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How caring Suffolk volunteers help those in a crisis

PUBLISHED: 13:26 20 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:11 20 August 2018

Vicky Leonard, community liaison officer, and Martin Speaks, volunteer at Storehouse Foodbank. Picture: Simon Lee

Vicky Leonard, community liaison officer, and Martin Speaks, volunteer at Storehouse Foodbank. Picture: Simon Lee

Simon Lee Photography

A tragedy or a crisis can come at any time and affect anyone.

Carol Eagles and Steve Nuttall, Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk. Photo: Simon LeeCarol Eagles and Steve Nuttall, Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk. Photo: Simon Lee

It is always our hope that ‘this won’t happen to me’ and that Suffolk’s voluntary sector is there to help other people, but the reality is over 50% of us will use the services of a charity or community group, in the coming year.

Especially at moment of acute need, it’s important for all of us to know that there is someone there, trusted, experienced and ready to help.

“The majority of people are one pay check away from being in the situation where they need a foodbank,” said Amanda Bloomfield from the charity, Gatehouse Caring, that runs a food bank in Bury St Edmunds.

“Someone in a crisis situation may be living next door to you.”

Ann Allen, Operations Manager, Reach. Photo: Simon LeeAnn Allen, Operations Manager, Reach. Photo: Simon Lee

At Storehouse Foodbank in Sudbury, they fed 250 people in 2016, but last year faced a 70% increase with 1,800 people needing their help.

“The media often suggest that those using foodbanks are scroungers, playing the system, or are homeless.

“That isn’t our experience. They are families who are working,” according to Vicky Leonard, community liaison officer for Storehouse, adding that most people only need to come to a foodbank two or three times.

“If you are only just about making ends meet, a simple thing like a car breaking down or a change in circumstances, can put you into the position where you can’t feed your children.”

JANE O�Riordan, Bereavement Support Volunteer, Suffolk Cruse Bereavement Care. Photo: Simon LeeJANE O�Riordan, Bereavement Support Volunteer, Suffolk Cruse Bereavement Care. Photo: Simon Lee

In the Haverhill area, REACH Community Projects runs a food bank but also offers debt counselling and support.

“Anything can happen to anyone at any time, a death in the family or family breakdown, for example,” said Ann Allen, operations manager for REACH.

“We’ve spoken up for clients to get them justice over a benefit issue, and seen others debt-free, released from poverty and able to live their life.”

Janet Last became a volunteer for REACH after they helped her,

“You get to a point when you are in debt, and don’t know what to do or who to go to. You are at a very, very low ebb.”

Unemployment, ill health (whether mental or physical), and bereavement can all create a crisis in someone’s life.

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is a local charity providing free independent advice, for everyone, on their rights and responsibilities.

In 2017/18, across Suffolk, they helped over 21,000 people with over 75,000 different issues and handled over £7.6m debt.

“The problems range from debt and benefits, to housing and consumer issues,” said Steve Nuttall, one of 600 CAB volunteers in Suffolk, whose role is to listen to a client’s problems, explore the options, before helping them to decide, supporting them, if necessary.

One client, Jackie, went to the CAB for help when her husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and they knew that they would have to give up work,

“We couldn’t have managed without CAB. All the forms are a minefield….absolutely horrendous. The CAB was, and is, my lifeline.”

Coping with bereavement affects everyone differently and a grieving family may need help and support, from an organisation such as Cruse Bereavement Suffolk. People come to them via doctors, social workers, schools or are self-referred.

One of Cruse’s trained volunteers in Suffolk is Jane O’Riodan,

“10% of people who are bereaved have difficulty in coping,” she said.

“They go to their doctors and get anti-depressants, but often just need someone to talk to.

“Their loss may have been 30 years ago but they have never been able to talk about it. They thank us for normalising what they are feeling, being happy one minute to being incredibly sad the next.”

Every day we see examples of Suffolk charities and volunteers coming to rescue of local people dealing with really difficult situations, but finding the money to support what they are doing is increasingly tough.

“It is almost impossible for small charities to compete for donations with the largest national charities.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, this unlevel playing field results in almost 80% of the money we give reaching only the top 2% of the largest national and international charities,” said Tim Holder, head of public affairs at the Suffolk Community Foundation.

“All giving is good, but Suffolk charities rely almost entirely on people thinking locally when they give, including every organisation featured in this article.

“With over 5,000 local charities and community groups in our County, Suffolk Community Foundation is there to inspire and provide a mechanism for local giving and support for local charities to apply for the money that has been raised.

“To find out more visit www.Suffolkcf.org.uk.”

If you want to know more about volunteering for a charity contact www.communityactionsuffolk.org.uk

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