Drop In charity reveal six guests have died since lockdown started

Penny Fowler with her son Will and husband Martin in Bury St Edmunds.

Penny Fowler with her son Will and husband Martin in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Noreen Drislane

The mother of a Bury St Edmunds-based artist who struggled with alcohol addiction says feelings of isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic likely contributed to his death - and he is not alone in his suffering.

Will Crump, 49, and five others who used the Bury St Edmunds Drop In charity, which supports the homeless, rough sleepers and sofa-surfers, who may also have drug or alcohol addictions, have all lost their lives in the past year.

Will in Crete, taken by his father John Crump.

Will in Crete, taken by his father John Crump. - Credit: John Crump

Bury Drop In founder David Bonnett describes the number of deaths as “off-the-scale” for such a short space of time and says “it is clear” the pandemic-enforced isolation was a contributing factor in causing these untimely deaths.

He says while there are support services in place, “there just isn’t enough support out there to help all that need it”. 

Founder of the Bury Drop In Centre, David Bonnett Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Founder of the Bury Drop In Centre, David Bonnett. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

With the invitation and permission of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, there will be a service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for these guests later in the year at the cathedral.

Mr Crump died three-and-a-half-weeks after he was admitted to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, with severe burns following an incident where he caught fire. 

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His mother, Penny Fowler, spoke to us about her son’s death, which was recorded as “misadventure” by a coroner earlier this month. 

The 74-year-old, who is a potter, said the health crisis “probably did” play a part. 

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“I think he felt more isolated by the Covid situation and couldn’t get out,” she said. “He felt he couldn’t get out and come to London [where he grew up]. 

“He chose to live in Bury. He went there for rehab and stayed on."

She said reduced face-to-face contact because of Covid “must have” had a negative impact on him, adding: "I think he felt isolated even though he was on the phone a lot to people."

Ms Fowler, from London, described the terrible shock of learning of the horrific incident that led to his death.

"I got the call at about 9pm that evening," she said. "It was a dreadful shock.

"He was in hospital about three-and-a-half weeks and then he died. He was severely burned. It was a horrible time and experience for him. He never spoke again."

This is part of a project Will did with photo-journalist Edward Crawford.

This is part of a project Will did with photo-journalist Edward Crawford for a calendar about homeless people in Bury St Edmunds, called Cardboard Citizens. - Credit: Edward Crawford

Ms Fowler, who attended the inquest with her sons Sam and Jack and husband Martin, said she spoke to him on the phone every day, apart from the day he was hurt, when he was with his friends.

She added: "It's been a very traumatic year, and we have only really had the inquest."

Ms Fowler said her son began drinking more when he was at art college, and over time it became heavier.

"I'm not really quite sure why, but it did," she said.

A service will be held at Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds later in the year.

A service will be held at Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds later in the year to remember the six Bury Drop In guests who died. - Credit: Archant

Despite attempts to recover from addiction, including residential rehab at the now closed Focus12 charity in Bury St Edmunds, he kept relapsing.

But Ms Fowler said the artist "always continued his artwork throughout whether he was drinking or not".

There will be an exhibition of his work at a gallery in South London, hopefully in the autumn.

His mother described him as having an "up and down" character, but someone who was "very clever".

"He saw himself as a bit of a saviour for other people and didn't think much about saving himself," she added.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic face-to-face sessions are on hold at Bury Drop In and instead there’s a text and call service to keep in regular contact with guests.

Turning Point, the substance misuse service that had supported Mr Crump, moved to telephone-based support where possible last year (with face-to-face for those deemed high risk), but is in the process of opening up its hubs in Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft and Ipswich for in-person support again.

Nick Allard, from Turning Point, said: "While most of our support was moved to phone during the national lockdowns, we found that many client preferred this method of contact, however this was not always the case."

David Bonnett at Bury Drop In's Trinity Methodist Church base. Picture taken before the Covid pandemic.

David Bonnett at Bury Drop In's Trinity Methodist Church base. Picture taken before the Covid pandemic. - Credit: Archant

Mr Bonnett said he was not blaming anybody, but wants to raise awareness that “there’s a need in our community,” as in every community in the country. 

He said: “How can we as a community stand by and accept the death of six people who for the lack of support, financial and social, might have been saved.

"Gifted and talented people who had much to offer and contribute to our community. What a lot of wasted potential!

“Not only do we need to step up and offer the support that is needed by those in the grip of addictions, we need to ensure that something is put into place to prevent others following the same path.” 

He talked of prevention and education to warn children of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, “particularly as the county lines continue to pedal their pernicious products in our town”. 

Inspector Andy Beeby, from Bury St Edmunds, said the town had drug issues similar to all medium-sized towns and work is going on to target the supply of drugs and educate the public about cuckooing, which is a method used by county lines dealers.

Chief Superintendent Marina Ericson.

Chief Superintendent Marina Ericson. - Credit: Suffolk Constabulary

Chief Superintendent Marina Ericson said: “We are committed to educating children and young people to the dangers of not just drug abuse, but also the hazards of becoming embroiled in gang culture and knife crime that frequently have links to drug dealing and county lines."

She said as part of a recent week of action on drug dealing, where 29 arrests were made, officers also conducted engagement visits to over 60 schools in Covid-safe environments - and in some cases these were done remotely.

"This engagement work is on-going all year round in schools and colleges and is part of a joined-up and holistic approach with other agencies who can also contribute to educating our children.

"It’s also important to point out that we’d also urge parents and carers to speak to their children about the dangers of drug use as well," she added.

For more information about Bury Drop In see here.

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