How it all began
Zippy’s Friends is now one of the world’s most successful mental health promotion programmes for young children, running in primary schools and kindergartens in 30 countries. It has come a long way since a meeting in London back in 1996.
Befrienders International (now Befrienders Worldwide) was the umbrella organisation for Samaritan or befriending centres in 41 countries. In each of these centres, volunteers provided a non-judgmental listening service for people who were lonely, despairing and possibly suicidal. A common complaint from callers was ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Life had dealt them a blow and they felt unable to cope.
The pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline or GSK) had been reviewing its corporate donations and decided that it wanted to focus its giving on three programmes which could have a major impact on children’s health. One of the three programmes was to promote mental health, and the company asked Befrienders International for suggestions.
The charity saw a need and the company saw an opportunity – to create a programme which could help young children to develop coping skills, so that they would be better able to deal with crises in childhood, adolescence and adult life. Sponsorship was agreed and work began.
GSK funded the establishment of Partnership for Children, a completely independent new charity which set out to help as many children and train as many teachers as possible. The European restriction was lifted and the programme’s name was changed to Zippy’s Friends. Classes started in England and India, and the expansion has continued ever since. GSK gradually withdrew its support and other sponsors and supporters came forward.
To date, Zippy’s Friends has helped more than one million children in 30 countries – a remarkable tribute to the vision of those early pioneers who first conceived the programme almost 20 years ago.