THE BLOG

The Kindness of Strangers

18/11/2015 12:45 GMT | Updated 18/11/2016 10:12 GMT

I count my blessings. This week I had the privilege of attending the Mind Media Awards and Fostering Excellence Awards in London on successive evenings. Both events are born out of human frailty but celebrate the extraordinary kindness and resilience of ordinary people in the face of often appalling circumstances.

Mental illness and the care of looked-after children are inextricably linked and the charities Mind and The Fostering Network, hosts of this week's awards, often touch the lives of the same families with their vital work in support of some of the most vulnerable members of society. It is no coincidence that the Duchess of Cambridge, who supports mental health charities, was guest of honour at the Fostering Excellence Awards where she spoke movingly about the transformative nature of the work of foster carers.

It was good to see the sons and daughters of foster carers recognised with the first award of the evening, for without their support and commitment fostering is simply not possible. Across the UK thousands of children and young people share their parents and their homes with other people's sons and daughters, selflessly and without complaint. The award was shared by four young people, including Brodie Meredith, 14. Brodie encouraged her family to foster after the tragic loss of her sister. The Merediths have made room in their lives for children with special needs who require intensive care and are, truly, a remarkable family. As Meredith received her award I suspect that the foster carers among the audience would have been thinking of their own sons and daughters. I certainly was.

The Mind Media Awards and the Fostering Excellence Awards are two very different events: the first recognises the work of journalists to fight stigma of mental illness, the second recognises the work of families who are rarely in the public eye. Yet they share the same aim, which is to honour the outstanding contribution of people who commit their lives to making the world a better place, showing compassion to the most vulnerable. Although centred on the media, the Mind awards are also about the remarkable people who courageously share their own very personal stories of mental illness with the public because they hope it will make a difference.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks there can be no better response than to recognise the kindness of strangers, whether it is Brodie Meredith and her family, or Neil Laybourn, who talked Jonny Benjamin out of ending his life by jumping off Waterloo Bridge. Neil has since worked with Jonny to campaign against the stigma of mental illness, reaching millions of people around the world. By doing so he has helped to save countless lives.

Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day. Awards like these ensure that such acts of kindness are not taken for granted. The Fostering Network estimates that almost 8,500 additional foster families need to be recruited in 2015, to replace those who are leaving the service and to provide for the rising numbers of children who are taken into care. But we should not forget that already there are 55,000 foster families across the UK who quietly get on with the business of keeping other people's children safe every day. I count my blessings, and so should you.