'You see the results' - Community star Funmi is supporting those in need

Community hero Funmi Akinriboya, who runs the African Food Pantry. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Community hero Funmi Akinriboya supports communities across Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

An Ipswich woman has told of her efforts to help support and integrate underrepresented communities in the town. 

Funmi Akinriboya is originally from Nigeria but has been living in Ipswich for the past four and a half years from where she runs the BME Suffolk Support Group.

The group has been going from strength to strength in recent years.

"It's been a privilege to see these groups blossom in the last two years," said Miss Akinriboya. 

“We are doing amazingly well and making sure these groups are well supported."  

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The groups work with minority ethnic groups like the Black community, the Asian community, the Caribbean community and the Portuguese community within Ipswich.  

“We are trying to close the gap and make sure they are supported fully,” said Miss Akinriboya.

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Within the projects that Miss Akinriboya is undertaking is the African Food Pantry, which supplies traditional food to those struggling financially.   

“We’ve been able to get a lot of supporters and volunteers.," she said.

“During Covid it’s been really overwhelming to see how grateful people have been when you show up at their doorstop.  

“The feedback is unbelievable.” 

Miss Akinriboya is also involved in the youth sessions held by the group where young people can talk about the issues facing them.  

“I have three children and I know that lockdown has been really difficult for them mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Miss Akinriboya. 

“I try to support them but not every child has this support from their African family.  

“They are struggling already and they don’t know how the system works.” 

The youth sessions started before lockdown last year and are now run over Zoom calls.  

“Some of the things they can’t express with their parents because the parents expect so much from them,” said Miss Akinriboya.

For many of these young pupils, school is a place to learn and practice phonics and English as their parents do not speak the language.  

“She said since the lockdown in January there has been no one for them to practice with,” said Miss Akinriboya.

She also helps to organise drop-in sessions to help adults with paperwork that they may be unfamiliar with.

"We have loads of cases that the mainstream organisations aren't dealing with," said Miss Akinriboya. 

"We use the drop-in sessions to fill out the paperwork for people that don't understand the way the system works."

Before moving to Ipswich Miss Akinriboya had lived much of her life in London.  

“I was going through a lot myself in my life,” she said.  

“I realised there is a lot we go through as a Black community that a lot of the mainstream organisations don’t understand.  

“I realise some of the places they signpost you to they can’t relate to you because they don’t understand the pressure you are going through.” 

Miss Akinriboya wanted a way of bringing the Black community together and to help them integrate so began monthly meetings. 

It was through these that she learnt more about the issues in the area and how families struggled to enjoy traditional meals.   

“People started opening up and they begin to tell you what they are going through,” said Miss Akinriboya.  

“That’s why we launched the food pantry last year.” 

The youth sessions started because Miss Akinriboya wanted her children to understand more about their own community and have more friends within it.  

“I have three children and they don’t know how the Black community works,” said Miss Akinriboya. 

“How our music works, why we like to wear our traditional clothes.” 

Community hero Funmi Akinriboya, who runs the African Food Pantry. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Funmi Akinriboya said that it's changing people's lives that motivates her work - Credit: Archant

With so many different projects and sessions to look after, what keeps Miss Akinriboya motivated? 

“When I see I have achieved a difference in people’s lives,” said Miss Akinriboya.  

She said that in one case she’d helped to fill in a Home Office form for a lady who didn’t believe she could get extra help but when she did it meant so much to her.  

“That’s what keeps me motivated,” said Miss Akinriboya.  

“When you see the result and see the outcomes of how people’s lives have been improved by your own simple effort.” 

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