A community mentoring service that has helped more than 1,000 vulnerable people in four years has scooped the highest award for volunteering in the UK.

The Community Peer Mentor scheme, funded by County Durham and Darlington Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner Joy Allen, has been awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service for its support to vulnerable or isolated people including victims or perpetrators of crimes.

The scheme has six members of staff and more than 100 volunteers – more than 70 per cent of whom have lived experience of issues faced by their clients including domestic or sexual abuse, homelessness, leaving prison, offending and recovery from substance misuse, gambling or mental health problems.

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Its only stipulation is that service users have the will, want and capacity to change and are prepared to set goals – however small.

The project’s support work has led to an 81 per cent reduction in contact with frontline services, reduced offending and hospital admissions and assisted reintegration back into society by helping clients to gain employment, education, new skills and new coping techniques.

Many have identified that without this support they would have taken their own lives.

Congratulating the team, Commissioner Allen said: “I am extremely proud of the staff and volunteers who provide the community peer mentor project for this prestigious award.

“This honour is a reflection of the fantastic work they do in our communities to support people out of crisis or challenging situations so they can lead happy and fulfilled lives. This intervention has led to a dramatic reduction in contact with frontline services, freeing up critical capacity for our emergency services workers.

“I would like to thank all those volunteers who continue to keep the scheme running for the people of County Durham and Darlington.

"The mentors offer unique support to each client, with the aim of leaving individuals feeling safer and inspiring confidence. The difference they bring to our communities is simply immeasurable and I wish them further success in the future.”

The Community Peer Mentor scheme was launched by the previous Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, the late Ron Hogg CBE, in 2015.

Representatives will receive the award crystal and certificate from Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon, later this summer while two volunteers will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May next year.

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