'We are so proud' - First Focus reflect on 'rollercoaster' 2021

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 - Credit: Aaron McMillan

From being a month away from closing to seeing the community rally around them in support, Clarissa Belson describes First Focus' year as a “rollercoaster”.

Mrs Belson, alongside Pauline Hicks, helps to manage and run the Fakenham charity, and has been through it all this year. On December 16 it was able to celebrate Christmas with service users, almost two months after it faced the prospect of having to close its doors forever.

First Focus provides support with mental health, food poverty, and much more.

Clarissa Belson, manager of First Focus, celebrates Christmas with users of the service. 

Clarissa Belson, manager of First Focus, celebrates Christmas with users of the service. - Credit: Clarissa Belson

Reflecting on the year, the First Focus manager said: “We are so proud of the fact we are here and proud of me and Pauline for what we have done.

“It was a real rollercoaster, it is hard, but when you are helping people and you can see the progress they're making, you just want to carry on.”

The group was only opening for an hour a day during lockdown from Monday through Thursday for people to access its community fridge. It reopened in March as restrictions began to ease across the country.

Some of the food on offer at the community fridge at First focus in Fakenham. 

Some of the food on offer at the community fridge at First focus in Fakenham. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

Mrs Belson knew that funding was running out, but reality hit when its trustees announced in September they were closing its doors at the end of October due to a lack of funds.

“In my mind, I was not hopeless but I was not 100pc sure that we could turn it around,” Mrs Belson added.

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“We are like family and we felt we would be letting them down.”

First Focus' managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks help those without internet access.

First Focus' managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks help those without internet access. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

With an increased demand for services and support to help people recover from the pandemic, the search for funding took a back seat.

“It was always there, but with the pandemic and the effects of Covid, there were other pressing issues," she added.

“In hindsight, we would start looking earlier, but it was difficult at the time.”

The Original Factory Shop's manager, Matthew Browne, handed out a cheque of £257 to First Focus’ manager, Clarrisa Belson.

The Original Factory Shop's manager, Matthew Browne, handed out a cheque of £257 to First Focus’ manager, Clarrisa Belson. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

Thankfully, the town rallied around, with donations, fundraising efforts, and charity work to keep the lights on until March next year.

"It was overwhelming, the pressure was immense," Mrs Belson said.

"There are no words to describe how grateful we are that so many people have supported us, to give us more time."

The charity enters 2022 with renewed hopes that it can secure its long-term future beyond March.