Fakenham's First Focus set closure date - but will do everything to stop it

The manager of First Focus with the letter warning of the closure date. 

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson (left) and First Focus assistant manager, Pauline Hicks (right) with the letter warning of the closure date. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

In the third instalment of this weekly series, reporter Aaron McMillan returned to community charity, First Focus in Fakenham. The free service provides a range of support but faces the risk of closure at the end of October without funding. This week, managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks told their users that the threat of closure is much more of a reality.

Arriving at First Focus today you could tell something was off.

People seemed to be chatting quietly, either between themselves or to the management and volunteers about the real possibility of closure.

The service has been warning for more than a year now that they face closure without securing long-term funding, now that closure has a date in black and white, October 31.

The letter from First Focus warning of the closure date. 

The letter from First Focus warning of the closure date. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

Of course, this might not happen, if funds can be secured, but they have given notice to their landlord and told their users that in eight weeks, it could close. Just like that, the service of 19 years could vanish overnight.

The reality of the difficult conversations they had all day with people were playing on their minds.


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“There has been a drop in mood today,” Mrs Belson said.

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson, with the letter warning of the closure date. 

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson, with the letter warning of the closure date. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

“It is devastating we've got to let people know this is going to happen, and it's almost like we've been telling people this will happen, but until we put that letter on the table they didn't believe it.

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“There's always a chance we might survive and I've said that but we have to make them aware that this is going to happen, so they can make alternative arrangements.

Miss Hicks added: “I’m desperate for it not to close, because of all those 19 years of work that's been put into it. All the friendships, all the good work that's been done - just gone."

The assistant manager of First Focus, Pauline Hicks (right) with the letter warning of the closure date. 

The assistant manager of First Focus, Pauline Hicks (right) with the letter warning of the closure date. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

Donna Morton, a volunteer at First Focus said telling people the news of their possible closure has been a hard thing to do.

“It hits the heart, telling people as well, that hurts, seeing their faces drop,” she said.

“I try not to cry because it's very upsetting for everybody else. It's now finally sunk in, knowing that we haven’t got long before this place closes, you try to put a smile on your face and be cheerful of people who do come in.”

Former service user, come volunteer, Donna Morton

One of those who use the fridge is a former service user, come volunteer, Donna Morton. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

The centre's lottery funding ended earlier this year but Mrs Belson has said they need a long term investment: "An injection of cash would be a help, just for a couple of months to find a bigger grant. Without that, we are going to be chasing our tails, all the time."

They say the work they undertook during the pandemic meant they perhaps were not spending working hours looking for funding but instead focusing on the people they were looking after.

“It just seemed that everything happened at once. There were so many fires we were trying to put out at the same time with helping everybody here, sorting stuff for the centre and the funding.

The letter from First Focus on the table as you entered the centre.

The letter from First Focus on the table as you entered the centre. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

“Then funding comes back after you have spent four hours on the computer but to still say no, because you're 'too small, too big, too this too that'. We don't seem to fit a lot of criteria I think because we do a lot.”

The pair have now announced they are going to be "throwing everything at it until we can do no more," as they look to do whatever it takes to stay open.

They are now closing First Focus on a Monday, as they look to spend hours making funding bids in hopes of securing their future.

They are also being featured heavily at Active Fakenham’s riverside community day which is happening later in September to show off their work. They also had a woman volunteer to do a stall on the marketplace, promoting their work. Plus, The Crown in Fakenham wants to raise to help with funding.

You can donate to First Focus by going to https://justgiving.com/firstfocusfakenham

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