084.481.4045.3%
Participation & Control3.794.420.6316.5%
Self Management3.134.441.3142.0%
Hope For The Future3.14.311.2138.9%
Pre- and Post scores and percentage change from I.ROC assessment (n=68)

As can be seen, all aspects of personal recovery measured by I.ROC improve significantly, with particular improvements on Social Network, Exercise and Activity, Physical Health, Purpose and Direction, Valuing Myself and Self-Management. This corresponds well to the ethos of the unit and the recovery and rehabilitation programme employed there.

The service has enabled research to be carried out in respect of cognitive functioning in people with ARBD. A team lead by the NHS clinical psychologist have submitted this research for publishing.  In order to track cognitive change, all residents at the service are tested using one of the three versions of the ACE III every 4 weeks. Varying the ACE III version minimises practice effects. All staff are trained in the use of the ACE III, and regular audits are conducted to ensure inter-rater reliability and consistency remains high. The mean change in ACE III score total as well as by domain between the first and the final test for the 84 residents who stayed at the unit for over 28 days (average 76 days) are presented below:

ACE IIIAttention (/18)Memory (/26)Fluency (/14)Language (/26)Visuo-spatial   (/16)Total (100)
% Change+ 13+ 13+31+5.3+8.5+11
Change in ACE III scores by domain for residents staying a minimum of 4 weeks (n=84)

All domain scores as well as the total score have increased. The biggest change is in the Fluency domain, though a dependent means t-test reveals significant changes in all domain scores and in the Total score. While a calculation of Reliable Change suggests that for the Total score a change of 11.25 is significant, these results clearly indicate an improvement in cognitive functioning over a relatively short period of time.

FAB scores also significantly improve for patients (t(43)= -2.91 p<.01, effect size d= .499). FAB scores increased by an average of 10.8% (1.5 points).

Most innovative wellbeing intervention


HUG A MUG has been designed and set up in response to community need and address gaps in local healthcare provision. It aims to help people who are often left behind by the system and those that sometimes ‘fall through the gaps.’

Ewanrigg is in the top 5% of the UK’s most deprived communities and in Feb 2018 was defined by Allerdale Borough Council as the most deprived ward in Allerdale. Ewanrigg and surrounding areas have long been considered deprived and yet despite many well-meaning attempts, investment and anti-poverty plans have made little difference. The Ewanrigg Local Trust take a different approach to traditional regeneration and social development plans. The Ewanrigg Local Trust is a resident led organisation. Local residents decide how they want to improve their community and are helped to put these plans into place. HUG A MUG came out of a four year research process of finding out what local residents want to improve in their community and working with residents and health providers to identify what the priority health and wellbeing challenges and opportunities are for local residents. Through this process it emerged that there was a demand and need for a service like HUG A MUG. We have since spent several years developing the project with local residents and a wide range of partners.

HUG A MUG is a free and friendly guidance café, located upstairs in Maryport Health Services. Open to everyone, whatever their age, situation, background or postcode, the service is available from 9.30am – 11.30am every weekday morning. HUG A MUG provides a safe and social space where you can get advice on all sorts of things like health and well-being, housing, work, finance or family problems. HUG A MUG is managed by Ann-Marie Steel and operated by the Ewanrigg Local Trust in partnership with Maryport Health Services. It opened in October 2017 on World Mental Health Day. It is staffed by trained volunteers recruited from the community, from local businesses and from educational settings. Free hot drinks are available to drink in or take away and the volunteers are trained to listen to client needs and respond appropriately. HUG A MUG has collated a wealth of resources and information and is working in partnership with a network of service providers and organisations so that volunteers can signpost clients down the right pathway. HUG A MUG provides free phone and internet access and volunteers can assist clients with filling in forms and making calls on their behalf etc. We are not aware of any comparable service run from a GP surgery. We are not aware of anything like HUG A MUG in the UK. We know that some community venues have infrequent advice and guidance clinics. We also know that some larger urban health centres have cafés but we are not aware of any UK signposting and guidance café’s established within a small community health centre and open every day. As there is no precedent for a service like HUG A MUG it has enabled us to take a wholly creative and bespoke approach to designing and now adapting this service in response to the needs of the local community.

Many residents need housing, health, employment & finance advice. Despite an, albeit limited range of support groups/services available people often don’t have the means to access the help that is available. Barriers can be practical – no phone credit or internet access; or knowledge – people don’t know what help is available, or they may be nervous about seeking help. Many see a GP to get the above help because it is a free and trusted service, but they don’t have medical needs that require the attention of a GP. HUG A MUG offers people a safe space for a friendly chat and someone to help people work out how to access the support they need for themselves.

• Visit our website to see a general overview of the project. Also, watch our short and accessible explainer animation that appears in the doctor’s waiting room and has been used on social media and within school assemblies etc.

• View a short promo video created for social media
or search You Tube for Hug a Mug – Visit us at Maryport Health Services

• Read ‘A Day in the life of our HUG A MUG Project Manager, Ann-Marie Steel’

• Read a local GP’s view of HUG A MUG and how it is fulfilling a vital role within community health – see

Going above and beyond

When we set up HUG A MUG we did not anticipate the amount of people in the area that were in need of the service, or the complexity of the problems that some of our residents face. Although the service is supposed to operate from 9.30 – 11.30am every weekday morning, the need for the service has been so great, that our staff and volunteers often have to stay longer. Also, because of the nature of the service and the amount of people who have accessed the service at a crisis time, the sessions can’t easily be squeezed into a managed timeslot. A person in crisis can’t be hurried, can’t be shooed out of the door at ‘closing time’ and help can’t often be accessed at the drop of a hat. Our staff and volunteers (particularly Ann-Marie, our HUG A MUG Co-ordinator) regularly stay with clients after HUG A MUG has closed, waiting for a family member or the Crisis Team to arrive to help keep this person safe. They have reorganised work shifts, holidays, family commitments and personal time to accommodate clients and make sure their needs are met, handling issues as sensitively, confidentially and as efficiently as possible.
HUG A MUG distributes Foodbank vouchers to those that need them. In recent months there has been a noticeable ‘spike’ in demand for Foodbank vouchers. It is not uncommon for HAM volunteers to dash around to the local community centre to ask if they have spare food that we can give to a client who hasn’t eaten for a few days until they can get to the Foodbank.
The service has also exceeded all expectations of how it is valued by clients and service users. Residents that regularly seek out support have found that it can be a lifeline, enabling them to access support in between ‘difficult to access’ appointments with care system professionals; a vital link to help when they need it most. Some of our service users have made and sold craft items to help raise funds for HUG A MUG – recent examples include a lady who made Xmas decorations, raising over £400 which she donated to HUG A MUG.


There are lots of agencies and services operating in the area, but people do not necessarily have the confidence, the facilities or the knowledge to be able to access the right help. Many local services and groups struggle to communicate their offer and struggle to increase the number of people who use their services. Many local people find it hard to find out about what is available to them and there are many barriers to taking those next steps. HUG A MUG aims to bring all this knowledge together in a safe and social space, creating the right atmosphere with the right people who are equipped with the right skills so that they can empower residents to seek out the right support. HUG A MUG aims to create that warm, safe feeling that people get from wrapping their hands around a hot drink and knowing that someone will listen. HUG A MUG empowers people by helping them to identify what help they need and helping them to take those next steps – the service doesn’t aim to do it ‘for them’ or ‘to them.’

Whilst we monitor and evaluate HUG A MUG outcomes and have included some statistics in this application (see the appended infographic) it is difficult to measure the human benefits of HUG A MUG. It is a common occurrence for us to support people in crisis, people who are at risk of harm to themselves and others, people who are ‘at the end of their tether’ as well as those who are lonely, depressed or who don’t know where to turn. HUG A MUG is becoming a place that people come to because they know that someone will be able to help them find a way forwards, and that whilst they are in HUG A MUG they are not alone.

“HUG A MUG is a very welcoming place. The volunteers are helpful and supportive. You don’t always have to share your worries, although there is always someone there to listen.” Quote from a HUG A MUG service user

We work closely with other organisations who are experts in their field so we can ensure that the services we signpost to are safe, reliable, reputable and regulated.

The collaborative aspect of the project is one of the ways that it is so special. The wave of support that it has enjoyed from all areas of the community, throughout the development phase, the launch phase and the first 2 years of business has been phenomenal.
The HUG A MUG project depends on ‘collaboration’ and has managed to harness the power of various sectors of society including community, voluntary, private and public. It is able to meet the needs of the local population by tapping into a network of resources and expertise. By working together with various agencies and businesses HUG A MUG aims to empower individuals and give them the confidence to seek support and make a change. HUG A MUG continues to grow and develop as new volunteers, partners and clients come on board. You only need take a few steps into HUG A MUG to get a strong sense of community ownership. Regular attenders often offer to make new clients a cup of tea and toast, they see it as a shared space. Regular attenders have become volunteers and volunteers come to HUG A MUG as clients.
The pace at which client numbers has risen shows that it is a much needed service (see below). The collaborative approach to designing and implementing HUG A MUG has been key to its success i.e. we were able to co-design the right service with the involvement of local residents, health providers, local business and community groups.
The service has had enthusiastic and invaluable support from all areas of the local community and key figures, organisations and stakeholders have all been consulted and been able to contribute to its development. Members of the local community have also been central to these consultations – a fact that has been demonstrated by the high number of community volunteers as well as the number of referrals from family members and friends who have read about the service in the local media or heard about the service through word of mouth. Organisations, services and individuals (such as GPs, counsellors, teachers, clergy and family members) are already directing individuals to HUG A MUG so that they can get the support they need.

Maryport Health Services have been incredibly supportive and have donated a room in their building to accommodate HUG A MUG. The Health Services building is used to full capacity and we are therefore very grateful that they value HUG A MUG to the extent that they have freed up a whole room for this purpose. The room has been gutted, renovated and fully equipped thanks to support from businesses such as Sellafield, Atkins, Doosans, Shepleys, Wates Construction, Sealy UK, Eddie Shimmings, LCD Print & Stitch, Kaefers, Ansaldo Nuclear, Morgan Sindall, AMEC, PPM, Cumberland Building Society, Stitch and Print and Sewn by Janie. Support has been shown in many ways including financial, as well as the donation of time, labour, facilities, tools and expertise. Some businesses have allowed some of their staff to volunteer on a regular basis as part of their CSR programmes. The Project Manager will continue to work in partnership with private sector organisations to secure financial assistance so that HUG A MUG does not have to rely on grant aid. HAM is an innovative partnership between Maryport Health Services and the Ewanrigg Local Trust. Maryport Health Services was rated Outstanding, again, by the CQC and HUG A MUG was mentioned positively in the CQC feedback.

All staff and volunteers are fully trained.
HUG A MUG is staffed by volunteers from many different sectors and of all ages. All the volunteers receive training in communications and mental health first aid. These skills can be used in everyday life, in a family setting or taken back to their workplace. The project provides CPD opportunities and the chance to learn new skills. It provides people with an opportunity to help themselves, help each other and contribute to their community in a useful and productive way. Volunteering hours can be logged towards qualifications and awards and it’s a great way to gain experience in admin, community support and communications. Traditionally most people find it hard to recruit volunteers but HUG A MUG has proved an exception with a steady flow of new volunteers offering their services. Volunteers say that they are well supported by Ann-Marie, they value the training they get, they have a clear role and purpose within HUG A MUG and they can see the value of their role and the service. Unusually we also get high demand from young people wanting to volunteer. Many of these young people want to pursue careers in health and social care – HUG A MUG provides invaluable experience for these young people.

“I have been able to develop great communication skills since receiving my initial HUG A MUG training. Being able to volunteer in the project has given me the chance to use the training effectively and gain confidence when listening non-judgementally.” Quote from Hug a Mug volunteer

It is run by skilled people who care.
Ann-Marie Steel has managed the project from conception. She has been instrumental in all areas of development – from initial consultation with community sectors, to designing and delivering training for the volunteers; from securing financial support from businesses to managing the renovation of the room; from organising volunteer rotas to co-ordinating the marketing and design of the promotional materials. She has enthusiastically thrown herself into every challenge, carefully managing the project and bringing in external expertise where needed in order to deliver a professional and invaluable service – open to everyone who needs it. Ann-Marie has a background in general and paediatric nursing and has over 20 years’ experience in several voluntary sector charities throughout Cumbria. Her compassionate, common sense approach has guaranteed HUG A MUG’s success to date – and she will continue to drive it forward in the coming months. Ann-Marie thrives on helping other people to fulfil their potential and is a huge asset to the project. She supervises her team of volunteers at HUG A MUG and is constantly seeking out ways to protect, improve, enhance, develop and deliver this innovative and necessary service to local residents.

“It has been amazing to see the volunteers develop the confidence to signpost the clients to the most appropriate support. They have developed lifelong skills through their volunteering in HUG A MUG. The clients have built up trust in the project and for some it is the reason they get out of bed in the morning. Having someone to listen to them and make them a hot drink, means so much. We have new attendees each week and they leave armed with the confidence and information they need to help make their situation better.” Ann-Marie Steel, Hug a Mug Co-ordinator

Sustained impact

The success of HUG A MUG has been contributed to many of the factors above. The collaborative model, working in partnership with experts, means that it has been sustainable, and the service has enjoyed month on month growth throughout the first 2 years.

HUG A MUG has been part funded by Ewanrigg Local Trust and does not rely on state funding or grants. It has received £16,000 from businesses and regularly received donations from individuals within the community who want to see the initiative continue and thrive.

It has 19 volunteers from local businesses and the community. Local business volunteers have delivered 880 hours of time, 648 hours have been delivered by community volunteers and 452 hours have been delivered by young people aged 17-25.

The Ewanrigg Local Trust have funded Ann-Marie’s post and secured marketing & comms expertise to help shape, develop and promote the service.
The HUG A MUG project has a regular presence in Maryport Matters, a free quarterly community magazine that is delivered to over 7,000 homes in the area.

Long-term impact

Core Arts

Core Arts is a not-for-profit Social Business. We promote positive mental health and wellbeing through creative learning.
Providing quality education, training, employment and social enterprise initiatives that enable people who experience mental health issues to overcome barriers, fulfill their potential and participate fully in their community.
Our mission is to support and promote recovery, social inclusion and mental wellbeing through the arts and enhance service user experience.
Core Arts is an Award Winning Charity with 27 year history of user involvement and user-guided project based in Hackney; 75% of our Trustees are service users or ex-service users.

*History of running a successful timetable of 80+ classes a week under 5 departments: music, arts, multimedia, sports, horticulture
*70+ open and free creative community events a year
*Proven ability to create safe and inclusive learning environments
*Referrals from 20 London Boroughs
*Service user tracking, individualised creative planning, achievable goals, encourage a feeling of success and wellbeing. Tailored to the individual and adjusted to their progression.
*History of effective partnership working with both the creative sector and MHT, ELFT, CCG’s, Voluntary sector and Private sector
*History of partnerships projects in creativity and sports in Hackney with partners like the Wellcome Trust, British Museum, Whitechapel Gallery, Science Museum, V&A etc
*Evidence of accessing match funding and partnership working.
*Owners of a large Centre with a 300 capacity fully licensed hall for events and sporting activities.
*OFSTED inspected as part of our Hackney Learning Trust contracts and praised by OFSTED for exceptional user involvement
*Visited in May 2018 by HRH Prince William the Duke of Cambridge on a private visit to see our methods of engagement of excluded communities.

Going above and beyond

Core Arts focus is to educate, equip and empower our 2000 per year NHS referred adults who suffer mild to severe and enduring mental health issues from 20 London Boroughs.

We focus on the individuals creative journey through individual goal setting through self directed Creative Work Plans that are controlled by the student, using a college style education model to support the individuals to become self sufficient and resilient through an engaging and energetic timetable of creative, sporting and social activities. We encourage progression and well-being both mentally and physically, and we connect the isolated and marginalised individuals to develop friendship groups and strong social and community focussed connections. Highlighting the individuals’ strengths and ambitions of all our students are and what they can contribute to society instead of their perceived difficulties. We collate robust evidence of our outcomes in tackling inactivity and mental health issues through creativity to improve social cohesion in the vulnerable and at risk adults in the community.

Core Arts strives for excellence in all the creative opportunities delivered to our referred clients.
We develop high profile partnerships to allow our students the best opportunities to showcase their works. For example printmaking and ceramic shows at the British Museum. Audio guide to Bedlam: the Asylum and Beyond at the Wellcome Collection, curating part of the Medicine Galleries at the Science Museum, Art installations at the V&A and many more.

Core Arts publications showcase our innovative work in our different departments-

Here are some highlighted reports:

Creative Education Program evidence
Recent studies on our intervention through an educational program have shown a 96% decrease in hospital readmission for SMI- full report below and article from NCVO on the findings

Sports Department evidence

Core Landscape meanwhile community gardens evidence

Core Arts events program evidence
Our 70 Plus social and educational events per year, use of our 300 capacity Community fully licensed hall, focus on social interaction to build positive relations between different groups and communities that will maintain the high levels of community cohesion in Hackney and London. By enabling our clients, all whom suffer severe mental health issues, to design, co-ordinate and deliver a user-led program-
*Inclusion and wellbeing of carers, friends and families of adults suffering mental ill-health by attending the Chat Shows together. Building supportive social networks between careres.
*Building positive relations between different groups that will maintain the high levels of community cohesion in Hackney by participating in creative activities together irrespective of age, disabilities and mental health needs.
*Increased social skills and making friends. Increasing sense of belonging to society and a creative productive group. Wellbeing improved for adults suffering loneliness, exclusion participating in a social music event to end isolation, make friends and improving their physical health and mental well being.
Below is evidence of our events and peer reference groups videos-

Below is evidence of our reach in social media

Below is evidence of featuring Core Arts in the Press and media


Core Arts was established in 1992 and is an award winning Service User Guided Mental Health Charity based in Hackney.
Core Arts exists to enrich the lives of socially excluded people with severe mental health issues
Our inclusive Art Centre delivers creative education and progression pathways to 2000 adults per year suffering severe and enduring mental health problems. Our NHS referrals are from 20 London Boroughs. 70% are from BAME communities from London’s inner city boroughs, of which 50% are young afro-Caribbean men means we are reaching those who face the toughest barriers to inclusion.
Our mission is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing through creative learning. Providing quality education, training, sporting and horticultural activities in our centre. Plus member progression opportunities, employment initiatives through our social enterprises Core Design and Core Landscape, enabling people who experience mental health-issues to overcome barriers, fulfill their potential to achieve their personal goals and aspirations and make a full contribution to society.

Through specialist training and advice given directly to a marginalised group of people that public bodies find hard to reach Core’s aim is to strengthen and develop the individual, whether for mental well-being or to enable them to embark on a career in a related field, we support the long-term recovery and inclusion of our members all of whom are referred to us by the NHS. At Core the sense of equality is evident in the ways diversity is valued, addressed and celebrated, allowing members to make a full contribution to society.

Core Arts has 27 years experience in innovative user led and managed projects. Leading by example we have developed new business infrastructures, alternative ways of looking at mental health, inclusion and social enterprise to serve the community. Working in the most deprived neighbourhoods with a group of mental health users that are seen as socially and economically void and ‘unemployable’ Core Arts has identified their skills, highlighted their strengths and developed their confidence allowing them to make a full contribution to society. Core Arts methods both appeal to people who experience mental health issues as outsiders (something common to many an artist) yet at the same time stressing the all important notions of inclusiveness and responsibility for one’s own actions (something enshrined in the central philosophy of Core Arts).

Working always with a focus on the highest safeguarding for all our vulnerable adults we strive to offer an excellent user guided service, with a strong governance:
1 Up to date 2018 Constitution, Memorandum & Articles of Association governing document

  1. Equality & Diversity Policy
  2. Health & Safety Policy
  3. Employers Liability/ Public Indemnity Insurance
  4. Safeguarding Adults at Risk Policy
  5. DBS of all staff, tutors and volunteers
  6. Organisations annual accounts are independently examined and audited
  7. Prevent policy
    9 Core Council our student forum meets every 4 weeks to debate and discuss our programs
    10 Peer led reference groups which are regularly set up and facilitated to keep all students up to date on current issues
    11 Trustee team 75% of which is made up of service users or ex service users
    12 Safeguarding linked directly to NHS services and Care teams.

Core Arts is currently leading innovative projects in London in highly deprived areas, enabling people who are from marginalised groups, such as homeless, people with criminal records, refugee groups and people who suffer complex care needs to get involved in community activity and engender a sense of community achievement, pride and cohesion where excluded and stigmatized people can show their skills and talents and work together to bring about community-led solutions.

Core Arts has a committed, inspirational and professionals in their own field Staff, Tutor and Volunteer team that is passionate about improving the lives of adults suffering from mental health issues. This allows us to provide high quality education and peer to peer creative journeys.

Sustained impact

Here are a selection of our awards for innovation which span 27 years and we strive to continue to innovate in the Creative Arts and Mental Health Fields –

Core Arts Director Paul Monks has personally won numerous awards for his innovation-
*Core Arts are featured in the Science Museum New Medicine Galleries in ‘Rethinking Treatments’, open for the next 25 years. We are represented by our charity founder and Director Paul Monks and we have been chosen to showcase our work as innovators using creative education to improve mental health. For more information please click Link
*Paul Monks won a £15,000 award for UnLtd Social Entrepreneurs Transforming Places Award 2016 UK wide
*In 2006 Paul Monks won the Angela Vivian Award for social entrepreneurs for his drive and vision in meeting the needs of a community in the UK. He donated his £10,000 award to the Core Arts Capital project towards purchasing the freehold of the Centre.

*Core Sports selected awards –
*November 2019 winning the HSJ Mental Health Innovation of the Year Award 2019 and were highly commended in two further categories this project was in in collaboration with our partners. (UK wide)
The Primary Care Mental Health Alliance brings together the GP Confederation (GP practices), ELFT (secondary care mental health), the CEG (healthcare informatics), Core Sports (diet/exercise) and the CCG (commissioning), to deliver and oversee physical health checks and follow up interventions for people with Serious Mental Illness (SMI).
For more information please click Link
*’Mental Health Sports Programme Winners’ Winner Sports and Recreation Alliance Awards 2019 (UK Wide)
*‘Best Sports Club of the Year’ Winner London Sports Awards 2018

*Core Landscape selected awards
Triple award winners -London in Bloom September 2018
“OUTSTANDING” (top Level 5) for ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood Award”,
GOLD in the “London in Bloom” award and
OVERALL WINNER for “Our Community Award” 2018

*Core Arts Creative Centre selected awards-

  • Groundworks Community Awards 2017 Best Community Group Contribution to Health and Wellbeing.
    *Arts Kickers Community Heroes award London 2017
    *Core Arts were the UK wide Lankelly-Chase Digital Empowerment Awards winners of 2014
    *Core Arts has won a prestigious City of London Growing Localities award. Reclaiming and Developing Wasteland Hosted by the City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust Greening the third sector 2014 City Bridge Trust
  • Shortlisted to the last 5 for Greening the third sector awards 2014 City of London UK wide
  • In March 2006 Core Arts won the Opening Doors to Adult Learners awarded by Niace
    *In 2001 Core Arts won the International Impact Award (UK) Glaxo.Smith.Kline/Kings Fund for excellence in community healthcare

Outstanding contribution to the mental health and wellbeing sector

Annabel Hodgson

No Limits is an award-winning, local, independent charity providing a unique combination of prevention, early intervention and crisis support to young people, based on a nationally evidenced model. We provide information, advice, counselling and support through a range of services available ‘under one roof’. Set up in 1993 we have grown to support thousands of young people in Southampton and across Hampshire through our Advice Centre and the specialist projects we deliver as well as drop-in sessions in schools/colleges.
We meet the needs of the most deprived, vulnerable and isolated young people who often don’t access mainstream services. By supporting across a wide range of issues including mental health, housing, debt, employment, relationships and sexual health we support young people through the transition from adolescence to adulthood, often helping them climb out of, or avoid, social exclusion. 7,758 children and young people accessed our services last year, of which 1,475 were supported with their mental health and 33% of whom self-identified as being vulnerable. We employ 120 staff and have support from a further 100 students and volunteer workers.
Our core service offers advice and support through our drop-in Advice Centre in Southampton High Street, a friendly, accessible space open for over 40 hours per week, including evenings and weekends. Young people can drop in for a chat and cup of tea without appointment. This flexibility, combined with the non-judgemental, young person-centred approach of the youth workers, mean that many of the barriers to seeking help often faced by vulnerable young people are removed. The youth workers are trusted by the young people – often the only professionals that are seen to be ‘on their side’. From the drop-in, young people can be referred on to our specialist services.
Our specialist services include counselling; therapeutic groups (anger management, anxiety, bereavement); housing and homelessness; substance misuse; vulnerable groups (young carers, care leavers, young offenders, child sexual exploitation); young parents.

Going above and beyond

Having worked in the Youth Work sector for over 30 years, Annabel has had a pivotal role in shaping the provision of mental health support for young people in Southampton and Hampshire. Starting as a Detached Youth Worker on a council estate, Annabel then developed Southampton’s first LGBTQ youth project before starting her role as the CEO at No Limits.

Annabel has built No Limits from a tiny charity with 2 members of staff to a large local charity with 100 staff and 70 volunteers from all over Hampshire. In her first year, No Limits had 600 contacts with children and young people. Last year it had 49,517 contacts. She’s helped to bring significant amounts of funding into Southampton and Hampshire for young people’s mental health support and has campaigned tirelessly – and successfully – for the rights of young people both locally and nationally.

Annabel is passionate in her belief that young people should be given help to reach their potential, including those who are the most vulnerable. Annabel works continually to develop projects to support mental health, including:

  • weekly health and wellbeing drop-in sessions in all secondary schools / colleges in Southampton
  • Primary Mental Health Workers in schools providing targeted, one-to-one mental health support for children and young people in schools and colleges across Southampton
  • Annabel set up and manages Hampshire Youth Access, which provides free, Hampshire-wide counselling for children and young people through 12 local charities
  • Therapeutic groups including mood management, anxiety and bereavement
  • peer support services, including for young carers, care leavers and teenagers suffering anxiety
  • extensive services through our Advice Centre to address root causes of mental health problems and provide a comprehensive, young person-centred approach to mental health, including addressing issues with housing, substance misuse, debt, relationships, domestic violence, sexual exploitation.

“No Limits have been amazing with helping me over the last couple of months I can’t express my gratitude with the many tearful chats and help with paperwork. I really don’t know what I’d have done with their help and support”

Providing young person-centred provision has always been at the heart of Annabel’s vision and she has created strong, city-wide partnerships to make this happen, with both statutory and voluntary sector partners. With Annabel’s leadership, No Limits works closely with a range of agencies who can also provide support and with whom we regularly liaise / refer regarding young people, including CAMHS / AMHS, Local Authority Early Help, GP’s, Substance Misuse services, Housing and Social Care teams, Rape Crisis, Domestic Violence services, LGBTQ+ services, YMCA, Schools, Colleges, Universities, CAB. Annabel has brought huge amounts of funding into the city for multi-agency partnerships including SRB money in the 1990’s (taking No Limits over £1 million income) and significant lottery funds.

Annabel has been/is involved in local, regional and national boards and steering groups including: HeadStart, Future In Mind, GSK Impact Leaders, Solent NHS, Advice Southampton.


No Limits, under the direction of Annabel, has always been innovative in the delivery of its services, trying new things and evaluating them thoroughly.

Three recent examples of innovation are:

  1. We have recently won funding to introduce Primary Mental Health Workers into our Advice Centre, for 18-25 year olds, building on an evidence base built up by our Primary Mental Health work in schools. Mental health support from the PMHWs is the starting point for an ongoing integrated mental health support pathway at our Advice Centre. This mental health support for those in crisis sits alongside our hardship crisis programme, providing a holistic approach for young adults suffering homelessness, family breakdown, debt.

Evidence from Mental Health Matters has shown that young adults often suffer from a lack of early intervention with their mental health, leading to young adults not presenting until they reach a crisis point. Adult mental health commissioners and services in Southampton have identified that there is a population of young adults in Southampton who have ‘emotional dysregulation’ and difficulty tolerating distress but don’t meet the criteria for AMHs or Steps to Wellbeing, the local IAPT offer. In discussion with commissioners, it was clear that many of these young adults access No Limits drop-in services and therefore No Limits could provide an easier access route for young adults to achieve mental health support.

This work will be evaluated by Youth Access, of which Annabel has been a trustee, and the Dept of Applied Health Research at University College London, looking at the role of YIACs in metin the mental health needs of young adults.

  1. In the last few weeks, funding has been secured to pilot a project that will deliver mental health and well-being support to children and young people in the A&E Department at Southampton General Hospital during the Winter months. This is a completely new area for No Limits and another example of innovation. This project will push the boundaries of access to early intervention support for mental health and well-being and reduce the number of young people being discharged from hospital only to return again and again.
  2. We have been awarded funding to take on some outreach work in Southampton, to target the most vulnerable young people who are most likely to commit serious crime. Through our outreach work and the Advice Centre we will provide them with holistic support including support with their mental health through counselling and therapeutic groups.

Annabel puts young people at the heart of No Limits’ development. We continually monitor, evaluate and develop our services with the help of the young people who use them. We gather case studies and data about our interactions with children and young people to monitor the areas of disadvantage that they are facing. 

We invite children and young people to fill out feedback forms on our services, give their feedback via our website, and provide testimonials. We conduct a service-wide ‘Have Your Say’ consultation twice a year, asking service users about their experience of our services and the outcomes they have experienced as a result. Feedback has indicated that the drop-in environment is welcoming and approachable for young people.

Sustained impact

Annabel has grown support for the charity within Southampton and Hampshire and embedded No Limits in all aspects of children and young people’s health and welfare in Southampton. She has gained quality standards and contributes to local/national strategy around young people’s social exclusions. She has always placed children and young people at the heart of her work, developing significant partnerships to ensure sustainable positive outcomes for young people. Over the last 25 years Annabel has built and sustained relationships with both voluntary and statutory services and has strong multi-agency links including with Early Help, Housing, Rape Crisis, Schools, Colleges, Universities, Social Services, CAB, CAMHS, Probation service and the Youth Offending Service.

Working at a strategic level, Annabel has shaped the way the city supports young people, working within the Southampton plan, alongside statutory partners. She has been a trusted professional and, as such, has often been given a seat at decision-making tables, advising statutory bodies on many occasions. Through this trust and experience she has given the voluntary sector a voice in these important forums.

Annabel has also aimed to put children and young people’s participation at the heart of No Limits and empower them by giving them a voice in Southampton, Hampshire and nationwide. She has built lasting partnerships with decision makers, statutory bodies and other voluntary sector organisations to ensure CYP are placed at the heart of decision-making.

Her collaborative rather than competitive approach to service development has benefitted many smaller organisations who receive funding from partnership bids. She set up the Hampshire Youth Access (HYA) partnership, bringing in essential funds for ten smaller partners, some of whom would have been at risk as charities without this partnership funding. The HYA project successfully provides counselling for CYP through smaller partners across Hampshire.

Inspirational Story (under 18s)

We Will

In December 2017, eight young people from West Cumbria had become so despairing about the lack of youth mental health services in their area and the impact it was having on family and friends that they called a public meeting and came together to form the WE WILL youth mental health campaign.

All of the founding members of WE WILL had been impacted directly or indirectly by mental health problems and the lack of support available to young people. They were determined to do something about it and were adamant that as young people they were best placed to make change. Their plan was to gather young people aged 14-18 and to support young people to lead change in how we deal with youth mental health in schools, communities, families and wider circles.

‘Young people have been waiting up to 18 months for specialist mental health support. It’s simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH. No young person should have to suffer like this.’ WE WILL member.

They wanted to have an impact. They wanted to be heard. They wanted to create urgent and lasting change. They wanted to inspire other young people to take action with them. Tired of waiting for other people to make a change in the way that youth mental health is dealt with they knew that in order to make tangible change happen they needed to be passionate but also to be well informed, tactical, strategic, persuasive and practical. They knew however that the issues relating to mental health are complex. They therefore decided to start by doing research. They spent their first year talking to GP’s; friends; school staff; family members; health commissioners and health workers; community leaders and local decision makers. They organised a schools conference with a panel of Heads, teachers and governors and chaired the discussion. They presented to health and community groups, decision makers, funders, business leaders, senior health officials and attended countless meetings in an attempt to understand where they could make a difference.

In May 2019 WE WILL were invited to meet the (former) Mental Health Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price MP and Shadow Minister Barbara Keeley MP. WE WILL accepted the invitation on the promise that one young person from WE WILL could Chair the meetings. They developed the following proposal and pitched it to Minister’s and MP’s…

• We Will is a youth mental health group is based in the Ewanrigg ward of Maryport, Cumbria.

• Ewanrigg is in the 10% most deprived communities in the UK.

• We are one of the furthest constituencies from Westminster.

• A lack of public and third sector mental health support, health services, school nurses and counsellors, public transport, social mobility, accessible jobs and training opportunities compounded with rising mental health problems and rural isolation mean that our young people need urgent help.

• The impact of having to wait up to 18 months for specialist mental health services is having a devastating effect on our young people, their families, friends and schools.

• Young people and their mental health are not being taken seriously enough by those in power and influence in our county and our country.

• We welcome an increase in 2.3 billion for mental health has been announced however we have no confidence that this investment will make an urgent difference to young people in our area.

• Our young people need the youth mental health system to work for them. Now.

• We need visible, urgent improvements in specialist mental health support in Maryport.

• We need to be piloting the initiatives in the NHS Long Term Plan for Children and Young People’s Mental Health. We can’t wait for other areas to get this first and then for the benefits and learning to trickle down to us.

• We can help you to make a start delivering on the commitments that you want to make happen as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Maryport makes an ideal location for piloting the initiatives outlined below in the NHS Long Term Plan for Children and Young People’s mental health because:

• Our deprivation statistics are significantly higher than North West averages. The need is huge and if we pilot the initiatives the improvement will be huge.

• CAMHS West Cumbria is being taken over by Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust creating a timely opportunity to implement new ways of working with a stronger infrastructure and more clinical capacity.

• WE WILL have helped form strong youth mental health partnerships between schools, communities, young people and health groups. We have a track record of delivering bespoke youth led solutions to mental health problems in our area.

• We know that across the NHS we don’t have the whole clinical workforce that is needed but we’re not asking for that today. Many of our requests mean less reliance on the NHS.

• North Cumbria CCG, Cumbria County Council, NTW Foundation Trust and the Lord Bishop of Carlisle support WE WILL’s approach to improving youth mental health.

• By investing into pilot projects to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan initiatives for children and young people’s mental health in West Cumbria in partnership with WE WILL, we can work together to reduce the strain on the mental health system and ensure that young people receive timely support in the family, in the community, in schools and from specialist providers.

• We can help you to make a start delivering on the commitments that you want to make happen as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Their story

The WE WILL group members undertook their research and looked at what they could do improve youth mental health in their area. The following is what they have achieved/undertaken…

They expanded the group to 15 active committee members with hundreds of supporters and advocates.

All group members are Youth Mental Health First Aid trained. They have helped secure funding for over 300 local parents, teachers, pupils and community workers to gain a qualification in Youth Mental Health First Aid. This number is rising rapidly. After finding YMHFA training to be a vital tool in understanding youth mental health and teaching simple listening skills, the group then went on to encourage others in their community to take the course. The young people work as advocates for YMHFA training – encouraging people to undertake the training and also spread the word. They are also trained to pass on basic YMHFA and suicide alert messages to peers and the wider community. They have worked with the Ewanrigg Local Trust to fund training so that anyone living or working with young people in the Maryport area can access the training (many courses have been offered for free depending on certain criteria). In one of their local secondary schools the group have set up a scheme whereby all teachers and sixth formers who are Youth Mental Health First Aid trained now wear green lanyards that clearly mark them out as a friendly and approachable person for any member of staff or pupil to speak to if they need guidance. Expanding the young people’s work, one of their local secondary schools has become a champion of youth mental health and has successfully secured funding that enables EVERY secondary school in West Cumbria to nominate a member of staff who will access free training to become a qualified Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer. This secures the sustainability of the above work across West Cumbria. Each secondary school will also offer free training to staff in primary feeder schools.

‘I’ve done my YMHFA qualification. This doesn’t make me a counsellor but it does mean that I’m not afraid to ask someone in school if they are ok and to listen and know what to do if they aren’t. Being approachable and available can make all the difference to someone who has a lot going on in their head. This is why we want to get as many people trained as possible within schools.’ A We Will member.

The group helped recruit other young people and set up youth led mental health groups in their local secondary schools. Supported by the senior leadership team these groups devised and initiated bespoke solutions to the problems they faced. They have written and presented recommendations for schools to improve youth mental health and regularly present these to West Cumbria secondary school cluster meetings see These recommendations include each school having their own bespoke youth led mental health group; a YMHFA trained Governor responsible for mental health for each school and a programme of activity for mental health awareness week.

‘Having a governor who took a lead on improving youth mental health was a complete game changer for us in our school. We had someone who we could go to with our recommendations and who could help us put them forward to the senior team. We met with this Governor and our Head teacher with a list of things that we wanted to do in school to improve youth mental health. We hoped that they might approve one or two. They approved all of them!’

As mentioned above, they wrote and presented recommendations for government and health commissioners to improve youth mental health and presented these in Westminster to the (then) Minister for Mental Health Jackie Doyle-Price MP; Shadow Minister Barbara Keeley MP, Sue Hayman MP and senior civil servants. Meetings in Westminster were also Chaired (at WE WILL members request) by members of WE WILL. The meeting led to Barbara Keeley MP offering to visit West Cumbria to speak to WE WILL and health commissioners to share the trailblazing example in her Manchester constituency, her letter is attached as an appendix. Westminster meetings also opened the door for WE WILL to speak directly to the most senior health officials in the region and campaign for commitments to improve youth mental health services as bullet pointed further down.

West Cumbria is a historically underfunded area. The young people have brought in £10,000 of funding from #IWill to support their campaign. They have also brought in approximately £7000 in funding in kind from people who have heard about the campaign and wanted to offer support. Some examples include film professionals volunteering their time to teach film skills; a professional comedy workshop; a Guardian journalist offering a ‘writing for social causes’ course and a ‘learn how to teach meditation’ course. In addition a mother who lost her son to suicide has been in touch to say that she would like to fundraise to support the group.

WE WILL actively promote the importance of LISTENING. They have made three award nominated films that have reached over 100,000 people. They are also one of only 10 national successful applications for NHS Community Funding in 2010 – this new funding will enable them to make their next film and for it to be distributed by the NHS nationally as well as locally.

Their three films; BOY, WE WILL Listen and WE WILL Campaign can be viewed here.
Boy (HD)

We Will Campaign (HD)
We Will Listen

‘I’ve been struggling with depression. I don’t think teachers understand how much it stops you learning. I feel like I’m in a fog. I can’t hear the teachers. I can’t remember anything. I want to be invisible. Some teachers think that if they shout at me it will motivate me. I’ve done the YMHFA training and I can tell which of my teachers have also done the training as they understand me better, I feel like I can talk to them which of course helps me to learn more.’ We Will member.

WE WILL want their simple message to be communicated globally and to make a difference to how people of all ages and backgrounds support young people. They have given up their time to formulate communication plans and key messages and they learned the strategic benefit of investing in planning their communications. The main message which they have created and want to communicate is:

• Have the courage to talk; have the courage to listen. No-one is alone.

To help spread this message WE WILL have given many interviews.
They have had an almost full page article in the Guardian newspaper, please read the article here The Guardian article resulted in much higher engagement figures than normally experienced in that section of the paper with an unusually high number of comments. The story was shared on to Facebook almost 8,000 times and over 200 people shared their personal stories on the Guardian online page with the feature sparking much debate (some of the comments are included at the end of this nomination).

They have achieved national media attention, inspiring thousands of others to recognise the problem and know how to make a difference.

They met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to discuss their mental health work and gave them a copy of their film BOY on a USB stick. Hours later the film was played by Kensington Royal Palace and was liked by 170,000 of their followers in 24 hours – a copy of the message is included as an appendix. Please see to view the Instagram post

When the group won a Diana Award for their outstanding contribution to improving youth mental health they were featured globally in the People Magazine which is the USA’s second biggest online magazine see

They have been interviewed for the German equivalent of the BBC see… in Italian online news articles.

They have undertaken media training to help them identify and communicate their key messages; to help them understand how to work with journalists and to understand the parameters and safeguards that they need to put in place around themselves when talking to the media. Local press has covered their activities from the beginning (News & Star, Times & Star) and they have been interviewed for CFM Radio. They have also been interviewed on BBC 5Live breakfast show with Nicky Campbell, appearing alongside local MP Sue Hayman. Their story has been shared on BBC Look North and also on ITV Border News.

The group have actively engaged with other local media opportunities and networks including working with the production team of Maryport Matters, a free 20-page full colour community magazine that is delivered direct to 8,000 homes in the area. They have provided regular articles and helped to create a youth focused special edition in September 2018. This edition carried listening tips created by the group and a self-help mood awareness cheat sheet for young people.

The group have given assemblies to local schools to convey their mental health messages. The last assembly they gave was filmed by CBBC for a half hour documentary about youth mental health which is due to be aired in February 2020 on Time to Talk Day. The documentary follows one of WE WILL’s group members on a journey to find out how better nutrition, more sport and relaxation exercises can help improve mental health and includes interviews with the WE WILL group.

‘You don’t leave a person in a burning building for four hours. Why is it acceptable that young people have no out of hours mental health crisis care other than going to A&E?’ WE WILL member.

WE WILL are currently planning their next two films to be made early in the New Year. One film will focus on their main campaign message for 2020 which is Just Listen – how to communicate with and listen better to young people. In the past few months alone WE WILL have presented to over 1000 people locally including employers; school pupils; Rotarians; health commissioners; philanthropists and health workers. Demand for them to present is greater than the time they have available therefore they are working with key stakeholders to create a film that can help them reach more people with vital mental health messages and specifically listening skills. For example North West Ambulance Service who employ nearly 5,000 staff have said that as staff training they will commit to regularly sharing a WE WILL Just Listen film. The other film has been commissioned by the NHS national Communication and Engagement Team and aims to inspire other people to learn from WE WILL and to take a lead in their community to improve health and wellbeing.

The group have initiated meetings with local health service providers including GPs, CAMHS, counsellors, social workers etc. in order to research the issue and talk to them about potential areas for change. They have organised round table discussions, debates, taken part in questionnaires and surveys and constantly chased up to date statistics and information that can help strengthen the campaign for change. The group has actively engaged with local politicians and local authority figures throughout the campaign (including town councillors, county councillors and local MPs).

‘It’s almost impossible to get accurate, up to date useful statistics about our local youth mental health services but we managed to find out that the number of referrals of young people from West Cumbria to CAMHS quadrupled in the previous year. QUADRUPLED! This statistic helped us to push open doors, ask really challenging questions and continue to demand action and improvement.’ WE WILL member.

Having evaluated their achievements in 2019 WE WILL decided that whilst they had reached and influenced many people, their aim for 2020 should be to gain more commitment from people to improve youth mental health. They have refocused their campaign and are now putting plans in place to secure the following commitments…

  1. Gain commitment from health commissioners to meet what we call our 4 x 4’s target
    • 4 week waiting times for specialist youth mental health services (inc CAMHS and MyTime)
    • Young people in crisis to be seen within 4 hours
    • A mental health specialist available 4 all schools
    • Youth mental health services to be accessible 4 young people aged up to 25 years of age.
  2. Gain commitment from West Cumbria schools, community groups and employers to implement a mental health policy which includes a named YMHFA governor/board member responsible for overseeing…
    • Putting in place a YMHFA training plan for staff and volunteers
    • A plan for mental health awareness week including watching and sharing our films
    • Clear signposting so people know where to go if help is needed
  3. Gain commitment from members of the public to watch and share our youth mental health awareness films (including a package of new films) during Mental Health Awareness Week May 2020

In order to pursue the above commitments the group have put forward the commitments outlined above to key individuals and have already set up meetings for the coming months. They have encountered no barriers and in fact due to their positive working relationships and reputation have been welcomed to meet with the Chairs of local health trusts, Secondary Head Teacher clusters and a number of large employers including Sellafield Ltd.

As far as we know WE WILL are unique in being a youth initiated partnership of young people from different schools and colleges who have established themselves with the goal of improving youth mental health. When the group formed only a couple of them knew each other before. These young people have driven forwards and undertaken their own research. They have identified problems and opportunities and formulated their own strategy and campaign plan even down to creating their own logo and strapline ‘Have the courage to talk; have the courage to listen. No-one is alone.’

The impact of the group’s activities has been huge. Their voluntary research has been absolutely vital – not only in shaping their campaign, but also in sharing knowledge and understanding across ages and sectors. As young people, they have not only managed to make their voice heard more clearly and loudly than perhaps adults could have, they have also doggedly asked forthright and challenging questions until they have gained the information needed or found a way forward. They have had boundless energy and enthusiasm and have pursued issues that may have been dropped by adults who sadly don’t have the time or have had to prioritise other things due to budget restraints, capacity etc. Lots of this research and ‘enquiring’ has resulted in practical and visible changes.

Going above and beyond

These young people face individual and collective obstacles with a fierce, selfless and socially minded determination. They made the decision at the beginning to focus on creating lasting change rather than discussing their own personal stories. These young people have given an estimated 3000 volunteer hours since they started the campaign. This would be extraordinary for anyone but is phenomenal considering the personal challenges that they face. Examples of some of these challenges is as follows…

Time – all involved have been dealing with enormous academic pressure; on top of which many have jobs which involve working every weekend as well as weekday evening shifts.

Caring responsibilities – some of the young people are caring for grandparents, parents and siblings with poor physical/mental health.

Personal challenges – some of the group struggle with their own mental health without specialist support available to them. Several in the group struggle with health conditions which affects their ability to participate in ‘normal’ activities.

Financial – many in the group live in the most deprived areas of the UK and are working in paid jobs to provide for every day necessities and to support their families.

Geography – compared to most other areas we have less available public and third sector mental health support, health services, public transport, social mobility, jobs and training opportunities. All of this, with rural isolation contributes to mental health problems as well as making it more difficult and expensive to study, to access health support, to volunteer and to work.

Access to mental health support – those in the group who are struggling with their own mental health challenges have waited on average over 12 months for CAMHS or Tier 2 support. Support when received is of varying quality. Ongoing recruitment issues mean that it is not unusual for mental health providers to be on long term sick and/or leave at short notice leaving posts unfilled often for long periods.

Despite all of these daily challenges, these young people contribute thousands of hours of their time to help others and are determined to continue to find a way of ensuring that young people can and will access the right youth mental health support in the near future. What surprises people who meet this group is that not only are they passionate, selfless and motivated, but they know ‘their stuff.’ They do their research and they put their point across in their own words, in their own style and with so much persuasiveness and planning that they are a force to be reckoned with and are truly making a difference in their community.

We all know that it is difficult to make change. In an area like West Cumbria when the population is mostly intransient and people are isolated by the sea on one side and mountains on the other, cultural change can feel almost impossible. The group have had to learn how to deal with people who are resistant to change and/or unwilling to engage with them. They have had to learn to respond politely and respectfully and to know when to be persistent and when to ‘return to the drawing board.’ They have to continually review their campaign strategy, weighing up which doors to ‘push at’ and how to focus their limited resources most effectively.

‘People think that because we live in Cumbria we live in a chocolate box of pretty cottages, lakes and mountains. They don’t get past the Lake District to see the poverty, the daily grind and the isolation.’ WE WILL member

Ewanrigg, where the campaign is based is in one of the 10% most deprived wards in the UK. High rates of child poverty, incapacity claims and worklessness are combined with poor access to transport and services. The nearest A&E to Ewanrigg is a 30 minute drive away. One WE WILL member bravely gave an interview to our local press explaining that when she had a mental health crisis the ‘out of hours’ answerphone message told her that she must get to A&E however 42% of residents in this area have no access to their own transport. This is a classic example of the kind of challenge that young people here face and that their campaign seeks to address. The young people liaised with local youth mental health services and the newspaper to do a front page article in the local newspaper and online a few weeks before Christmas putting pressure on the commissioner to do more for young people in crisis in Cumbria and signposting young people and their loved ones to crisis hotlines that would be available 24 hours a day during the festive period.

One of the things about this group that makes them so unusual is that they are a group of young people leading change. The young people approached their local community development organisation (the Ewanrigg Local Trust) with a germ of an idea who have provided them with the operational support to explore and develop their ideas and to apply for small pots of funding to help cover costs such as travel. They have been supported to make their own decisions regarding the direction of the campaign, what things they want to change and how they are going to do it. They have been supported to carry out their own research, work out their priorities and decide on their activities. They have been supported with training so they could formulate their own slogan (“Have the courage to talk; the courage to listen. No-one is alone.”) their own key messages and their own branding. At each stage of the process they have made their own decisions on how they want to get their messages across. They chose to use film as a medium. With no adult input they wrote their own script and their own storyboards. The Ewanrigg Local Trust put them in touch with a local film crew who offered to help with the practicalities and the equipment and who were so impressed with the young people and their potential they helped them to make their first film and wouldn’t take any payment for time, travel or equipment. In 2020 they are chasing commitments to change regarding youth mental health so have decided to work in small teams, dividing themselves into representatives who ‘take on’ either health commissioners, schools, community and employers.

‘We as adults would have meetings after meetings to achieve what WE WILL manage to get done straight away.’ Media expert on meeting WE WILL.

Their campaign was started on the basis that ‘they were sick of waiting for other people to make a change and decided to do something it about themselves.’ Taking responsibility and taking action are two qualities that are vital to the survival of our society. WE WILL have demonstrated both of these repeatedly – and to great effect. As a skilled, passionate and determined group they have proven that young people are best placed to create a culture change and visible change with adults listening to the needs and recommendations of young people. Their energy, their approach to problem solving, their well-researched knowledge about mental health, their capacity to understand complex problems and come up with deliverable solutions continues to inspire and demonstrate to adults the value of involving young people in decision making.

Encouraging others to take a stand, encouraging others to make their voice heard, encouraging others to be part of the solution…. These are the sorts of values that make great role models. These are the sort of young people we need in our future. The group will be three years old in December 2020 and will arguably have achieved more for their community in these three years than many people will achieve in a lifetime.

What do others say?

I wanted to thank the We Will group – through you – for their time and energy in our meeting last week.

We were all impressed by the commitment and positive approach taken to improving the support available for young people.

I think some strong connections have been made between the group and the health system and I am keen that we keep that going at a practical level, and at a senior leadership level. We all took away issues to progress.

I’d like to suggest that we have a catch up with the group in the Autumn, but I am also aware of the need for us to schedule this at a time which is convenient and accessible for the group.

Many thanks again.

Best wishes

Professor Robin Talbot
Cumbria Partnership NHS FT

The WE WILL group is a very impressive collaborative of young people from the community reaching into different schools across the area. Their approach – although motivated by disappointment with NHS services – has been positive, innovative and about driving a better future.

The group has secured the support of their community, their schools, their local authority and our CCG. It has worked with local councillors and the local MP and visited parliament to meet shadow ministers. Their work was showcased on a royal visit to Prince William and Kate who praised them for their approach and achievements.

There are no easy answers to the challenges caused by increasing demand, fragility within NHS service and our CCG has recently been through a lengthy process of recommissioning mental health services with a larger Trust to help support sustainability and improvement of services. Our teams are very supportive of the approach taken by the group and their approach to developing support that is relevant and accessible to their peers.

The young people have been commended by the local newspaper group in their education awards and in the Cumbria Diversity Awards.

On a personal level I have met the young people many times over the last couple of years and have always been impressed by their professionalism, their energy and the way they care for their team. They are fantastic. They will deliver this work and be valuable in sharing really good practice.

Julie Clayton
Head of Communications and Engagement
NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group

On behalf of the High Sheriff of Cumbria and her guests, thank you and your amazing group of young people so much for the fantastic visit yesterday. Our group thoroughly enjoyed meeting the enthusiastic young people and were so impressed with their well-prepared presentation on mental health support for young people. They said it was very well presented and the videos were “extremely well-produced, focused and punchy”. We wish you continued success with your valuable work and thank you again for showcasing it with us. Kind regards, Kristine

Please can I thank the WE WILL group for coming and speaking at our ‘This is me’ event. You could have heard a pin drop during your talk and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Every single person that I spoke to was overwhelmed with what you have achieved and learnt something about how they can support young people. I spoke to someone who was there and who the following day was talking to his daughter who was worried about her friend, he signposted her to your website and videos which I know had a positive impact. Police Inspector Annette McClement

I’m astounded once more! What an unbelievably talented, motivated and courageous group of young people they are. I have shared a link on my Twitter feed and I hope there has been lots of traction around this conversation during the week. It goes without saying that if they ever need some support, advice, someone to talk to, workshops, panel discussions, whatever I’d be happy to get involved. Please feel free to share my email. Thanks again and please pass on my deepest regards and respect to these wonderful people. Clive Judd Theatre Director

Echoing what Clive said – it’s amazing what you and the group are doing. Really can’t tell you how important it is and how inspiring I find it. Speaking to the group was still one of the most moving moments of last year, and have been talking about it to so many people since. And yeah, again what Clive said, – any support or anything like that just give me a shout. Simon Longman Playwright.

I’m surrounded by men – “geezers”, who are woefully under equipped and have no outlet for their fears and emotions. Instead, they, we, put on a facade and self-medicate through alcohol and the rest. I’ve been thinking about starting down the studying counselling route for a while now, reading your post has spurred me on, so thank you.” Guardian online comment responding to the WE WILL feature in the Guardian.

“Obviously the factor that caused this is the first place is a travesty but the response by these young people is the most uplifting story I’ve read in ages. Guardian online comment responding to the WE WILL feature in the Guardian.

Of course CAMHS needs to be funded to meet needs but it really needs to be seen for what it is, a clinical service for young people with mental health issues. It’s currently overwhelmed by young who’ve been pushed to the brink of ill health by external pressure that’s beyond their control.
Clinically diagnosed mental health conditions occur throughout the population and should be treated as quickly as possible to help the people concerned.
What we’re seeing in this example is an unnecessary level of stress being placed on young people creating mental and physical ill health. These young people did for themselves what we should be doing for all of them. They listened to each other and gave the space to breathe and realise that they weren’t alone. The thing is the factor causing the stress in the first place is mostly imposed upon them by the very people nominally in charge of their welfare.
We’ve chosen not to do anything about social media so they’re free to prey on our kids. We’ve made schools into academies with “management” on telephone number sized salaries who know their job is on the line if the results don’t come through: that goes all the way through the school from teachers to the poor sods in year 9 who’ve just found out that they’ve got to choose what they want to do for the rest of their lives and must get it right or they’ll shame the school, parents and themselves.
Add to this mix being a teenager in a world where adults have effectively decided we’re collectively fucked and given up trying to make a better world and bingo you’ve got this article. Kids realising the adult world isn’t the same as a “grown up” world and realising they need to do it for themselves.
I hope these young people go on to be the leaders they and their peers deserve not the bloated morally bankrupt lickspittles my generation has inflicted on the country.
The current situation in this country, irrespective of your viewpoint, is a test for anyone over thirty. We either decide enough is enough and show those in charge that playtime is over and they’d better tidy up pronto, or we become remembered as the generation who betrayed its children.
Whatever happens with Brexit, climate change and the global economy we’ll pass on to our young the world they’ll think we wanted for them. That can either be a blessing or a curse but it’s the responsibility of us all and we need to wake up and start expecting more from ourselves and especially the people to whom we give the privilege of power.” Guardian online comment responding to the WE WILL feature in the Guardian.

Inspirational story (over 18s)

Ben West

At the age of 18, Ben West discovered his brother in his bedroom and as first on the scene, gave him CPR as he waited for the emergency services to arrive. Ben has used his personal experience of mental ill health to raise awareness and has taken his story to No.10.

Their story

Losing someone you love is heartbreaking and can affect all areas of your life, both personally and professionally. To go through such deep personal loss and create something positive from it, which will help others affected by mental ill health, takes real courage. That’s exactly what Ben has done. This amazing 18 year old organised a 200km walk across Kent while studying for his A’Levels to raise awareness of mental ill health. He did all this while grieving for his 15 year old brother Sam who took his life in 2018. As you would expect, this tragic event crushed Sam’s family and friends. None more so than big brother Ben. No one can imagine the impact something like that has, unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Ben, his family and friends want to help prevent anyone from having to go through that experience. He knows it will take some time, but together with Mum Michelle, Dad Chris and brother Tom, they’re determined to use their experience to make a difference. Project #Walktotalk all started on a train journey when Ben had his very own light bulb moment. Grabbing his phone he quickly set about rallying the troops – ‘how about raising awareness by walking across Kent?’ Eleven close friends quickly jumped on board and the 200km walk across Kent was created. Ben admits it wasn’t easy. “Organising the event wasn’t straight forward. I’d been involved in charity events before but never organised anything!” Thankfully he wasn’t alone and friends and family started to throw in ideas which saw the project grow to more than 450 people taking part in stages of the walk across ten days. Studying and organising the event whilst still grieving for his brother was tough. With everything going on, it was hard to ignore that it had the potential to take its toll. “Revising was difficult, it was hard to focus and naturally affected how well I could revise. However I soon found that organising the walk helped me to clear my mind and focus better. It gave me a little bit of an escape. From the beginning I knew that the walk was something positive I could do to focus my attention. It kept me in a much better place.” The project soon became so big that more and more of his friends pitched in. “None of us had any experience doing this sort of thing, it’s been a complete step in the dark for all of us, but we’ll take all that experience and put it to making an even better event next year.” The walk ended in London outside the Houses of Parliament and the team have been praised by celebrities, MPs and the Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May. “Receiving that letter from Theresa May meant so much, it was the recognition that we’re really starting to make a difference. All the messages of support have shown us that we’ve found something here, it’s really helping people and we have to keep it going.” With the 2018 walk completed, there’s no sign that team West will be stopping anytime soon. Mum Michelle is giving speeches at conferences to encourage teachers to take part in Mental Health First Aider training and the team have raised over £15,000, from the #Walktotalk event, to help develop more mental health awareness projects. In 2019, they carried out more Kent based events but Ben is looking to encourage others to plan their own. “We’re putting together plans to help people run their own events under the #Walktotalk banner. We’ve had so many positive messages and comments about the project, it’s important to us to expand on what we’ve already achieved. We’ve learned from what we’ve done so far and now others can take that and build on it themselves. Together we’ll keep learning, keep raising awareness.”
Ben is now attending the University of Liverpool while studying Aerospace Engineering and is looking to organise events local to him. “Jonny Benjamin, MBE, a mental health campaigner, put me in touch with some mental health champions in Liverpool. I’m meeting with them so we can bounce ideas of each other to see how we can work together, including an awareness event. I’m also in touch with the University leadership to find out more about a project they are doing to increase the awareness of student support.”
Knowing full well that education is the key to arming people with advice on mental ill health prevention and messages of where to get help, team West are currently encouraging everyone to sign a ‘Save Our Students’ petition calling for mental health first aid training to become compulsory for teachers. “The Department for Education is encouraging schools to have mental health first aiders but unfortunately many schools are happy with just one but it’s not enough for the amount of students they have. We must not stop until every teacher has the training. You don’t need the school to put you forward and many charities are subsiding costs. Anyone can take part and it all goes towards making sure someone is there for those in need.” With more than 178,000 signatures, there’s still room for more.

Above and beyond

Ben is a true inspiration. Not only has he taken a tragedy and turned it into an opportunity but he has continued his studies and works hard on his own personal life too. His dedication is outstanding.

What do others say about them?

11 October 2019
Despite his grief over his brother’s suicide, Ben West launched a campaign to make mental health awareness mandatory in teacher training. Boris Johnson invited him to Downing Street to present his petition. Let’s hope that vision becomes a Conservative Education Policy.

ITV News Meridian
Oct 5, 2019
Our @PrideOfBritain winners: east and west of the region. Ben West from Frittenden, Kent, raised awareness about mental health after his teenage brother took his own life.

Ann Booth-Clibborn

Sep 5, 2018
Respect to the incredible Ben West and his #walktotalk team arriving at Westminster at 4.30 after a 10 day walk from Cranbrook School, Kent to raise awareness of mental health after the death of Sam his 15 yr old brother. It’s OK to be not OK

Channel 5 News

Oct 23, 2019
This student is calling for compulsory mental health training for teachers after he lost his younger brother, Sam, to suicide.

Ben West is determined to save others from the same pain by campaigning for mental health awareness.

News UK
Oct 17, 2019
The Sun Who Cares Wins Mental Health Hero, Ben West, writes for @TheSun today on why we must teach schools to be happy places. Read here: #WhoCaresWins19

Liverpool Guild Student Media
Nov 20, 2019
‘Liverpool Guild Student Media has recently interviewed Ben West, in which his campaign about raising awareness for mental health issues amongst teenagers was discussed.’

Thank you for the interview @iambenwest!

NHS England Media
Oct 8, 2019
Ben West wins @TheSun’s #WhoCaresWins19 Mental Health Hero Award! Read Ben’s story of his passion and determination around mental health for his late brother, Sam. @katesilverton and @MattHancock present him with his award: #NHSHeroes

Emma Mulqueeny OBE

Aug 28, 2018
Am taking part in #projectwalktotalk with our #boysgetsadtoo tee shirts. We are doing this in support of Ben West and his walk for teenage mental health in memory of his brother Sam. and Boys Get Sad Too here

The Lifestyle Award

Start to end suicide

Evidence tells us that stigmatising attitudes result in people being less likely to get help or give help. If we don’t speak up about persistent stigma, we are at risk of perpetuating a society where we remain reluctant to reach out for help for ourselves or to support others.

This is why ‘Reach Out; Start to End Suicide’ was setup, it is dedicated to the prevention of suicide. It is based on the foundation belief that suicide is preventable and everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide. START utilising its foundation within therapeutic arts developed incredibly innovative interventions that: proactively engage with the Salford community; provide support and hope to those directly affected by suicide; and challenge stigma.

It has brought together the people of Salford as they build resilience, caring, save lives and end the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide. It is a people’s movement that is delivering outstanding results. We aim for a community that makes it the norm and acceptable to feel free to discuss their feelings and told that they matter. Through raising public awareness, education and equipping people with the confidence to have conversations, to support those at risk of suicide, we know we can save lives being lost and contribute to reducing suicides in Salford.

Salford suffers from very significant health inequalities, average health levels in the city are much worse than the national average. Typical life expectancy for Salford residents is three years less than for England as a whole, and with average life expectancy in the city’s most deprived areas is 10.6 years lower for men and 10.3 years lower for women than in its least deprived areas. (PHE,2017). ‘Reach Out; Start to End Suicides’ is focused on strengthening community action and overcoming health inequalities through having the community at the heart of this project. ‘Reach Out; Start to End Suicide’ encourages health behaviour change among the general population of Salford. It is disseminating behaviourally focused messages with the intent of influencing the decision making processes of individuals in Salford. We are decreasing stigma, raising suicide knowledge and increasing the public’s confidence to help people who may be struggling. The scale and reach of the project is critical in reaching at-risk individuals who have not engaged with the health care system and are at high risk of suicide.

Above and beyond

Reach Out; Start to End Suicide’ maximised its impact through its innovation and delivery of:
• 250+ people attending ‘Vigil of Remembrance’ which harnesses the community in support of those that have lost loved ones to suicide. It delivers support and destigmatises the grieving of a loved one lost to suicide. It provides education on suicide prevention and the roles that everyone can play in ending suicide while instilling hope through performance and participatory arts.
• ‘Surviving Suicide; voices of suicide and attempt survivors’, brought together 18 suicide/attempt survivors within a therapeutic arts setting that allowed healing and support. Suicide/attempt survivors created art works that communicate their stories and experiences of suicide and the impact that it has had on their life. Participants reported 111% increase in their mental health & wellbeing. 100% also reported increases: in confidence/self-esteem; social activity/less isolated and more connected to their community. These results directly reduced the incidences of suicidal ideation and increased crisis awareness and support. These artworks are touring Salford as educational/engagement tools accessible to all Salford residents.
• 2,000 Salfordian pledges of support on yellow cut-out hands are planted to make up ‘Sea of Hands of Support’, a participatory art installation, as a mass display of support for anyone who is suicidal. This highly impactful engagement tool allowed over 3,000 conversations that enabled people to identify warning signs of suicide and empowered them to start a conversation that can save a life. 96% of those who engaged with ‘Sea of Hands of Support’ reported increased awareness of suicide prevention.
• Last year ‘Turn Yellow for Suicide Prevention’ grew to 1,239 suicide prevention promotional materials displayed across 277 sites.
• ‘Builders Lunch’ saw us attend worksites where we fed 271 construction workers pizza. They are the hardest to reach and highest risk profession of suicide. We chatted about mental health and suicide prevention. 97% reported an increased awareness of suicide prevention.


Reach Out; Start to End Suicide is effecting meaningful change with its multi-faceted community focused suicide prevention intervention. Every facet of the intervention is innovative within its own right, and collectively reaches out to the Salford community in a scale that hasn’t been seen in Salford before.

‘Reach Out; Start to End Suicide’ is Salford’s first orchestrated suicide prevention programme of activities that include:

• The ‘Vigil of Remembrance’ is the first of its kind with in Greater Manchester and harnesses the community in support of those that have lost loved ones to suicide. It delivers support and destigmatises the grieving of a loved one lost to suicide and enables reflection on the person rather than the act of suicide itself. It also provides a platform for education on suicide prevention and the roles that everyone can play in ending suicide and instilling hope. The vigil is also a participatory event as we have a procession of remembrance which see loved ones of those lost to suicide carry flags in a procession that marks the opening of the vigil. In 2018 we had 109 flags which grew to 126 in 2019, these represent the lives lost in Salford over the previous five years.
• ‘Turning Salford Yellow for Suicide Prevention’ educates and empowers Salford’s community, on mass, to meaningfully connect with people around them, raise awareness, improve community attitudes and increase public dialogue on suicide, while improving the community’s resilience, saving lives and challenge stigma on a scale never before seen across the region or the country.
• ‘Surviving Suicide; voices of suicide and attempt survivors’, in a first in the country brought together suicide and attempt survivors within a therapeutic setting that allowed healing and support for all. The suicide and attempt survivors created art works that communicate their stories and experiences of suicide and the impact that it has had on their life with the support of bereavement and mental health support workers. These artworks on another first tour Salford as educational and engagement tools accessible to all Salford residents.
• ‘Builders Lunch’ is the first time this type of innovative approach to public health has been used for this target audience. It goes direct to the workplaces of this hardest to reach at risk group, with suicide being the largest killer of men aged 49 and under, and men aged 15-29 years of age, and especially within the construction and contracting industry where male site workers in construction are three times more likely to die by suicide than the average UK male. Our outreach workers talk to the workers about mental health, suicide prevention and getting support.

Sustained impact

In 2018 Start Inspiring Minds celebrated its 25th year of delivering creative therapeutic arts to those experiencing mental ill health. One of our staff members suggested that we channel our energies into make real change through a campaign preventing suicide in Salford. Sadly, we have lost several members through suicide. Our communication lead who is a suicide attempt survivor himself setting up the campaign and firstly finding out what was needed through talking to our community.

We spoke with 7 attempt survivors and 6 people that have lost family or friends to suicide in Salford, all of them said that there needs to be more education within the community about what the warning signs are, how to support people who are suicidal, and how to start a conversation with someone who they suspect is feeling suicidal. A suicide attempt survivor said “I was desperate, I couldn’t reach out and speak to anyone, I thought that I would be a burden, it would have made a huge difference if someone, anyone noticed that I was hurting and desperate, but I couldn’t”. A suicide survivor who lost their mother to suicide said “If only I knew what the warning signs were and how to talk to her, what to say, it would have saved her. I could have saved her, now I live with the guilt everyday”. She went on “We need to be taught how to spot warning signs, it would make such a big difference knowing what to look out for and how to help them”. When consulting by a questionnaire with 22 people with no experience of suicide, 86% would not be able to identify warning signs of suicide, and 77% not being able to identify who they could contact to get support for someone that was feeling suicidal apart from the emergency services. 90% said that they didn’t have the knowledge of how to ask or support someone if they were feeling suicidal.

Reflecting on his own recovery from being a suicide attempt survivor and the research he carried out he developed the tools that are now what we very proudly call Reach Out; Start to End Suicide. We place lived experience at the heart of this project, which has delivered incredible results over the past two years. We look forward to continue to start conversations that save lives in Salford.

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