‘It was really concerning knowing families did not have enough money to feed their children’ - How Great Yarmouth is tackling deprivation
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With statistics showing Great Yarmouth has one of the smallest proportions of over 16-year-olds who have a degree level or apprenticeship qualifications, deprivation is one of the key issues the town is faced with.
Figures from the National Online Manpower Information System (NOMIS) also show the borough has a significantly lower percentage of residents in employment when compared with the rest of Great Britain.
The latest statistics collected by NOMIS show 65pc of people in Great Yarmouth are in employment which is considerably lower than the average in Great Britain of 78.5pc.
Key to improving employment levels is education, and one school in the town which is determined to make a difference is North Denes Primary.
A number of years ago teachers at the school recognised children were coming to school “too hungry to learn” and this was having a detrimental impact on their concentration in classes.
In order to improve performances in the classroom, the school started offering pupils free toast and a drink at registration time in the morning.
In November last year the school set up a food bank to help support families who faced financial difficulties over the Christmas period.
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Headteacher Debbie Whiting, said the school was aware of the struggles some families face in the town but never realised the full extent of the problem.
Mrs Whiting said: “It was really concerning knowing families did not have enough money to feed their children so we knew we needed to help.
“The free toast in particular seemed to make a big difference and has given children that extra boost.”
The food bank which is still running, has provided a number of food items and sanitary products to several families and now supports one household long term.
One charity which helps to provide training to help young people take the next step into employment is Map.
Advice services manager for Map, Rob Lancaster, said children in the town face many challenges when it comes to finding a job.
These include a lack of experience in the job market, a lack of qualifications and restrictions in transport.
Mr Lancaster described the support network Map and other services provide to youngsters in the town as vital.
He said: “From ages 11-16, children are at a crucial stage of their life so it is important we equip them with the skills needed to have the best chance of getting into work.”
The charity hosts drop-in sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1.30 to 5.30pm at its centre in Dene Side.
Having to turn rough sleepers away and send them back out onto the streets is heartbreaking for volunteers at the Living Room project.
They know how much of a difference a hot meal and sheltered accommodation makes to those who have to brave the elements during the winter months.
Despite the tireless work of community projects and investment from the borough council to tackle homelessness, the town must continue to do more to help those most vulnerable, according to one resident who is determined to make a difference.
Jo Morrison, 49, has been helping out at The Living Room since its launch in 2017.
The scheme - run by a team of volunteers - offers a safe and warm overnight space for rough sleepers.
Although it has already provided accommodation for 30 rough sleepers this year, Miss Wilson admitted there is a growing number of homeless people it is having to turn away.
“Homelessness is a big concern and it is very difficult to see people come to us in such a vulnerable position,” she said.
“Sometimes we are completely full and have to turn people away. It is heartbreaking.
“Knowing we are helping out though does make me proud.”
Having received additional support from Great Yarmouth Borough Council to open for an extra night a week, the Living Room Project now opens four times a week.
Based at three churches across the town - The Minster Mission, Park Baptist Church and Kingsgate Community Church - the volunteers host up to 10 people a night.
In 2018, it provided 229 nights off the street for those who are homeless in the town alongside 458 hot meals.
Miss Morrison admitted she had noticed an increase in people reliant on the project over the last year.
She said: “It is difficult to know the reasons behind the increase because people end up on the streets for a variety of reasons such as job loss, alcoholism and universal credit issues.
“It is a worry knowing we cannot help everyone but we certainly do our best.”
Andy Grant chairman of the housing and neighbourhoods committee said the council works proactively with partners to address homelessness.
He said: “The council focuses its efforts on reducing the risk of people becoming homeless in the first place and helping rough sleepers to move back into stable permanent accommodation.”
The council also works in partnership with the Herring House Trust - a local charity - to support those currently rough sleeping, or at risk of rough sleeping, to try to address their needs.
Mr Grant insisted helping those most vulnerable to find and maintain accommodation is a priority.
The borough council said the most recent rough sleeper counts and estimates undertaken by Norfolk districts calculated the number of rough sleepers in Great Yarmouth was 10 people.
This is comparable to North Norfolk, with Waveney and Norwich having higher figures.
Mr Grant added: “With recent additional funding for homeless support in the borough, and with a continued focus on supporting rough sleepers, we hope to see an improving trend in the coming years.”
The council ensures overnight accommodation is available to all rough sleepers when temperatures are predicted to be below zero degrees for three nights.
Despite a number of initiatives, figures released earlier this year by the government showed ten homeless people had died in Great Yarmouth over five years.
This was more than double the national average.