Marsh Award for Mental Health Peer Support: Innovative Peer Support

These Awards are run in partnership with Mind and wider Peerfest partners and recognise excellence in peer led support for those experiencing mental health problems.

Peer support happens when people work together, or support each other, from their lived experience. It can take place informally and formally, in all sorts of settings such as in user led organisations, projects, support groups and in the workplace.  It means different things to different people. It may also be called self help, befriending/wellbeing groups, meet ups, or mentoring. It also can take place online through digital means.

This Award recognises a project whose approach is new, exciting and different who provide support to their peers with a mental health problem within their community and who work to make a difference to people’s lives.

Nominations for the Award are judged by an independent panel of people with peer support expertise, others with lived experience, and representatives from Peerfest partner organisations.


Mental Health Swims 2021

Mental Health Swims aims to empower anybody living with mental health challenges to try out cold water dipping. The founder, Rachel Ashe, found cold water was really helpful for managing a lot of her symptoms. They want to make it easier for to make connections in members local communities with other like-minded people and believe in celebrating differences and making safe welcoming spaces for people no matter who they are or how they’re feeling. The volunteers are trained in mental health awareness, cold-water safety, risk assessment and volunteer wellbeing, and all have lived experience of mental health challenges. The volunteers organise monthly meet ups, held across the whole of the UK. Many members have found that it has boosted their mental health enough that they are more able to manage day to day life. During lockdown, although they could not swim, they held zoom meet ups every Sunday morning and people would join from their bath wearing a swimsuit and was extra support during a difficult time. By the end of the first lockdown there were already 30 groups ready to start. The groups future plans are to applying for funding to organise six week courses called ‘Talk, Walk and Dip’. These will be longer sessions aimed to those who find getting out of their houses due to their mental health really challenging, and seeing familiar faces will help people to feel more confident.

Previous Winners

361 Life Support

361 Life Support is a completely user led group created by and for survivors of domestic violence. They provide emotional education for survivors and society, facilitate personal recovery, and provide opportunities for survivors to reconnect with society. They create user-led resources and materials to support their various recovery programmes which are for domestic abuse survivors from all areas of society. The group have also been asked to comment on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill passing through Parliament and in doing so are representing the survivor voice to influence social change. The group were due to launch their Recovery Programmes face to face in March this year, but luckily, they were able to still launch them, albeit online due to the pandemic. This has enabled them to reach more people than they would have been able to face to face. They have also put together a podcast which has been able to provide vital information to women during lockdown, a time when domestic abuse cases are on the rise. 

Support for Survivors, Alpha Mare Support Group, Mothers for Mothers Gardening Group

WINNER: Support for Survivors

Support for Survivors aims to actively reduce the distress of male and female victims and survivors aged 16 plus who were sexually, physically or emotionally abused, neglected or experienced abuse from a family member. They engage, enhance, support and focus on positive mental health and wellbeing attitudes for empowerment of the self and others, to prevent members turning to drugs, alcohol and other addictions to help them through their recovery from trauma. The group has built a safe and non-judgemental environment where people can share experiences, building trust and respectful relationships between members. They use self-help and peer-led principles to create a positive and dynamic therapeutic environment, generating empowerment and combatting isolation and alienation. Over 250 victims and survivors, along with their families and carers, are involved in the group. The group reaches out to the marginalised and socially excluded in communities and works on an individual basis with members, recognising that each person is at a different stage of their recovery.

RUNNER-UP: Alpha Mare Support Group

The Alpha Mare Project is an innovative peer support group for women with mental health issues, using the idea that women, like the lead mare in the horse herd, are nurturers and often take care of others while disregarding the need to look after themselves. The Alpha Mare Course enables women experiencing mental health issues to set boundaries, make healthy choices, build self-esteem and cope with change. As women join together to take part in a meaningful activity and bond over a shared interest, they gain the confidence and communication skills to talk about their mental health. The group works on a drop-in basis and members will spend part of their time helping to train and care for rescued horses while having discussions around various themes such as self-care, relaxation and problem-solving. The group is open to women for as long as they need the support and they are encouraged to be involved in the group as leaders once they feel ready.

RUNNER-UP: Mothers for Mothers Gardening Group

Mothers for Mothers peer support workers and volunteers have set up a gardening group, attended by mothers and their children who have been affected by perinatal mental illness or an ongoing mental health issue while caring for small children. The group is run on a drop-in basis, and women are able to attend from pregnancy until their youngest child starts school. The group provides peer support alongside outdoor activity in an inner-city area where there is a lack of access to safe outdoor spaces. They grow quick growing and easily harvested food whilst encouraging the women to have discussions about their mental health and wellbeing and enabling young children to experience eating food that they have grown themselves. The peer support staff and volunteers who run the group have all experience perinatal mental illness and the members are encouraged to decide what they grow. Learning a new skill has helped the women to bond, which has in turn encouraged more open discussions around mental health.

Gwent Police Mental Health Support Network and Core Sport

Gwent Police Mental Health Support Network

This group enables police officers and staff of Gwent Police, in Wales, who are living with mental health conditions to be able to offer support to each other in a safe, comfortable environment. They meet on a quarterly basis at neutral locations away from Police premises.  One-to-one support is offered to anyone who is not comfortable with attending group sessions. The group is run by members experiencing mental ill health, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder linked to their work experiences. Group members campaign for better mental health awareness within the police force and also seek to engage with monitory groups who might be facing discrimination within the force.

Core Sport

This group is based in Hackney, in London, and uses sport to aid recovery from severe and enduring mental health needs, enabling people to re-integrated back into the community through a supportive and safe environment. They offer 15 different sports activities, six days a week. They also provide volunteering and education opportunities in the community, by offering Further Education courses, fitness and coaching qualifications and work experience.

Tuesday Project and SMTalking Circles

Tuesday Project (winner)

The Tuesday Project is a partnership between Deaf-Led charity SignHealth and mental health charity Leeds Survivor Led Crisis and is funded by the Tudor Trust. The group meets weekly and supports Deaf people who suffer with mental health difficulties and is run by two Deaf staff. They are unique in Leeds because is it facilitated via British Sign Language. They run a variety of activities, cook a meal together and organise various trips to help members socialise, build up their social skills and reduce any feelings of isolation that they may be experiencing.

The group is led by people with lived experience of being Deaf and who have suffered with mental health issues as a resulted, especially depression as a result of the isolation they feel. Many of the members of the group have gone on to give their time as volunteers, and the group recently ran a number of training workshops to help them become leaders within the group and develop skills to help them plan for their future. The facilitators share experiences and advice on mental health and wellbeing and the group gives its members a purpose and something to leave the house for.

SMTalking Circles (runner-up)

SMTalking Circles was set up on January 2016 to support the needs of adults who have lived experience of Selective Mutism (SM) and still experience communication difficulties and related mental health issues. The group is a safe space where members can make connections and socialise without feeling the pressure to speak, using both verbal and non-verbal activities to help relieve their anxiety. They have recently expanded the group to include a public café, which came about from feedback from members of the group about how they wanted things to progress. This is a huge step for the members of the group, many of whom have been isolated to their homes due to their SM. This is the first adult peer group of its kind and the first kind of adult SM specific support which has been available in the UK.