Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

With the public purse contracting, charities, and volunteers, are picking up much of the slack.

Part of a national network of 46 contributing over £100m annually to local causes, Suffolk Community Foundation, develops lasting partnerships with individuals, families, businesses, public bodies, and trusts. Stephen Singleton, the Chief Executive, says:

“We work together to ensure that areas of pressing need in Suffolk are addressed through our commitment to strong engagement with everyone seeking to improve lives.”

Distributing grants with a value of over £20m since its inception in 2005, its 2017/18 Annual Report records 705 grants totalling £2.6 million, “supporting organisations and helping people from all walks of life, across the age groups. It is increasingly commonplace to witness people’s lives being turned upside down as a result of social issues: job loss, illness or bereavement, homelessness and abuse, or financial challenges. Grants are focused on supporting frontline charities and community groups who are supporting those in need.”

Although seemingly affluent, with its prosperous coastal areas, given its rurality, Suffolk actually conceals areas of serious deprivation, with significant differentials between the very wealthy and those below average. “We have nearly full employment, but pay can be low, whilst education has underperformed, leaving many young people without the skills for the better jobs with career potential,” says Singleton. “Housing is another problem, especially for younger age groups wanting to buy their own home.”

Poor transport can leave people isolated: for example, Eye is the town furthest away from education and main health provision, with the second lowest average income across the region, “yet it is an area with huge potential. Suffolk needs to attract more investment and build on its economic strengths to ensure the wellbeing of its residents.” A recent report by the Country Landowners and Business Association criticises Suffolk’s local authorities for dozens of ‘fossilised’ villages, lacking services, schools and new housing, forcing young people to move elsewhere, contributing to the isolation and loneliness of older residents, as well as the shortage of agricultural workers.

Whilst nationally, where one in eight 5-19-year-olds suffer from a mental illness, a damning new draft report, ‘Mental Healthcare and Emotional Wellbeing Strategy 2019-2029’, by Healthwatch Suffolk and two local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), notes increasing numbers of young people in Suffolk self harming, with 1,400 self harm emergency hospital admissions in a single year, adding further pressure to NHS resources. According to Suffolk County Council’s 2018 Mental Health Needs Assessment, nearly 50,000 people have been diagnosed with depression.

All these factors contribute to rising anxiety and social issues, yet mental health services across the region are poor, with unacceptably long treatment waiting times, despite increased funding. The Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust remains in special measures, following publication of the latest CQC inspection. Immediately prior to publication, the Chairman resigned with immediate effect, and three senior executives left to take up posts elsewhere.

In a bid to address these shortcomings, with 90 per cent of mental health patients cared for in the primary sector, and in line with the CCGs’ plan to join up services, Suffolk Community Foundation is launching a pilot scheme to explore alternative solutions to medication where appropriate, with three GP surgeries in locations across Ipswich. Funded by the CCGs, the programme will be rolled out quarterly to other Ipswich surgeries who are receptive to a new approach.

Working with Citizens Advice, volunteers, and paid professionals to identify and measure the issues presented by patients over time, the strategy will also evaluate progress with hidden needs highlighted in two Suffolk Community Foundation reports (the latest reviewing 2011-2016, published last year).

Singleton adds:

“Ipswich has the youngest population in Suffolk, and much has been said about County Lines, as well as the dangers of social media eroding confidence and expectations. These young people are our future and more must be done to understand the problems they face and prevent bad outcomes.

“We are working with ‘I-Will’, developing a grants programme to increase the number of young volunteers to help build their confidence and aspiration through volunteering, whilst giving them a shared responsibility for others.”

However, older people are also at risk, not least as a result of loneliness. “One in four ambulance calls are to older people having fallen. We need to know why. For example, handrails, a stairlift or replacing a bath with a shower, changing a cooker so people don’t have to bend down, and checking floors and gardens for trip hazards, could make life easier. Through working with other agencies including GPs and local authorities we can identify the most vulnerable, and prevent accidents.”

In 2015/16, 310 vulnerable people died from causes directly attributed to cold and poor living conditions, with most over 75. “This group tend to suffer in silence, hidden from view, but we are now raising more than £100,000 a year from local people donating their winter fuel allowances. Ours is the most successful Surviving Winter campaign in the country, heating 668 homes last year.”

Payments are currently distributed in partnership with Citizens Advice, which, ironically, is about to lose Suffolk County Council’s annual grant of more than £380,000, as the council reviews its 2019/20 budget. Strong representations made in favour of retaining the funding note that local authorities actually refer residents to Citizens Advice for support, which they would have to provide themselves at potentially higher cost in the event that Citizens Advice is no longer available.

This is one budget recommendation for which the consequences should be re-thought. The organisation is highly respected for its independence, providing free legal and financial advice to victims of poor service, challenging local authorities, and businesses, to seek appropriate solutions.

In the meantime, Suffolk Community Foundation is confident of securing a further substantial multi-million pipeline in donations via dowries, trusts, and a range of expert financial advisors:

“We are not a big bureaucracy, which is attractive to donors with their own ambitions to help specific challenges without unnecessary delays. We are also very accessible to anyone wishing to make a donation, however small, or significant, respecting their privacy whilst enabling them to meet clear objectives.”

Singleton and his team are rightly proud of their continued success in meeting local needs quietly, without undue fuss, ensuring value for money for both donors and recipients.