Celebration for First Focus drop-in

PUBLISHED: 15:54 26 August 2009 | UPDATED: 10:55 07 July 2010

A LIFELINE for elderly and disabled people in Fakenham celebrated its seventh birthday on Thursday after winning plaudits from government policy-formers.

A LIFELINE for elderly and disabled people in Fakenham celebrated its seventh birthday on Thursday after winning plaudits from government policy-formers.

The First Focus drop-in centre opened with the help of a Big Lottery grant in 2002 to put people from the surrounding areas in touch with a range of social health and voluntary services.

It started with about a dozen visitors, but as the service expanded it has now welcomed more than 3,000 people into the community venue on Cattle Market Street.

As well as providing a focal point for advice and information, it also gives visitors opportunities to get involved with art and gardening groups, use computers, make new friends and chat.

The cabinet office's Social Exclusion Task Force made a fact-finding visit in April and published a report last month which hails First Focus as a national example of “citizen empowerment” helping isolated people in rural areas.

On Thursday, the centre's success was celebrated by visiting dignitaries including Norfolk County Council chairman Shelagh Gurney, who cut a birthday cake to get the party started. “I am very impressed by the work that this organisation is doing,” she said. “There is a great mix of volunteers and they are all very enthusiastic.”

One regular visitor is 73-year-old Daphne Dawkins, from Sculthorpe, who said her self-esteem had risen as much as her painting talents after joining the centre's art group three years ago. “I am a bit of a loner really, but this has brought me out and given me more confidence to speak to people, which I never would have done before,” she said. “Everyone is always very friendly and I have made a lot of friends here.”

Mrs Dawkins' husband William, 75, is a member of the stroke club and the gardening group, and said the centre had provided invaluable help when his brother also suffered a stroke.

He said: “As soon as they got in touch, First Focus sorted it out and found him a home within hours. Without this place, that would never have happened.”

Angela Simkiss, senior co-ordinator at the centre, said the recognition from the cabinet office had led to closer working with the social services division of Norfolk County Council, which part-funds the project.

She said: “It reinforces how we are growing in stature in this community and in the county. If you look around, a lot of people have disabilities but their difficulties are not always obvious because they may be mental or emotional. We make them feel welcome and we encourage them to take an active part in what we do.”

First Focus is open from 10am to 1pm on Tuesdays and from 10am to 3pm on Thursdays.

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