First Steps was set up in 2004 by our CEO, Cathy Cleary, as a way to provide non-judgemental support for people suffering with eating disorders living within the Derbyshire area, today we support and deliver eating disorder services to people and families in the East Midlands.

Having suffered with an eating disorder as a teenager Cathy recognised that there was a lack of provision for sufferers and their families and began a fortnightly support group at a local community room.

Cathy together with another volunteer began to raise awareness of eating disorders within the community and soon other people attending the self-help groups wanted to help spread the word. 

2007 - 2012

First Steps applied for charity status which enabled us to apply for larger grants and in 2008 BBC Children in Need awarded First Steps with its first "substantial" grant, which was quickly followed in 2009 with another three year grant from the Volunteering England Fund. This took the staff number up from zero to two full time and two part time members of staff.

The one room that we were renting from Derby City Council quickly became much too small and so First Steps moved to Osmaston Road in Derby which gave us greater flexibility and the scope to develop and increase the range of services. These included specific support for up to 20 young people per year and a range of complimentary therapies for up to 25 people per year provided by students on placements from the University of Derby. These services included massage therapy, reflexology, yoga, shiatsu, drama and art therapy. By 2009, our volunteer numbers had increased from 5 to 24.

From 2009, due to the vast amount of emails that the staff was receiving we began to further develop the online befriending services. This proved to be highly successful as it allowed 10 service users to obtain support from 5 trained volunteers from the comfort of their own home and at a convenient time

Also around this time, with the support of Southern Derbyshire Mental Health Forum, Cathy began to make positive links with commissioning bodies including Derby City PCT and the East Midlands Specialist Commissioning Group.

A major success for the charity was being sub-contracted by NHS Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation Trust to provide Intensive Community Support and to this day, First Steps continues to works in partnership with NHS Derbyshire Eating Disorder Service to deliver support to up to 16 people per year who are at very high risk of being hospitalised due to severe and enduring anorexia nervosa. At the time of writing, this intensive community support partnership is estimated to save NHS England approximately £500,000 per year and is seen to be a major contribution to the Derbyshire community.

In 2012, due to an increasing demand and interest in eating disorders, First Steps began to offer CPD training to counsellors and health professionals. These full day workshops are still running and are designed to help health professionals gain a greater understanding of eating difficulties and disorders and so help them in their work with sufferers and their families.

2013 – 2017

Over 1000 people have attended the full day workshop and over 800 university students have received lectures from the First Steps team as part of their studies to help increase their understanding and knowledge of eating disorders.

2013: First Steps was awarded the PQASSO Quality Mark which is a self-assessment tool that helped us to identify areas where we was doing well and not so well, and decide exactly what improvements are needed.

2015: First Steps secured a three year NHS contract to provide support to students at The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University. This enabled students to access support on campus and is extremely well received by the students and university staff who access our support. In year 1 and 2 of running this service, a total of 252 students and staff have registered to receive support for their eating disorder.

2016 : First Steps was awarded The Queens Award for Voluntary Services. This is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK and is to recognise the outstanding work done in their own communities. It is classed as the MBE for volunteer groups.

In 2017: First Steps won a GSK IMPACT Award. This award consisted of £30,000 together with training and development opportunities for staff. This fund is being used towards recruiting and training ten volunteer counsellors who will provide long term support for up to 30 people over the age of 18 years.

During the latter part 2017, First Steps also won a prestigious Health Service Journal (HSJ) Award in the 'Supported Self Care' category. Our volunteer led Online Befriending project was recognised by the judges as 'a wonderful, inspiring example of a truly person centered service that compliments local services and that demonstrably transforms people's lives'


At present, First Steps is continuing to develop as an organisation. As ever, we are finding new ways to adapt to a changing environment for both mental health and the charity sector.

Currently, with an increase of referrals (from around 200% and an estimated 500% by the end of the year) we are working on implementing a new Private Support Option for service users who would like to by-pass our current waiting list. We are planning to make this official by October 1st if significant interest is shown by service users.

Through this, we aim to be able to provide the same high quality support without the loss of accessibility that we have prided ourselves on since 2004!