How historic Lowestoft-based charity Access Community Trust is looking to the future

Access Community Trust fund-raising to open a new community facility in an empty property on Bevan S

Access Community Trust fund-raising to open a new community facility in an empty property on Bevan Street East.Emma Ratzer - chief executive.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

Whereas many charities have come and gone over the past 40 years, one Lowestoft-based organisation has steadfastly helped vulnerable and homeless people throughout that time.

Like many groups though, Access Community Trust has changed with the times to reflect the needs of society over the past four decades.

The organisation started life as Lowestoft Night Shelter in 1975, at the derelict St John's Church.

Members of the community raised funds to provide shelter for single homeless and vulnerable people who had found themselves on the street in the wake of the decline of the fishing industry from its 1960s heyday.

It became known as the St John's Housing Trust in 1980 when it became a registered charity, also opening its first purpose-built hostel at the Fyffe Centre in Lowestoft.

Over the coming years it has gone on to provide supported housing at five accommodation services located in Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Thetford.

Yet whereas in the past most of the organisation's work was on housing, today it is only part of its work - with more time now taken up by employment and health and well-being services, as its activities have broadened out into different areas.

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Emma Ratzer, chief executive of Access, said that many of the issues around homelessness, health and employment are interconnected.

As a result, it was renamed Access Community Trust in April 2013 in light of the work it does on health and well-being, educating people and helping them back into employment.

She said: 'If you're talking about getting someone back into independent living, it's not just about putting a roof over their head.

'It's about sustaining their independence wherever they are in the journey through life, and that can be around educating people and getting them back into work.

'St John's Housing Trust was great and did fantastic work for 35 years, but it just tells you that we just do housing,' she explained.

'We wanted to be very clear that we're here for all aspects of support.'

As well as providing supported accommodation for people who are homeless, Access also provides support for people suffering from mental health problems and work clubs, which help people to prepare for interviews.

There are also training courses, including sessions in literacy and numeracy for those who need to develop their skills in those areas.

The charity's ethos however has remained the same - 'supporting individuals to achieve their potential'.

'It is quite some feat to be around for 40 years - particularly in the current climate,' said Ms Ratzer as it celebrated its landmark anniversary this year.

'Anyone can fall into a socially excluded category.

'We want to be able to provide a range of options and resources for people to call upon.'

Are you involved with a charity or voluntary organisation in Waveney? Tell The Journal by calling 01502 525820 or email lowestoft.journal@archant.co.uk