Marsh Award for Mental Health Peer Support: Doing it for Ourselves

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 an independent peer led group.

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.

In it’s first year, the Award recognised a group and an individual who had made an active contribution to help those experiencing a mental health problem

The Happy Mums Foundation 2021

Happy Mums aims to improve the mental health of women during pregnancy and up to 2 years post birth across Cumbria. Happy Mums was set up in 2015 by Katherine Dalgliesh after she experienced postnatal depression felt a need to share her experience without fear of judgement. They provide peer-led support groups and meetings to reduce isolation and empower women with lived experience to take on leadership roles in these groups. The groups and meetings are discussion led, on topics chosen by the members, and there is an open forum for women to share their experiences and any concerns they are having surrounding motherhood. Since being shortlisted in the 2020 Marsh Awards, The Happy Mums have used the endorsement to develop our first comprehensive volunteering programme and they have recruited and trained 10 volunteers since May. The Happy Mums Foundation adapted during the COVID lockdowns and held online weekly support groups to reduce the feeling of isolation, which still run now.

Previous Winners

RISE Warrington

The aim of this group is to relieve harm from self and others, through the sharing of experiences and the support of those who have been through similar circumstances themselves. The members take the group to the people who need support the most, providing an outreach service based on the issues that are most affecting the local community. Since the group was formed in 2018, over 200 people have received their services, 25% of whom had been in a suicidal situation. The group creates a safe space where people can speak freely, whether in a group, family or one to one session, depending on the needs of the individual who is being supported. The founder of the group has been living with mental health difficulties for over 40 years and has ensured that all the volunteers leading the group are people with lived experience. They make sure to reach out to people who have fallen through the gap of professional services, including marginalised communities and those communities who would not usually seek help for mental health difficulties. During the pandemic, the need for the group’s services increased by almost 400% and they have adapted so that they are able to continue to provide their vital support, which is encouraged by the local council. 

Talking Sense, THRU (Talk, Help, Relate, Understand), The Thanet Working Group

WINNER: Talking Sense

Talking Sense provides peer-led support for individuals over the age of 18 who have experienced voices and visions. They provide a confidential and safe space, reduce stigma and isolation, encourage the sharing of experiences and provide education and awareness of voices and visions to those who do not have lived experience. The group meets twice a month in a café where they learn from each other’s experiences and develop new ways of understanding and coping with unusual sensory perceptions. Talking Sense also runs workshops and speaks at conferences where they provide education to people without lived experience. These events help reduce stigma, increase understanding of unusual sensory perceptions, ensure lived experience perspectives and build the confidence of members by helping them recognise and develop their skills. The group is entirely peer-led and non-hierarchical, meaning that all facilitators are group members with lived experience, rather than professionals or volunteers, and they collectively make decisions on how to run the group based on their individual needs.

RUNNER-UP: THRU (Talk, Help, Relate, Understand)

THRU is a group for 16-25 year olds experiencing mental health difficulties as they navigate the transition into adulthood. There is no diagnosis required to join the group, they instead encourage the desire to start working towards better mental health. There are two established groups, offering up to 12 months of topic-focused, skills-based activities as well as a safe place to share in a support group style. The groups are encouraged to explore topics that build a person’s capacity to cope with life’s difficulties, including resilience, anxiety, self-esteem, confidence, communication, low mood and coping with setbacks. THRU encourages members decide what they would like to work on, which helps build their confidence that their experiences are valid and worth sharing. All facilitators have lived experience of mental health difficulties and many of the volunteers have been THRU group members in the past. This is a dynamic and evolving service that consistently asks for input and honest feedback from its users.

RUNNER-UP: The Thanet Working Group (TWG)

The Thanet Working Group was set up in June 2017 by mental health service users living with a diagnosed long-term mental health illness. Members work together to ascertain the gaps in mental health service provision within Thanet, an area recognised nationally as having some of the highest levels of mental health inequality. TWG comes up with ideas to address these gaps and creates initiatives that are for the people by the people. The group has set up and run a number of projects including a gardening project, befriending services, a drop in café and fundraising calendars. TWG is completely unfunded and self-organised and supported by SpeakUpCIC, a mental health support organisation where many of the members of TWG met. They have so far benefitted over 70 people, and also aim to inspire others in the community to seek the support they need to combat their mental health illness.

The SpeakEasy and SWADS

The SpeakEasy

This is a group operating in Middlesbrough, aiming to reduce suicide in an area of England that has the highest suicide rate, by tackling loneliness and isolation. The group focuses specifically on men, offering a safe, supportive space where they can help each other without prejudice or stigma. SpeakEasy consists of 4 support groups, which have supported 123 men since 2017. The focus is on talking and building relationships. They offer social inclusion for those who may be lonely or isolated, a free drink for those who are short of money and a space where those who are living with mental ill health are the majority, not the minority.


SWADS aims to provide peer support to adults who are living with mental health issues across South Wales. Having started in 2013, the group is now made up of 450 active members. 10 -12 social activities are provided every week, aimed at improving wellbeing and alleviating the feelings of isolation, loneliness and despair which often accompany anxiety and depression. Activities include monthly coffee meets, regular walks, gardening, badminton and quiz nights and are all organised in public spaces, in coffee shops, parks and leisure centres. This makes them low-cost and accessible to everyone whilst helping people to integrate back into society.

Kiran Women's Group and RISE

Kiran Women’s Group (Winners)

The Kiran Women’s Group encourage women to work together to empower other women through health, happiness and harmony, through informal activities that are available for women to access as and when they need them. Some of the activities that they run include basic IT and literacy training, Aqua Mobility sessions, self-defence classes, nutrition and healthy-eating classes and they work closely with other local community groups to help the women learn about what is available to them in their local area. The group caters specifically to women from the black and minority ethnic community in Blackburn, who are generally over the age of 50 and often have poor English language skills. Each week, more than 20 women attend the group to take part in activities that improve their physical and mental health wellbeing.

The group is led by an elected committee, who have been chosen through a constitutional agreement which ensures that the group is led and governed fairly and equally. All members of the leadership committee have had lived experience of various forms of mental health difficulties, which makes them very able to provide support and advice to both the women who take part in the activities and local community groups and leaders who want to provide support to the women who attend the group

RISE (Runners-Up)

RISE (Reassure Identify Support and Empower) offers a safe, welcoming and non-judgemental space for women who have experienced sexual trauma, giving them the opportunity to meet other survivors and be reassured that they are not alone. All members and facilitators of the group have mental health experience, from a personal or professional perspective, and everyone involved contributes to the leadership of the group. Members share coping strategies and the struggles that they have faced, helping members to realise that they are not alone and it is okay not to be okay. RISE is based in Thanet, one of the most socially deprived districts in Kent, and is able to reach women who are financially and socially disadvantaged. They work closely with the local Community Mental Health Team, where the facilitators have delivered workshops for professionals to increase awareness around RISE. They bring together a diverse group of women who without the support that RISE provides would be unable to access any peer support in their area.

Evolve Peer Support Group

Evolve is a peer support group for teenagers aged 13-19 who struggle with their mental health and want a safe space to talk and find people who understand what they are going through. It was started as a response to the lack of services in the local area of Croydon for those suffering with mental health, and finding themselves isolated and without a much needed support network. The group is open to all people, regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. As well as holding fortnightly group meetings, Evolve has a strong online community, with a lot of activity and discussion taking place amongst members on social media.

Evolve is run by people with lived experience of mental health and the group has proved to be a crucial resource for the local community, with a number of members going on to becoming the group leaders. Through volunteering with Evolve, members are able to gain confidence, skills and a reference for their CV’s, all of which could help them gain employment. The group runs sessions on art, music, writing, positive thinking, exercise and coping strategies, which are devised thanks to the feedback from members on previous sessions. Every member of Evolve is given the opportunity to speak at events and share their experiences, both during the group sessions and larger events such as “Evolve Day” which was attended by over 100 people.

Recently, the group has been working on their own book, named “Evolving”, wherein each member will have their own chapter sharing their experiences. The group are hoping that the book will be published, and any money raised from its sales would go partly towards developing the group, partly to other charities (such as Samaritans and Mind) and also to each book contributor. Evolve do everything they can to include people of all faiths, sexual orientations, genders etc. and try to break down the stereotypes and barriers that make people feel unable to speak openly about their mental health. Many of the group’s sessions centre around recovery and what that means to the members and a lot of time is spent talking about coping strategies, treatments and role models. The group shares all aspects of each member’s journey and has become an important support network for people in the area to turn to.

Three other peer support groups were also recognised for their outstanding work:

– Greater Manchester Police Mental Health Peer Support Network
– Get Help, Give Help (Manchester Mind)
– Barnet Depression Alliance