How Brighouse Charity is Supporting Homeless, Elderly and Vulnerable People in West Yorkshire
Brighouse-based charity Focus4Hope is combatting loneliness across West Yorkshire. Founder and CEO Louise Reed shares how they're tackling the cost-of-living crisis with a new food bank and pre-loved boutique shop
The body of a three-year-old Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey, after he and two other members of his family drowned during an attempt to flee to safety. ‘My youngest daughter was the same age and I wanted to do anything I could to help,’ says Louise. ‘I started volunteering with a community group, and the work we did really opened my eyes to the charity sector and how people can make a difference. Walking through Leeds city centre, I saw a big homelessness problem, and when driving back from Calais after an aid trip, I decided that I wanted to set up my own charity more local to where I live. My grandma had ended up in a nursing home and I’d decided I wanted to do something for the elderly too. So I got 12 friends together, we came up with the name, the ethos and the vision and the rest, as they say, is history.’
Since then, Louise and her team have helped thousands of vulnerable people, as well as refugees in France. Locally, they work predominantly with the elderly, the homeless, those who are fleeing domestic violence, and isolated and lonely individuals in need of support. ‘Around 19 of us took part in a skydive to raise money for our mini bus so we’re able to do more and help more people,’ she adds. ‘We did continue to help out with the refugee crisis until the pandemic hit. That’s when we had to completely flip what we were doing because we were all about bringing people together and out of their homes, but suddenly we had to keep people safe and in their homes. We support a lot of the elderly people who don’t have family living around them and as soon as the government said that over 70s had to isolate, I called an emergency meeting to work out how they’d get their shopping and prescriptions. That was on the Saturday and by the Tuesday we were fully operational as a food bank.
‘It was never my intention to be a food bank but we’ve continued to do that ever since,’ Louise goes on. ‘We’ve just recently changed to a social supermarket model. This is a way a lot of food banks are going now. We’ve referred a lot of people through to Noah's Ark, where they get what they call a debt relief order, to get a clean slate to start again. With the supermarket, they become a member for £6 per week and we’ve chosen a Foodsavers model (a tried and tested model in Bradford). £1 of that goes into a Credit Union savers account, which helps people budget their money. It’s going really well, and the feedback is amazing. It’s giving people their dignity back but not only that – we’re also seeing them face-to-face again and they’re engaging and meeting new friends.’
Post-pandemic Louise is finding that some people are still feeling isolated. ‘We’re giving people a safe way to be together,’ she says. ‘I love when I see people in town who we introduced, and now they’re going for a coffee outside of what we do. We take the elderly on days out in our mini bus, all over Yorkshire – anywhere within an hour’s drive. They have lunch while they’re out and they say how nice it is to be able to eat and have other people to chat to, rather than being on their own at home.’
Most recently, Focus4Hope has opened a pre-loved boutique store called Replenish. ‘Brighouse has lots of charity shops so we didn’t want to be just another charity shop,’ Louise explains. ‘With our ethos of sustainability, we’re right on trend. Every penny raised in the shop goes straight back into the community, which is amazing, and we’re making designer, good quality clothes affordable. That’s a really exciting new venture for us. The supermarket is too. We’re growing really fast, which is sad on one hand because it means the demand is still there as more people are struggling, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis, but it’s good that we’re able to meet that need and show that support is out there.’
• Provided more than 13,000 food parcels over the course of the pandemic.
• Delivered more than 12,000 meals and support to the homeless in Leeds for over five years.
• Begun Focus4SEN – a support group for the parents of children with special educational needs.
• Helped 54 people fleeing domestic abuse.