Mental health conditions can leave people feeling like they have a mountain to climb.

But for those who suffer, this week’s Local Hero has been making the ascent back to a happy, thriving and “normal” life an enjoyable one.

Christine Belk is the founder of Vertigirls – a community group for women with physical and mental health issues that empowers them through rock climbing.


She formed the Brighton based group in 2008 after discovering how the sport helped her manage her own mental health issues and improved her quality of life – something she felt she needed to share with her community.

After initially forming with around seven members, Vertigirls now caters for more than 50 girls and women by offering climbing courses and indoor and outdoor trips across the country with qualified instructors.

Such is the popularity of the group, Christine was recently awarded the Volunteer of the Year award at Brighton and Hove City Council’s City Sport and Physical Activity Awards.

Christine said: “I started the group because climbing was really helping me manage my own issues. I wanted to share it with other women.

“Initially a Can Do grant from the Scarman trust enabled Vertigirls to run free women only climbing courses at the Rock Court indoor climbing wall in Brighton.

The courses proved so successful that a women's climbing club was formed within six months.

“Thanks to further grants over the years from Grassroots, Sussex Giving, Brighton and Hove City Council, Sport England and the British Mountaineering Council, we now have more than 50 members and run clubs with an average of 25 people each time.

“They learn to climb, they gain confidence in themselves, trust in others, go to inspiringly beautiful places in the UK, make new friends, get support and encouragement from their peers, a sense of belonging, courage to face new challenges, less isolation and the beauty of being in the moment.”

Asked what she gets out of running the sessions, Christine said: “I gain from being a part of women achieving things they never dreamed of.

It’s a physical sensation – it fills my heart and makes me tingle all over.”

Christine, who since 2008 has only taken a six-month break from the project because of her own mental health issues, believes mental health is a “huge” taboo topic – but says Brighton and Hove is more aware and open minded to it thanks to a vast array of support services.

However she said the rest of the country has a “long, long way to go”.

Christine added: “We need to continue to invest in both services to support those with problems and ways of stamping out stigma and prejudice.

“One in four will have a mental health problem at some point in their life and they need to have help from the NHS available to support them and compassion from their friends, families and colleagues.”

For more details visit