Trustee reflects on how endangered charity saved his life

This week's article features Howard Young who has been involved with First Focus in Fakenham for the last 17 years.

This week's article features Howard Young who has been involved with First Focus in Fakenham for the last 17 years. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

In the fifth instalment of our weekly series, reporter Aaron McMillan spoke again to community charity, First Focus, 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, trustee Howard Young explains why First Focus is an asset we cannot afford to lose. 

When Howard Young moved to Fakenham, he had just been forced to take early retirement due to his battle with encephalitis, an uncommon but serious condition in which the brain becomes inflamed.

The former English teacher was living in Essex at the time of his diagnosis and had to postpone his wedding as he fought the illness.

Mr Young was even left hospitalised for several weeks while suffering with severe amnesia, which he finally overcame after 12 months. 

Howard Young at First Focus' centre on oak Street in Fakenham.

Howard Young at First Focus' centre on oak Street in Fakenham. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

It was soon after the dawn of the Millennium that he made the move to Norfolk, trying his best to become accustomed to new surroundings. 

But four years later, Mr Young was referred to First Focus, which specialises in supporting people with disabilities and illnesses of varying seriousness. 


You may also want to watch:


Looking back, he says following that advice saved his life. 

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

First Focus' managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

In the ensuing years, Mr Young has become part of the First Focus furniture - going from service-user as he found his feet again, to a volunteer, and finally to being a trustee. 

Most Read

“I developed a good relationship with Terry Read, who founded First Focus," said Mr Young.

"He thought It would be a good place for me to recover some of the skills I used during my time in teaching.

Clarissa Belson with First Focus service users outside their centre on Oak Streek in Fakenham. 

Clarissa Belson, First Focus project manager (bottom right) with First Focus service users outside their centre on Oak Streek in Fakenham. - Credit: First Focus

“Over time, I developed more of a central role and started my journey to becoming a trustee.

“One of the things that I found I needed when I came out of hospital was a routine. So this fitted in and it really helped me to have something like this.

"The social element was also very important. I've made lots of good friends here."

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham.

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

Mr Young transferred almost seamlessly from service-user to volunteer, greeting those visiting the Oak Street centre for the first time with open arms.   

He went on to carry out secretarial work and a host of other jobs, doing all he could to help the charity.

Mr Young cannot recall specifically when he became a trustee, such is the longevity of his tenure - only that it was "a few years" after his volunteering stint began.

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham.

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

He would later hold meetings regarding the charity's development, although this function has since been taken over by managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks.

Over the past 19 years, First Focus has assisted thousands of people in overcoming their own personal hurdles. 

Having gone from just a couple of sessions a week, it now has the capacity to help just about anyone who needs support. 

First Focus' centre on Oak Street in Fakenham.

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

“It's such an important service," added Mr Young.

"If it wasn't for us, the surgery and emergency services would have so much more work. We do things that they'd have to do otherwise.

“I've been here for so long because I've done a lot of work to try and keep the place going."

One of the trustees for First Focus in Fakenham, Howard Young.

One of the trustees for First Focus in Fakenham, Howard Young. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

Despite its undoubtedly positive impact on the community, First Focus faces the looming threat of closure with its crucial National Lottery grant coming to an end in October. 

Without a new source of income, the charity and its services will stop - a scenario Mr Young can barely begin to contemplate. 

“I was very depressed when I realised what was happening regarding the closure,” he added.

“This place just means so much to me, and it's been so important in recent years.

"I just couldn't imagine living properly without this place, to be honest. I've invested thousands of hours here, and Pauline and Clarissa are working round the clock to secure the future."

Amid uncertain times, Mr Young simply hopes to be working with First Focus beyond October 31, and for many more years to come. 

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

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter