Access Community Trust is a charity based in Lowestoft which aims to support socially isolated individuals and communities across Suffolk and beyond.

It was named winner of the Employer of the Year award, sponsored by Pure Executive and Birketts LLP, at the Suffolk Business Awards 2022, receiving high praise for the strong set of values embedded for all employees.

From its humble beginnings as a homeless shelter in 1975, Access has introduced a range of services including supported housing, dual diagnosis and mental health assistance, in order to support those experiencing homelessness on their journey back to independence.

Fifty years on, the non-profit now offers direct support to tens of thousands of people each year and employs over 200 people, alongside a growing group of volunteers.

“Charitable support from Access focuses on four key specialisms, which assist socially isolated individuals, families and the communities that we surround,” said CEO Emma Ratzer MBE. These themes are supported accommodation, mental health and wellbeing, education and employment, alongside social enterprise.”

Access’ service provisions include six mental health cafés, which are open daily, a delivery service supplying food and ingredients for vulnerable families and a housing network which supports hundreds of people each night.

Core to Access’ offering is its staff team, which delivers the charity’s range of support options to people across the region. Many of the 200 employees also hold valuable lived experience in their support area, whether that is mental health, homelessness, domestic abuse or neurodiversity.

“Our team is the single biggest asset to Access. Without them, their commitment and compassion, our charity would simply not function,”

Emma explained,

“Appreciating their hard work and dedication by individually supporting each team member and investing in their future is mutually beneficial and remains pivotal to our charitable aims.”

Access looks after its employees in a number of ways, from assisting their career development to providing support with more personal matters. In the last year alone, it has introduced a Menopause Ambassador programme, support for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescription charges and an employee cost of living officer to help staff access discreet financial support for essential items.

Emma said the team was incredibly proud to win Employer of the Year at the Suffolk Business Awards and that the win highlights the charity as one which looks after its team across multiple levels.

“For a charity to achieve this title really underlines the importance of our sector within the economy and the employment opportunities it creates, which also help so many people in need.”

She also hopes that the award will bring attention to Access’ services, so that the charity can continue to help a greater number of people in need.

Support from businesses and individuals has helped Access to extend its outreach even further in the last year, including the launch of a pilot scheme offering targeted support to young people facing mental health challenges in both Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.

And Emma said the charity’s future is rooted in helping as many people as possible, whether through supported housing or wellbeing assistance.

“We have plans to see one of our mental health crisis cafés on every town’s high street, alongside a rural offering that helps people struggling within isolated communities, providing support before it spirals,” she said.

“We need help from the general public and businesses that are socially responsible to achieve this.

“We have extremely limited marketing budgets, and exposure from awards raises our profile and hopefully inspires the general public and businesses to support us, so in turn, we can support the most vulnerable in our cities, towns and villages.”

For more information on Access Community Trust, please visit