Vital Fakenham charity secures future and gets back to business

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson.

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

First Focus, in Fakenham, provides a range of support and was at risk of closure at the end of October. Reporter Aaron McMillan spoke to manager of, Clarissa Belson, after the community rallied round to secure its future.

Walking into First Focus today, compared to my first visit six weeks ago, the atmosphere has certainly changed. More members were returning and familiar faces were sharing laughs, or getting excited about the planned return of activities for the group.

The fact the charity has secured more time in its bid to remain in place for years to come might have some part to play.

The group was facing closure in just under two weeks, but now has the money to keep the lights on until March 2022.

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson, with the letter warning of the closure date. 

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson, with the letter warning of the closure date. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

This is thanks to grants that Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks have secured, and also, to some very generous gestures made by local people.

In recent weeks, it has received donations from people, including one man who donated £240, and another anonymous donor who gave it £500.

Along with this, The Crown pub in the town held a quiz night for it, raising a further £100 for First Focus, and it was supported by Active Fakenham at this year’s Duck Race.

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

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The fire service is also planning a fundraising event for the group, and it has secured a £5,000 grant from the Norfolk Community Foundation.

“It's been fantastic,” Mrs Belson said.

“People have read about what we do and they wanted to help us.

“Individuals that don't necessarily use the service but can see what we're offering and what we're doing, how valuable it is, and that's been fantastic.”

The conservation club is another activity at First Focus in Fakenham. 

The conservation club is another activity at First Focus in Fakenham. - Credit: Pauline Hicks

The pair did confirm they would remain closed on Monday for a few more weeks, as they continue to search for more long term funding. However, they do plan to reopen in the coming weeks.

The group can now survive for another five months, but more importantly, it has given it time to try and find a larger grant which will secure it for years, rather than months.

First Focus has received Lottery funding in the past, however, you are required to spend this money, and anything left over is sent back to the group.

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

Mrs Belson also said the charity's short term securement will help people in need of support now, as she is seeing an upsurge in the demand for food parcels and foodbank vouchers.

With the removal of the £20 universal credit boost, she fears that is going to get worse, and with the energy price spike, she believes the charity is going to see quite a big upsurge of users.

“We've seen a rise in footfall in the last month alone, just people needing support services,” she said.

“With mental health support I've got a few more people wanting to have counselling, maybe that's because they've seen that we do it, maybe they didn't realise we did it before but it's also that there's an increase in the need for mental health support.”

The cookery club is one of the activities held at First Focus in Fakenham. 

The cookery club is one of the activities held at First Focus in Fakenham. - Credit: Pauline Hicks

The charity is now easing back into activities at the centre, with the likes of jewellery making, meals on a budget, and cooking demos, as Covid guidelines continue to be relaxed. Meaning it is starting to look like the service it had before the pandemic.

Despite all this positivity, the mindset is still the same, as Mrs Belson does not want to let complacency creep in.

“I’m relieved because we've got more time to try and secure more funding, but then there's also that feeling at the back of my mind, what if we don't,” she said.

“I've always got that little devil on my shoulder almost saying, don't get too complacent, you still got to make sure that there's money the next year and the next year after that.

“I'm happy and I'm optimistically cautious.”

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