Fakenham's First Focus on supporting people's mental health

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson.

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

In the first of a new weekly series, reporter Aaron McMillan travelled 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. The series will explore several issues which have affected people during the pandemic, including food poverty and mental health struggles.

Charities like First Focus exist across the country to support local communities. A service many of us hope to never need but are always there.

Operating since 2002, First Focus has helped thousands of people, from providing internet access, assisting with filling out forms or just being a place people can come and share a conversation over a brew.

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham.

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

This support has helped to combat the loneliness that has been a consequence of the pandemic, something plenty of us have experienced over the past 17 months.

The impact of the coronavirus has already been seen with a rise in people seeking crisis help.

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson is a fully qualified counsellor and is able to support people who visit the charity and need professional help. She believes around 70pc of her visitors live alone, so this environment does wonders for people’s mental health.

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham.

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

“They get up in the morning and if they're feeling a bit low they think 'I can go down to First Focus and have a cup of tea and somebody will be there to say hello',” she said.

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“It is just having somebody else to bounce off, humans need humans.

“Sometimes it doesn’t take much to pick you up, it doesn't have to be a whole hour session, it can just be a five-minute chat with somebody to listen and offload onto. This is sometimes as valuable as having a professional.

“I think a lot of people don't realise how important it is mentally to have that.”

Ricky Daykin has been using First Focus for the past six months.

Ricky Daykin has been using First Focus for the past six months. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

One of the people they have helped is Ricky Daykin. The 39-year-old suffers from anxiety and nerves.

He has been using the service for the last six months, and said the environment has helped him battle his nerves.

“Just coming in here and seeing a friendly face who is kind and considerate has helped. At one point I wouldn't be able to even walk in here, or even sit down and speak to someone.

“If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have got my forms and other things sorted, I would’ve just buried my head in the sand and the situation would have got worse.

“If it wasn't for this place, I honestly don't think I'd be sitting here today.”

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 has been visiting First Focus for the past six years, after hearing about them on the radio. The 61-year-old travels from King’s Lynn a few times a week to use the service.

Mr Keeler suffered from a nervous breakdown in 1991 and would suffer badly from panic attacks. He said a lot of it started after he lost his mum.

He lives alone and when he first came along he said that he sat in the corner alone, not speaking to anyone for three weeks until someone had a chat with him.

Ricky Daykin (left) and Brian Keeler (right) at First Focus in Fakenham.

Ricky Daykin (left) and Brian Keeler (right) at First Focus in Fakenham. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

“This young lady came over to me because I was sitting in the corner, and she said what is the matter Brian, and I said ‘do you really wanna know?’

“I said I lost my mum and to be honest I'm frightened to mix with anyone, in case they reject me.

“She said, come over to our table and that is how I got talking. The centre means so much to me because I get to chat with people.

“First Focus has helped me to try and get through it which has been very hard.

“I've made a lot of friends here. I even tried to raise money myself here before Christmas last year, and I donated some money myself because I feel strongly about it.”

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