Fakenham's First Focus on helping those without internet access
- Credit: Aaron McMillan
In the fourth 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, we look at how managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks help those without internet access.
For many of us, we couldn’t imagine a world without the internet.
It is often the first thing so many of us check when we wake up, and the last thing we look at before going to sleep. Long gone has the need for the yellow pages, you’ll just google it. You do not have to go around and ask businesses for work, check Indeed, don’t wanna pay through the nose for the renewal of your insurance, check a comparison site.
Imagine if someone took it away, or you never learnt how to use it, or just simply couldn’t afford it. For some, this is a reality.
For these people, there are places like local libraries that have computers that people could use. But there are still some who have little idea when they get onto the internet.
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First Focus have five laptops able for users to access online, as well as Clarissa and Pauline, able to assist those who need a hand online. The pair can just about do everything, with the work mainly moving online to services like insurance renewals, benefit applications and work.
In the last week, they have completed two Pip forms (Personal Independence Payment) and one Blue Badge for people using the service.
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“You will get a phone call or somebody will pop in if we can't do it there and then we can arrange an appointment when we've got a quieter day when we've got the time to sit with them,” Mrs Belson said.
“A Pip form will take an hour and a half at least. Sometimes it will take two appointments because they need certain information. For people that are trying to access the services that we found, they're probably coming because they can't do it.”
The pair said that you are talking about thousands of forms they have sat down and completed with people over their time working.
Through the pandemic, when the centre was closed, both Mrs Belson and Miss Hicks took time over the phone to chat through application forms and information with people at home. Miss Belson also said on rare occasions, she opened up the centre for one on one meetings to help with an application, all whilst wearing PPE and keeping a safe distance from the other.
Miss Hicks highlighted the knock-on effect a lack of internet might have on someone’s health.
“If people are trying to budget but they can't shop around and get better bargains it does affect their money, which in term will affect their mental health,” she said.
“If you're anxious, nervous, or have no difficulties but don’t have that family support, you live on your own and it's a big pressure.
“If you have got anywhere to go like First Focus, then it's gonna be even harder. Support is now over the phone or online which is fantastic, but we are losing that human interaction.
“We have found most of the people that have been isolated for the whole duration have come back as different people, their health seems to have been affected. They're more withdrawn, any issues they had before have been exasperated because your mental health affects your physical health."
When restrictions were in place, no longer could they simply set up the laptops for anyone in their station, free for as many users to use at a time. They had to isolate them and clean them down after use as they look to follow the guidance.
This also meant they couldn’t run their jobcentre section, focused on helping people fill out CVs, write covering letters and check through applications online. Mrs Belson believes that over the years they have got up to 100 people jobs.
You can donate to First Focus by going to https://justgiving.com/firstfocusfakenham