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Norfolk charity faces funding crisis

PUBLISHED: 08:59 10 May 2008 | UPDATED: 08:57 13 July 2010

A social group which transforms the lives of people with learning difficulties faces cutbacks or closure if it cannot plug a funding gap.

About with Friends gives 65 people across north Norfolk fun and skills through its activities which range from bowling and zoo trips to running gardening and catering services.

A social group which transforms the lives of people with learning difficulties faces cutbacks or closure if it cannot plug a funding gap.

About with Friends gives 65 people across north Norfolk fun and skills through its activities which range from bowling and zoo trips to running gardening and catering services.

But a vital three-year £58,000 from the Big Lottery Fund runs out next month leaving the Mundesley-based organisation facing an uncertain future.

Trustee Alison Mackway said: "If we don't get some funding from somewhere our service will have to change or stop, which would be a tragedy.

"It would have a massive impact on the lives of our users, their families and carers."

The group, formed five years ago, was looking at finding other funding sources, and could survive until December through money in its kitty earned from the gardening venture.

"But if nothing significant happens we could be facing cutbacks or closure," explained Ms Mackway.

When it started five years ago there were nine people and a handful of volunteers involved.

Now there are more than 60 users, aged from their teens to their 70s, and 28 volunteers.

Last year a total of 200 different activities ranging from two-hour sessions to day trips, sex education lessons to theatre visits.

Basic running costs of about £35,000 a year included project management and administration staff needed to organise the events, which are chosen by the group members.

Users paid for their own admission to activities, with the group's money spend on providing the volunteers to make the sessions happen, through 100,000 hours of their time given each year.

Gardening with Friends sees them helped the elderly and disabled with weeding, planting and pruning, while Catering with Friends can make and serve food to up to 300 people, through members who have earned hygiene qualifications.

If the funds and the service dried up, users would be thrown back into isolation, losing the chance to socialise and learn skills.

The group's recent annual meeting was attended by 167 people, which Ms Mackway said showed the importance of the services to the people affected.

"People told us their lives had changed, and they were not stuck at home.

"We are not a hand-holding group, but one that gives them a chance to have a social life, and be real people in the real world."

If you would like to donate contact About with Friends on 01263 722547.

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