Today saw the third 1 Million Minutes award revealed live on air with hosts Ranvir Singh and Ed Balls. The 1 Million Minutes Awards surprise deserving loneliness heroes up and down the country. And they awarded this year’s Animal Loneliness Champion award to Jo Foster from Ilkley in West Yorkshire.
Jo Foster’s successful career as a racehorse trainer came to a sudden halt in 2017 when she had a riding accident, leaving her with a broken spine. She found herself immobilised, stuck indoors and unable to ride - which left her struggling with her mental health and feeling completely isolated. Luckily, with surgery and rehabilitation Jo made a good recovery, but the trauma she experienced made her want to give something back.
With the help of Shetland pony Yogi and race horse Sigurd, Jo started to volunteer in the community to help combat social isolation. From visiting nursing homes with Sigurd to attending playgroups with Yogi, Jo looks out for anyone in the community who might be lonely or isolated. The remarkable impact Jo and her horses have had is huge. For one care home resident, the chance to meet Sigurd got him outdoors for the first time in six years, whilst a dementia patient had a moment of lucidity, suddenly remembering memories from their 1930s childhood about the horses they used to see in the fields. Yogi can even go into bedrooms where people are bedbound.
Jo also volunteers at the local grammar school, offering a number of apprenticeships to teenagers who struggle at school - whether it be with behaviour issues or mental health. Now, teens who felt lost in life look forward to working hard on the farm and have been united by a sense of purpose. Her charitable fundraising has raised £20,000 for charities - Injured Jockey Fund and The Yorkshire Air Ambulance - who helped her through her injury.
Jo said: “I wanted to give back in a way that was different. I wanted to bring happiness to people that felt alone. I don’t get any money from visits, but the joy they bring to people is overwhelming.”
Jo was today surprised live on air with the award, which was presented by ITV Racing’s Mark Chapman who said: “What a lady you are! It’s not just this work, you’ve raised massive amounts of money for charities…”
On her award, Jo commented: “It’s just fantastic to be recognised. Because I was helped when I was going through a bad place, so to be able to give something back and show what an amazing industry we have is great. So thank you!
“I couldn’t have done this without my staff, because you couldn’t do it alone…”
Ed Balls also spoke about how his mother is in a care home with dementia and they bring different animals in for the residents.
Additional 1 Million Minutes Awards which have been presented throughout the month of December this year include the Dame Barbara Windsor Award and the Young Loneliness Hero. Later in the month, the Local Loneliness Hero, the Cost of Living Champion and the Mental Health Loneliness Champion will also be surprised.
Now in its seventh year, Good Morning Britain’s 1 Million Minutes campaign aims to encourage viewers to pledge their time to charities that tackle the issue of loneliness. Since launching in 2016, a staggering 465 million minutes of time have been donated to charities in need of volunteers who can connect with those who feel alone.
And it has never been more important for us to talk about feeling lonely, especially following the acute isolation the cost of living crisis is currently causing millions of people throughout the country.
As well as supporting ITV's Britain Get Talking campaign, charities involved this year include Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Grief Encounter, Re-engage, Royal Voluntary Service, Sands, Home-Start and the Chatty Cafe Scheme.
Actor and best-selling children’s author, Ben Miller launched this year’s campaign with a brand new short film - A Slice of Life. Working with photographer Ray Burmiston, celebrities including Shirley Ballas, Ricky Gervais, Craig David, Sarah Gordy, Joe Wicks, AJ Odudu, Stephen Mangan and GMB’s Ben Shephard had their black and white portraits taken and spoke about the loneliness they have faced, and what they do to feel less lonely. Plus, there has been a 1MM Twitter Spaces event hosted by Dr Amir Khan talking about mental health, as well as a phone-in with Richard Arnold and celebrity friends on the 34th floor of the BT Tower.