When All You See Are ‘Stop’ Signs…

Described as ‘an instrument containing a magnetised pointer which shows the direction of magnetic north’, we can assume that a compass is a rather precise piece of equipment. Ironically, the verb ‘compass’ means to go around something in a circular motion, which suggests a degree of chaos
or, at the very least, indecision!

Life tends to be a mix of both with much of what we need either provided or directed by others while we desperately try to retain some degree of power over everything else (personal finances, health, children, housework, unexpected expenses, redundancy, ballooning food and heating bills due to lockdown… I could go on and on).

While we manage to cling on most of the time, most of us have needed guidance at one time or another, I know I have, but what happens when it all falls apart, when all that stuff you’re just supposed to cope with and plan for is no longer manageable and you can’t access the support you desperately need to get back on your feet?

What happens when you find yourself running around in circles getting nowhere fast? Who do you turn to when you need help but just don’t know where to find it, or don’t have access to a computer to complete that form you’ve been told you must submit?

What if you lack the confidence to make the first move or you’re simply too worn out to face dealing with forms and appointments and all the questions. What if you’ve lost hope and find yourself existing in a state of constant panic which is affecting your physical and mental health, not to mention your relationships and the wellbeing of others.

They say it’s comforting to know when you’re not alone but there is no comfort to be found in knowing that a pre-Covid Community Partnership profile of Felixstowe Peninsula revealed that 9.8% of the population and 710 children were affected by income deprivation and 9.4% were affected by employment deprivation.

A more recent Place-Based Needs Assessment (PBNA) completed in November 2020 shows that while there is significant variation in relative
deprivation across Felixstowe, areas ranged from the most deprived 20% to the least deprived 20% in England. Almost three-quarters of a million people have already lost their job as a result of what’s happening to our economy and poor families are said to be the hardest hit.

Food banks have never been busier and the amazing Felixstowe Salvation Army ‘Gifts of Joy’ appeal, which provides gifts and food hampers to referred families and individuals, saw a 100% increase on those supplied at Christmas 2019. We have also seen a proliferation of initiatives to address food insecurity.

The humbling aspect is the response from the general public and the army of volunteers who have stepped up. Three local individuals – Mark Adams, Dee Balshaw and Christine Bilton – saw that Covid-19 would have far-reaching consequences for our community. This last year has, in the words of Dee Balshaw, created a “tsunami of need which we’re simply not prepared for and can’t ignore”.

With direct experience of this increased need through their work with several local churches and charities, Mark, Christine and Dee have established The Compass, a new charity dedicated to providing a bridge between need and existing service provision and support services.

“Our role will be to enable people to access existing support in a holistic way,” explains Dee. “We will be available to chat about everything and anything and will direct people to the appropriate service providers and, if necessary, help them to make contact and to secure the support which is available to them, but it doesn’t end there. We aim to provide a fully rounded support system to help individuals and families to be stronger in the long-term – and we aim to do this in a friendly, stress-free but professional manner.”

“This is such a wonderful opportunity to have a very meaningful impact on peoples’ lives. Being able to provide ongoing support and to help address multiple issues at the same time makes The Compass unique and we expect to be very busy once word spreads,” says Gemma.

Volunteers will be recruited to support the outreach worker and the trustees will be closely involved to ensure the needs shape the ongoing development of this project.

“Making existing services more accessible will be our starting point, but we may develop additional services if there are gaps in available provision,” explains Dee. “Learning to cook on a budget for example, or basic PC skills. We will respond to what’s needed rather than dictate in advance what we will and won’t do. We’re currently focused on grant applications and securing financial support from charitable organisations, local churches, businesses and individuals. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who would like to help, either as a volunteer or by making a donation.”

Dee can be contacted by email to: [email protected]

So what can Gemma and The Compass do to help you?

“There is no simple answer to that question,” says Gemma. “Everyone’s needs, or combination of needs, is different but we will always know who to talk to and will treat everyone with the respect they deserve. We are determined to remove all the usual obstacles and simply enable those who come to us to access appropriate support. The crucial difference between the service we offer and those being offered elsewhere is that we will look at needs holistically, and we also have the ability to introduce programmes as needs are identified. We’ll provide a decent cup of tea or coffee, time to chat, even a shoulder to cry on if necessary, but mostly we’ll be there to pick people up and help them to turn things around. Anyone who doesn’t know who to call, can call The Compass.”

Even Dee admits it’s a simple concept but therein lies the beauty of it:

“Felixstowe is a wonderful place to live but we want it to be wonderful for everyone. We want to inspire hope in those whose dignity has taken one knock too many. We’re simply saying don’t suffer alone.”

Undaunted by what lies ahead, the team at The Compass can’t wait to open the doors to welcome its first visitors: “Just having someone to talk to at length and in private will be a positive experience for those who have so far struggled to negotiate support systems and tape. We know there are no quick fixes, but we will address each and every problem and maintain contact for as long as necessary. By helping and supporting individuals and families, we know we can have a positive impact on our community as a whole and look forward to building a better future together in this wonderful town we all call home.”

The Compass will be based at Christ Church on Grange Farm Avenue. Service-users will self-refer or be referred by agencies such as schools, social services, churches, other charities and providers so building strong relationships with existing providers will be essential.

A Community Outreach Worker has been appointed to manage the day-to-day running of The Compass and will be available to take appointments from 7 April. Gemma Saxton will work with Dee, Mark and Christine, the trustees, to develop the range and type of service provided, eventually operating five days a week.

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