First Steps Wins National Recognition

A Derbyshire organisation has won a major national healthcare award in recognition of its work

to support children, young people and adults with eating disorders and its relationship with health

professionals across NHS East Midlands.

First Steps in Agard Street was founded in 2004 by CEO, Cathy Cleary who as a teenager

suffered with an eating disorder and recognised that through her own experiences and

recovery, that other sufferers and their families needed support that was not always

available from NHS and community and primary care services.  

The charity has won the Supported Self Care category sponsored by NHS England Integrated

Personalised Care a joint national programme with the Local Government Association at this

year’s HSJ Value Awards which are regarded as the ‘Oscars’ of the health care service in England.

The award was in recognition of First Steps Eating Disorders Online Befriending Service

which the judges said: ‘is a wonderful example of a truly person centred service that

compliments local NHS services and that demonstrably transforms people’s lives. An

example we can all learn from’.

The online befriending service typically involves 40 trained volunteers – many of whom have

personal experience of eating disorders and a positive recovery – who provide online

practical support for around 50 local people at any one time.

First Steps matches volunteers with service users – providing one to one online support

providing a safe and if required anonymous environment that focuses on practical advice to

increase their self-confidence and being a friendly and non-judgemental listening ear.

Cathy Cleary explained that eating disorders affected people of all ages, backgrounds and


The online befriending service is the first step for people of all ages with eating disorders to

understand their condition and explore practical ways to combat isolation and if required

access clinical help through our partnership working with local NHS services.

Service users are part of the programme for a maximum of nine months by which time they

were hopefully ready to move onto attending support group meetings and other services

that the charity provides in a range of venues across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Mrs Cleary said: “Our trained befrienders from our volunteer network are made up of

people who have themselves accessed first steps support either for their own eating disorders or who

have lived with someone with these issues. 

“The online befriending service focuses on practical support rather than therapy or clinical

advice and provides people with opportunities to take better control of their own condition

with support from someone who can suggest strategies that can often lead to recovery.

“They are highly trained to help people start their journey to re-establishing a healthy

relationship with food. They often discuss the root causes of the issue such as bullying,

abuse, stress or work, school or  family pressures.  First Step are able to to give them hope

that they can one day live a healthy and happy life without this mental health anxiety.

She continued: “This award is an important milestone for First Steps.  Having built up

excellent working relationships with NHS health care providers and commissioners and a

reputation for providing a service-user centred service we are looking to expand across the

East and West Midlands.

“The kudos of the HSJ Awards will help to raise our profile and credibility so that we can

provide support to more people in more places and across our blended services.”

Bid writer Rachel Hayward who runs Ask the Chameleon supported First Steps with the

award submission.

She said: “We are obviously delighted to have won this award particularly as we were up

against national NHS organisations and national health charities.

“It proves that smaller charities that provide a high quality and user-focused service can

compete against larger and more established organisations for awards and financial support

which are vital in this climate of increasing waiting times and reduced funding for healthcare


“I hope that First Steps’ success will inspire other charities and supporting organisations to

follow their lead and aim high. As well as national recognition, this award will provide First

Steps with a wider network to share best practice with other NHS organisations for the good

of its service users and current communities.”


Media enquiries: Sarah Jenkin-Jones, JJPR, Tel: 01332 515102/07951 945665;

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