Supported Self-Care Award by NHS England Integrated Personal Commissioning

First Steps ED secures NHS England National Recognition

NHS England, Integrated Personal Commissioning has recognised our work to support children, young people and adults with eating disorders and our stakeholder relationships with health professionals across NHS East Midlands.

Challenge   Action  Results
  • People are often ashamed to admit that they have an eating disorder, hence they find it difficult to be open and honest about their condition
  • They access NHS provision only when their condition is life threatening
  • Support people with eating disorders
  • Developed a volunteer-led Online Befriending project, allowing people at risk of or with an eating disorder to self-refer themselves and be supported by people with lived experience
  • The online project is anonymous, enabling individuals to openly discuss their issues
  • Used technology and face-to-face interaction to suit the needs of the service users
  • Used social media and emails to reach out to more people
  • Resulted in a rise in referrals; 122 people received the service, with 6,160 emails sent by volunteers
  • 75% of volunteers reported that volunteering had provided a positive distraction from their eating disorder
  • 93% felt the project made a significant improvement to their quality of life
  • 100% of service users said their befriender helped to encourage and inspire them

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


People are ashamed to admit they have an eating disorder, therefore making it difficult for them to be open and honest about their condition, and access to NHS provision is often only when it is life threatening. The anonymity provided by the online project enables individuals to discuss potentially embarrassing/taboo subjects, increases the possibilities for self-disclosure, encourages openness and honesty, and provides access to early preventative solutions. Therefore we developed a volunteer-led On-Line Befriending Project which enables self-referral by people at risk of or with an eating disorder to be supported by people with lived experience.


The project has been funded through Henry Smith Charitable Trusts, £30,000 per year (currently in our 4th year) – which we have modeled with our local NHS CCG’s to have delivered savings to NHS England tier 3 and tier 4 eating disorders services of over £500,000 recurrently.

Initially started as a pilot project, now in its fourth year our staff provide dedicated recruitment, training, and ongoing support to our committed and thriving volunteer team; 50 volunteer befrienders and 4 volunteer supervisors. They meet quarterly to review service delivery, supported by our staff to ensure that our Befriendee service users receive regular safeguarding evaluation and have an opportunity to feedback their insights into service improvements.

We have developed our service using a mix of technology enabled care services (TECS) and face-to-face interactions, to suit the needs of the service users. For example, through the Facebook ‘ChatED’ group, peer support is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We have seen a rise in referrals, and over 200 people receiving the service, with 6,160 online correspondences’ sent by volunteer Befrienders. The use of social media, technology such as Skype, facetime, Chat-Bots and emails means that the service can reach more people, regardless of their location.

Our extensive service-user feedback confirms that befriending makes a positive impact, supporting sufferers away from negative eating habits towards positive coping mechanisms:

”Over the years I have received a lot of different help from doctors and many different health professionals (NHS but also private)…befriending is by far the best decision I ever made”

”I have found that through talking to my befriender I have become more open and able to talk about how I am feeling, this has extended…into my family life…I have also learned new ways of coping with feelings and new ways of looking at things in a more positive way”


  • In 2016/17 75% of volunteers reported that volunteering had provided a positive distraction from their eating disorder and by helping others they had helped themselves
  • 90% of volunteers report an increase in confidence, self-esteem and mental well-being
  • 94% reported their volunteering activity had been of great personal benefit and aided their recovery from their own eating disorder
  • 93% felt the project made a significant improvement to their quality of life and ability to cope with their eating disorder
  • 88% felt the project reduced their feelings of isolation
  • 100% said their befriender helped to encourage and inspire them, to think differently, and show that recovery was possible


In 2016 we received the Queens Award for Innovation and in 2017 the GSK Impact Award Top 10 Charity in England for making a positive impact in community health services. We are exploring the expansion of this award-winning service model towards a blended digital model which aims to widen participation.

We will enable our service users to be supported by both conventional face-to-face and new digital tools (such as Technology Enabled Care Services, WoeBot apps as these technologies continue to be developed and approved by NHS Digital and NHS England) that provide self-care by elevating anxiety and depression preventing crises and deterioration through a co-produced care plan that prevents emergency in-patient.

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