THE co-founder of a North-East charity has won a major fundraising award.

Matthew Smith, who set up the If U Care Share charity in Chester-le-Street 15 years ago following his brother’s suicide, has won the Fundraiser of the Year award for the Tyne-Tees region as part of the Pride of Britain Awards.

The four Fundraiser of the Year finalists for the ITV Tyne-Tees area were Gillian Clason from Darlington, Calum Titley from Thornaby, Joy Wilson from Alnwick and Mr Smith, all of whom were celebrated for their outstanding fundraising efforts in the region.

However, it was Mr Smith, who co-founded the suicide prevention charity If U care Share with members of his family, who was crowned the North-East winner and presented with his award live on television last week. The national winner will be announced later this year as part of the Pride of Britain Awards.

Mr Smith, who is also captain of Wearside League football team Durham United, started campaigning with his family after the death of his much-loved older brother Daniel, who took his own life in 2005.

He has been fundraising since he was ten to raise awareness and provide support to families affected by suicide.

Initially, the family started selling wristbands at football clubs featuring the message 'If U Care Share’ and they raised more than £50,000 for mental health charities.

Last year, Mr Smith was among a team of the charity’s runners in the Great North Run and his fundraising efforts this year, during the coronavirus pandemic, included running a marathon around his estate in Lumley.

If U Care Share, which now has offices in Chester-le-Street, was established in memory of Matthew’s brother, Daniel, who had no previous history of mental health problems when he took his life unexpectedly at the age of 19.

Mr Smith, his younger brother Ben, and their cousin Sarah, who were then aged ten, five and 12, set up the foundation because they wanted to do something positive and prevent another family suffering a similar experience, as well as creating a lasting memory to Daniel.

The If U Care Share charity provides support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide, helps those who are at risk of taking their own life and works in schools and football clubs to promote positive mental health.

The North-East has the highest rate of suicide in the country, and suicide continues to be the biggest killer of men under 50 and young people under 25.