Pledge from groups to help vulnerable people ahead of 'tough winter'

Our campaign aims to help tackle fuel poverty in our communities this winter

Help is at hand for people in Dereham and Fakenham who are fearing a difficult winter, charitable organisations have pledged. - Credit: PA

Help is at hand for people in the Dereham and Fakenham area who are fearing a difficult winter, charitable organisations have pledged.

The winter months are already tough on so many, and there are a host of additional factors to consider this year. 

Energy bills are skyrocketing, the price of goods and services is increasing, and changes to Universal Credit are impacting millions.

That's without considering that coronavirus is here to stay. 

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Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk (CAN) is offering advice sessions to people worried about managing their bills this winter - Credit: Ian Burt

Bring all those together, and you would not be blamed for thinking the Christmas period is beginning to resemble something of a perfect storm. 

Thankfully, though, a variety of help is on offer in our part of the world for those who find themselves in need of assistance. 

Among them in Community Action Norfolk (CAN), a Dereham-based charity which provides advice and guidance sessions to people who may be worried about managing their electricity, gas, heating oil and water bills.

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Figures for 2018 show that around 43,000 households across Norfolk experience fuel poverty, meaning they cannot afford to heat their homes and cook hot meals.

With fuel costs on the rise, thousands more low-income households could slide into the same situation. 

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk 

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk - Credit: Community Action Norfolk

Rik Martin, chief executive of CAN, said: “Our guidance sessions have taken on a new urgency of late with the dramatic rises in gas prices.

"Now is not a good time to switch suppliers, but we can advise on many other ways of getting help with energy bills and making savings on energy usage.

“It will be a tough winter for many people across the county, but it’s important to remember there is vast range of support available.

CAN delivers advice sessions either online or in person to anyone interested. To join a session or arrange a visit, email steve.nunn@communityactionnorfolk.org.uk or call 01362 698216.

The charity also works with its partner, Future Projects, in helping lonely and socially-isolated people across Breckland and North Norfolk to connect with other people in their local area. To find out more, visit canconnect.org.uk.

General debt information, along with a whole range of advice services, can of course be found at Norfolk Citizens Advice offices or online at ncab.org.uk.

David Pearson and Michael Jones collecting the food at Mid Norfolk Foodbank. Picture: Barratt and Da

David Pearson and Michael Jones collecting the food at Mid Norfolk Foodbank. Picture: Barratt and David Wilson Homes - Credit: Archant

Being able to feed their families will be a worry for plenty of people across the Norfolk this winter, as they balance that with the need to heat their homes. 

The Mid Norfolk Foodbank, which has sites in Dereham, Fakenham and Swaffham, is determined to prevent those in need from suffering in silence. 

David Pearson, the project's director, said: "We have seen an increasing number of people in the last few weeks, and it coincides with the government taking off the Universal Credit uplift.

“Christmas is always a difficult time, and always a busy time for us. Given the energy price rises, inflation and money not going as far, we are seeing a lot more people."

Michael Jones and David Pearson adding the donated items to their stock at Mid Norfolk Foodbank. Pic

Michael Jones and David Pearson adding the donated items to their stock at Mid Norfolk Foodbank. Picture: Barratt and David Wilson Homes - Credit: Archant

Anyone looking to get help from Mid Norfolk Foodbank should contact a referral agency such as Breckland Council or Citizen Advice, and explain their situation in order to get a food voucher.

Those struggling to get help can ring their local food bank directly, and are usually given one parcel before being told to call a referral agency. 

Email info@midnorfolk.foodbank.org.uk, or call either 01362 850624 or 07542 106107. 

Community groups including First Focus, based in  Fakenham, also come to the fore at this time of year. 

Service users at First Focus' centre in Fakenham.

Service users at First Focus' centre in Fakenham. - Credit: Pauline Hicks

First Focus offers a broad range of services, from mental health support and food parcels, to a community fridge and assistance with benefit claims. 

In situations where it cannot help, the group will simply signpost service-users to someone who can. 

Centre manager Clarissa Belson said: "I am seeing an increase in the need for mental health support.

“Christmas is always a difficult time. With the uncertainty of Covid and added pressure of Christmas, the cost of living is going up all the time.

The manager of First Focus, Clarissa Belson.

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

"The government took the Universal Credit uplift away when people probably needed it more than ever. Everyone is being squeezed and it's affecting their bills and mental health."

First Focus' centre, on Oak Street, is open from 9am to 1pm Monday to Wednesday, and 9am to 2pm on Thursdays. 

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