Service users at endangered charity reveal what it means to them

This week we spoke with First Focus users in Fakenham, as they tell us what the service means to them. 

This week we spoke with First Focus users in Fakenham, as they tell us what the service means to them. - Credit: Pauline Hicks/Aaron McMillan

In the sixth instalment of our weekly series, reporter Aaron McMillan looks again at community charity, First Focus, based in Fakenham. The free service provides a range of support but, without much-needed funding, could be at risk of closure at the end of October. This week, service users spoke to us about what First Focus means to them.

With the ongoing uncertainty around the future of First Focus - struggles to find funding and managers doing all they can to make sure the doors stay open - it's easy to forget about the people at the centre of it all.

The centre has existed  in the town for almost two decades and, for service users, it is a safe haven.

It is somewhere they can turn to if they are short on food, feeling lonely or just need someone to talk to.

But with its impending closure becoming more of a reality over the last few weeks, we asked users what 19 years of First Focus has meant to them. 

Paul Bowthorpe moved from Cromer to Fakenham and was feeling isolated. He visited First Focus after being told about it.

Paul Bowthorpe moved from Cromer to Fakenham and was feeling isolated. He visited First Focus after being told about it. - Credit: Pauline Hicks


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Paul Bowthorpe

"I was living in Cromer and moved to Fakenham. I didn’t know anyone and I felt isolated and lonely, but then someone told me about First Focus.

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"When I first visited the centre I found it had a nice atmosphere, and the people were kind. I now visit every day and miss it on the weekends.

"First Focus has become like a family to me and I have made many friends. I would otherwise feel isolated, but I really enjoy the human contact and always laugh when I’m at the centre.

"When I’m feeling low I can talk one-to-one, or as a group."

Brian Keeler has been visiting First Focus for the past six years

Brian Keeler has been visiting First Focus for the past six years. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

Brian Keeler

"I first heard about First Focus while listening to what was then KLFM Radio, which mentioned there was a centre that helped people with mental health problems as well as a place to mix and chat with new people. 

"I travel from Kings Lynn two or three times a week as there isn’t a similar community hub available there.

"At first, I was quite quiet until I got to know people and I became more confident. First Focus is somewhere I can come and meet people and have a laugh, and avoid being lonely."

Jackie Garrett found out about First Focus from a family member who used to volunteer there.

Jackie Garrett found out about First Focus from a family member who used to volunteer there. - Credit: Pauline Hicks

Jackie Garrett

"I found out about First Focus from a family member who used to volunteer there. I had a bad mental breakdown and needed help and support. I also wanted company and a chat and joined in with activities such as arts and crafts.

"I’ve been coming to First Focus for nine years and used to come every day, but less since the pandemic.

"I’ve made many new friends and love it that, when you arrive, the people all greet you with a friendly 'hello'. I have a fond memory of celebrating my 70th birthday with everyone and receiving flowers and a birthday cake."

Neil Wood has been coming to First Focus in Fakenham for the last five years.

Neil Wood has been coming to First Focus in Fakenham for the last five years. - Credit: Pauline Hicks

Neil Wood

"I’ve always found First Focus a friendly place and have been coming for five years.

"I use the computers that are available there to look up information and things I need.

"I live in Fakenham and already know quite a few people who visit the centre and have made new friends. The centre can sometimes be a quiet, peaceful place or at other times it is busy and sociable."

Donna Morton, who has been both a service user and a volunteer at First Focus in Fakenham.

Donna Morton, who has been both a service user and a volunteer at First Focus in Fakenham. - Credit: Pauline Hicks

Donna Morton:

"I first started attending First Focus because my dad, who has MS, wanted somewhere to go and mix with other people. We got a really friendly welcome.

"First Focus has really changed me as a person, from not having much confidence to having a lot more.

"It is a comfortable environment and now feels like a second family to me. One of the managers thought it would be good for me to volunteer in the community cafe for 18 months until it closed, and then I transferred over to the cafe in the present building.

"I feel for the first time that I can be myself and have grown in confidence. I enjoy meeting all the nice people that pop in for the community fridge, or stay for a cuppa and a chat. Every day we have a laugh."

To support First Focus and give this wonderful service a chance to survive, visit justgiving.com/firstfocusfakenham.

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