First Steps was set up in 2004 by our Founder, 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 whilst working full time for a local charity supporting people with addiction.

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 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 suitable to our trained and supported befrienders and our befrindee service users.
  • 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 where today we deliver 100 hours of support each month to patients in their homes and in the community who are at very high risk of being hospitalised due to severe and enduring anorexia nervosa.
  • 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 health economy.

In 2012, due to an increasing demand and interest in eating disorders, First Steps began to offer CPD training to professionals from the NHS, schools, and councellors working in health and private practice. These full day workshops are still running and are designed to help professionals from a range of sectors 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 CPD 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.  

GP Trainees also attend a half day training and awareness session with our team to learn about eating disorders and services available to patients and families across Derbyshire.  GP’s typically only receive up to 20 mins educational training on eating disorders as part of their total NHS training and welcome our comprehensive training session which always receives positive feedback.

Our team are also supported by a retired GP with lived experience and a NHS secondary care consultant with a clinical practice in obesities provide acting as an ambassador to First Steps providing training to GP Practices across Derby and Derbyshire.

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. Today our services and governance processes are consistently achieving the highest compliance ratings against this external evaluation set of standards for charitable organisations.

2015: First Steps secured a 3 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 2018 our Eating Disorders in Student Services (EDISS) has supported over 300 students at both universities, with many going onto volunteer and become a befriender to our current service users.

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 a £30,000 grant 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) Value Award in the ‘Supported Self Care’ category. Our volunteer led Online Befriending project was recognised by the sponsor, NHS England, Integrated Personal Commissioning national team as ‘a wonderful, inspiring example of a truly person centered service that compliments local services and that demonstrably transforms people’s lives’

In 2018/19 First Steps has now started the process following endorsement from our members at the Annual General Meeting to apply to the Charity Commission to become a Charitable Integrated Organisation (CIO) as part of our Trustee’s committee strategic plans.


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 new referrals from both children and young people and adults (a 200% increase on 2016/17) we are working on implementing a new Private Support Option for service users who would like to by-pass our current free waiting list. We started to offer private eating disorder counselling services from October 2018 following feedback and interest shown by service users.


Our NHS commissioners currently provide a funding ratio of 8:1, in other words, for every £1 invested by NHS partners into our services delivered directly to Derbyshire residents, First Steps works hard to secure an additional £8 from our business development team delivered through our fundraising and grant support partners.

In 2018 we recalculated our Social Return in Investment (SRIO) employing The National Themes Outcomes and Measures (TOMs) framework and when we aggregate our funding secured from statutory organisations and charitable giving funders alongside our own staff and volunteers fundraising efforts, plus counting the contribution provided by our befrienders and student placements, First Steps has a 16:1 SROI.

This impact is only possible from the compassion and commitment provided by our staff and volunteers, each having a lived experience of eating disorders, and the additional contribution made from our service users and their families who value their experience with First Steps, bringing hope, opportunities and choices for lives impacted by eating disorders.

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