Merseyside young people’s mental health charity wins top UK health award

News - 05 March 2024

Birkenhead-based Open Door Charity has won a major award for its creative and accessible mental health and wellbeing support for young people across the Wirral and Merseyside.

Following a rigorous selection and assessment process, Open Door Charity was chosen from more than 500 organisations across the UK as one of the 10 winners of the 2024 GSK IMPACT Awards which are delivered in partnership with The King’s Fund. Now in its 27th year, the awards are a mark of excellence in the charity sector, designed to recognise the outstanding work of small and medium-sized charities working to improve people’s health and wellbeing in the UK. 

As an award winner, Open Door Charity will now receive £40,000 in unrestricted funding as well as expert support and leadership development provided by leading health and care charity The King’s Fund.  

Younger people often struggle to access mainstream mental health support, with only just over one in three children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition receiving NHS care and treatment. Research has shown two thirds of young people said they would prefer to be able to access mental health support without going to see their GP.

The award judges commended the unique way Open Door Charity has broken down barriers for young people needing mental health support, such as long waiting times, needing a GP referral, off-putting clinical environments, and a lack of understanding of what someone is going through. It uses art, music and its environment as a catalyst for change, providing a range of services in a colourful and informal space. Young people can access these services for free and without a referral from a GP or other professional, and with no, or minimal, wait times. Research by The King’s Fund shows that young people wait an average of 178 days when accessing support through the NHS. With 80 volunteers supporting the delivery of these services, the award judges praised the use of peer support and the variety of social and creative opportunities provided to help improve mental wellbeing quickly and effectively.

Established in 2011, Open Door Charity offers mental health support to young people aged 17–35 across the Wirral and Merseyside. This area has one of the highest depression rates in England at 20.4%, and in 2021 its hospital admission rates for children and young people for mental health needs was more than double national levels.

Open Door Charity’s main programme is ‘Bazaar’, where a volunteer peer mentor, often someone of a similar age to the member and likely to have experienced mental health challenges, or had someone close to them experience them, is matched with someone struggling with anxiety or low mood. They meet up in person once a week for eight weeks. The programme blends aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy with mindfulness and positive psychology. Data collected by the charity showed that in 2022/23, the Bazaar programme supported almost 450 young people and led to a 50% reduction in stress and a 43% reduction in symptoms of depression.

The judges also commented on the charity’s emotional resilience outreach programme, Colours, noting its particularly striking impact on young children in the local community, with those who completed the four-week programme showing a 40% reduction in stress levels. The judges were impressed by the charity’s programme to support children in local authority care (Oomoo), and its peer support for young people who are at risk of an eating disorder (Mysa).

Data collected by the charity shows that they supported over 1,000 young people in 2022/23 across their main programmes and around 8,000 people benefited from their arts, wellbeing and cultural events in the community.

The charity’s strong partnerships with local organisations and its reach were particularly commended. The award win comes at a time when the charity is expanding with the development of the Joy, a new wellbeing hub opening in 2025 that will help foster greater collaboration with the NHS and other mental health services.

Lisa Weaks, Senior Associate at The King’s Fund, said: “Open Door Charity is a pioneering organisation using arts and music to engage young people and reduce the stigma of mental health. Its ability to see young people quickly and effectively by self-referral is excellent. The charity’s ethos of blending open access mental health support with creative activities is impressive, along with its ability to influence wider sector collaboration and the development of new services. It is a lynchpin in the local community.”

Commenting on the award win, Lee Pennington, Charity Director, said: “To receive this recognition represents a very important milestone in the Open Door Charity story. We have been on a significant growth trajectory since creating the Bloom Building in early 2019, which has culminated in us reaching a transformational crossroads in our development. We are on the edge of a very exciting future and to be recognised in this way, on a national level, is something which the team and I are very proud of. The award will go a long way in helping to foster the trust and public awareness that will be vital to us achieving our aims over the next few years.” Developing leaders in the charity sector is a key aim of the GSK IMPACT Awards programme and all winners are invited to build on their success and take part in a tailored leadership development programme run by The King’s Fund.