For the first My Suffolk interview of 2021 we’ve asked Stephen Singleton MBE, founding CEO of Suffolk Community Foundation, to reflect on the year that has passed and what we can look forward to. Over the past 12 months the Foundation has distributed 885 grants to Suffolk charities and community groups worth £4.92M. In partnership with its donors and local charities this work has reached an amazing 205,646 direct beneficiaries. Suffolk has raised almost £2M for the Foundation’s Coronavirus Community Fund and over £200K for this year’s Surviving Winter Appeal so far
Tell us about being awarded the MBE. What does it mean to you and your colleagues at Suffolk Community Foundation?
When the letter arrived, I just didn't believe it. I was convinced it was someone pulling my leg, so much so that I rang the Cabinet Office to confirm it! It was then quite overwhelming when I realised that it wasn’t a hoax. I know how difficult it is to be recognised in this way, and how much work is undertaken by those who put you forward, so it is humbling and very special. The award is for leading the Foundation’s emergency response to the pandemic, and therefore it really does belong to the whole Foundation team who have been magnificent in their relentless commitment to supporting charities who have needed additional finance to meet the increasing demand for their services. I’m extremely proud of them all – it really has been a wonderful team effort.
There has been much talk of #TeamSuffolk in recent months, how important is this and what difference is it making?
When the lockdown happened, overnight so many of the barriers and silos that had existed in our county started to vanish and people very quickly came together like never before. They shared information, learned new things from each other and continue to tackle the problems Suffolk is facing in a much more joined-up way. My hope for 2021 I that this is continued and that we grow even closer as we seek to help Suffolk lives get back on track.
Has the demand peaked for the local charities?
Not yet. In fact, we are bracing ourselves for continuing increases in demand for services, particularly if unemployment continues to grow. To that end, we need to continue campaigning with passion to raise money to help those most in need. Local media have offered wonderful ongoing support to promote the fundraising campaign. We couldn’t have done it without them. Whilst continuing to support the immediate impact of the pandemic we must now also move the focus of the emergency appeal to the next phase – one of Rebuilding Lives – we ask Suffolk to keep stepping up to give what they can afford to support need in local communities here in Suffolk.
Tell us more about the sense of community that exists across Suffolk. Has this held up during these challenging times?
That sense of community is stronger than ever and has served us very well during the emergency. Every day, we have witnessed acts of kindness by people from all walks of life, neighbours looking out for each other and groups coming together to help their community.
It is a positive that I am sure will continue long after the pandemic has passed.
Have you managed to find an opportunity to get out in the Suffolk Countryside over recent months?
Yes, I'm out most days walking along a footpath. What is interesting, is because of social distancing, I've been drawn to places of solitude, leaving our beautiful wool villages and countryside for another day. Shingle Street and that strip of desolate coastline has become my go-to place – rain or shine, I can be found there, shingle, sea, sky; uncomplicated and incredibly therapeutic.
Have you had any lockdown projects?
I have! When I was a teenager, I couldn't get enough of the newly found freedom that my first second-hand racing bike gave me. Despite my love affair with my trusty steed, I did lust after a new Holdsworth Professional bicycle that an older boy in my house
owned. In my 13 year old mind, his bike could take me further and make me more attractive to the opposite sex. Guess what, many years later, an eBay purchase, and months spent dismantling, cleaning and polishing a tired 1977 Holdsworth Professional and I have realised that dream. My Lockdown Special is now assembled, gleaming and beautiful and ready for action. I hope my body is up to it too.
Are you looking forward to eating out again?
Oh yes very much and being able to support all our local businesses of all kinds. The quality of what they provide enriches our lives so much, but it’s also so vital to get our local economy kick started again.
If you could choose one picture to sum up Suffolk for you, what would it be?
We’ll have plenty of time to talk again about the amazing views, the incredible scenery and history of our county, but as we step into 2021, I’m taking with me the image that was captured for the end of our online review broadcast – which you can still watch on catch up via our website by the way. It is of a wonderful gentleman called Brian who is recovering from serious illness in his upstairs flat since March, aided by the incredible volunteers from a local Good Neighbourhood Scheme. Suffolk continues to prove that it is ‘The Caring County’ and this image really says it all for me.