We had a chat with FACT's founder and Chief Executive Joanne Smith, to find out more about the charity and their new community centre, the FACT Family Home.
What is FACT?
FACT stands for Fighting All Cancers Together, and is a North East charity offering support to those affected by cancer. 'We offer a broad range of services,' says Joanne. 'Everything from support groups to social activities, all held in a friendly environment. We run coffee mornings, a men's group, nutritional support, fitness, counselling, a wig service, Kindness Kits for those struggling to get the food and toiletries they need - if someone says they want something, we've tried to make it happen. The aim of FACT is to offer this huge spectrum of support, so people affected by cancer have everything they need in one place.'
Joanne set up FACT 15 years ago, after she had breast cancer, 'I thought FACT would be a charity group that signposted to services; but very quickly I realised that the services people wanted didn't exist, or they weren't in the North East. I wasn't going to say to people that I couldn't find the support they needed, or that they lived in the wrong postcode. If the support wasn't there, I asked how can we offer it - which is why we've grown in the way we have. We're reacting constantly to what's needed, we go the extra mile.'
Joanne says that ensuring FACT offers continual support is essential for people affected by cancer, 'In the charitable sector, things are often funded on a temporary basis. For people affected by cancer, that is incredibly difficult; you're depending on that support and that then the funding stops and the service disappears. For people that are already struggling, it is like falling off a cliff edge. We need that continuity and longevity, we need to think about the long term.'
FACT and Covid: 'We weren't going to be another shut door.'
For charities like FACT, the last few years have been especially tough, 'In the current economic climate, people are even more reliant on our services because families and friends just can't support them in the way that they used to. They can't afford the fuel to drive someone to the hospital, or drop off a food parcel, because they're struggling themselves. But charities were already struggling, and after covid many of them didn't open their doors again.'
How did FACT survive? Joanne says it was a struggle, 'The charity was made homeless during covid - we had to find a new centre where we could take 300 calls a week, send 300 packages a week in the middle of a pandemic. We made some tough decisions, but we know how important it is for FACT to be here. So many services closed down, so we had waves of people that were referred to us. We weren't going to be another shut door in someone's face.'
FACT's new Family Home
FACT's new Family Home aims to be a community centre and hub for those in Gateshead. 'We wanted a family home before covid, but it was a long term vision that, thanks to covid, suddenly had to happen at breakneck speed,' says Joanne. 'We wanted something that looked like a big house, that felt comfortable and homely. This building has everything we wanted; a kitchen, roof terrace, lounge, kids therapy rooms, counselling rooms and community spaces.'
FACT applied for the People's Project in the hope of being awarded funding to help them renovate the building, 'We were reliant on people voting for us; it was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. But we had our family and friends behind us, and the community - and we won. I got the news over the phone when I was in hospital with my husband who has cancer - I knew we'd won when they rang me, because I could hear laughing and whooping in the background. It was a an amazing thing to hear.'
What's next for FACT?
Joanne says that they're hoping to have the bulk of their renovations done in October, so they can start using the space. 'They'll still be a lot of work to do at that point,' says Joanne. 'Just because we move in and start using it, it doesn't mean the work is done!'
'We need a lot of community support and business support to keep the services running. FACT doesn't ever do cold calling, we don't stand on the street with billboards - we don't spend any of our income on advertising, it all goes towards maintaining our services for the people who need it. That means we really need regular donations from people; just £2 or £5 a month really does make a difference.'
'We can also never have too many pairs of hands - we're always on the lookout for volunteers. Any help at all, from putting the kettle on and cleaning the kitchen to donating a skill, to spreading the word so more people know that we're there to support them.'
Joanne says that FACT being able to survive and grow is down to the support they've received, 'Thank you to those who have been involved in FACT over the past 15 years, thank you for supporting us and thank you for using our services. Most importantly, thank you for bringing our attention to the services that those affected by cancer need. We couldn't have done it without you.'
You can donate to FACT by visiting their website