Charity Awards 2024

Former Mind CEO honoured for extraordinary impact at the Charity Awards 2024

Paul Farmer, the former Mind chief executive who has been hugely influential in changing the narrative around mental health and making illness much more widely understood, has been awarded the Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement at this year’s Charity Awards.

Farmer was presented with his prize at the Charity Awards ceremony last night by Cathy Phelan-Watkins, director of Civil Society Media and wife of the late Daniel Phelan, creator of the Charity Awards.

He was honoured for three decades of leadership in the mental health sector, including key roles at Samaritans and Rethink Mental Illness, and culminating in 16 years at the helm of Mind. 

Throughout his career, he campaigned tirelessly for more humane and effective mental health legislation, and was a key proponent of the Mental Health Media Awards which played a critical role in changing how mental ill health is portrayed in the news and on TV programmes.

He was one of the architects of Time to Change, the 15-year campaign that brought together charities, employers, schools, funders, government agencies, public authorities, the media, celebrities, and people with lived experience of the mental health system to shift the dial on perceptions of mental ill health and people’s reactions to it. 

He also wrote or co-authored several seminal reports which served to shift government policy, including the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health and the Thriving at Work review, which set out the minimum standards that all employers should adopt to preserve and protect the mental wellbeing of their staff.

Over the course of Farmer’s career, understanding of and attitudes to mental health among the public, politicians and the media have been transformed. The stigma and discrimination that historically accompanied any form of mental ill health has been significantly reduced, and Farmer’s campaigning, advocacy and collaborative approach have been key to this change.  

Now, as chief executive of Age UK, he wants to effect a similar transformation for older people, to tackle the ageism that pervades much of society and ensure that every older person feels valued and included. 

Farmer responds

Farmer collected his award alongside 10 category winners and the winner of the Overall Award for Excellence, LandWorks, at a black-tie ceremony at the Royal Lancaster London, hosted by writer and broadcaster Ayesha Hazarika. Accepting the award, Farmer pointed to the “huge challenge” facing the country but said the new government had a rare opportunity to “reset”.

He urged the Starmer administration to apply three attributes to its work ahead: compassion and care; belief and hope; and progress and change.

“I think that we are in need of healing,” he said.

“There is a lot of division, quite a lot of shouting – in some ways we’ve never been so vocal. Yet there hasn’t been a lot of talking and there hasn’t been a lot of listening.

“So the solutions we know, many people in this room know, to many of the problems rest in communities, in bringing people together.”

He went on: “We all saw it during Covid and we need to rekindle that spirit of looking out for our neighbours, our friends, our colleagues.

“I feel that belief and hope have been in pretty short supply. I’m not just for England fans here.

“In fact, if you go to the cupboard marked belief and hope, you are not going to find a lot in it. A few streamers from 1997, a couple of London 2012 T-shirts. 

“And yet, day after day I see the belief and the hope that many charities bring to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this country and abroad as well.

“The volunteers, the voluntary sector staff are the “Belief-makers”. As are many others that we work alongside. Increasingly, I think, the narrative of what is possible is going to be crucial. 

“We showed with our work on mental health that you can focus on what people can do […] in order to be able to help change the tone and the attitudes. That is one of the important things I think we’ve learnt in that mental health conversation. We recognised that we all have mental health and we all work with it every day.”

He concluded with a message for the sector, urging charities to carry on speaking truth to power, but also to build on its strengths to help bring about a “change of mood”.

“Starting with more compassion for our neighbours, and our communities.

“Offering and building care so we can respond to people’s needs, not just look and shake our heads quietly.

“Creating a sense of hope and possibility in people’s lives, celebrating progress, however small, as an incremental step towards longer change.”

About the Daniel Phelan Award

The Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement is the only individual award given out, and the recipient is selected by Civil Society Media and approved by the judging panel. Farmer joins an illustrious list of winners, including Sir Roger Singleton, Baroness Jill Pitkeathley, Dame Julia Unwin, Sir Nicholas Young, and Dr Hany El-Banna.

Daniel Phelan founded the Charity Awards in 2000.  After he died in 2015, the organisers at Civil Society Media changed the name of the Outstanding Achievement Award to honour his memory.

Read Tania Mason’s profile of Paul Farmer here.

Click here tp read the full list of Charity Awards 2024 winners.