A COMMUNITY centre in Taunton which aims to tackle issues related to social deprivation has been praised by government.

Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, visited the Link Centre on March 1, to get to know the work that goes on.

The Link Centre officially reopened on Friday after relocating to a bigger location. It's operated by the Taunton East Development Trust.

Ms Rudd spoke with leaders and volunteers at the centre, which works to provide support to 'one of Britain's most deprived communities'.

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Before she arrived at the centre, she took a visit to Taunton Job Centre.

She said: "I am here in Taunton doing two things.

"First of all, I went to the job centre to meet up with the people who work there, the work coaches, and also the clients who have been receiving support from the coaches.

"Secondly, I came to the Link Centre to find out more about this particular group and the help they give the more marginalised people in this society."

Ms Rudd highlighted the great work the centre does to bring 'hard-to-reach' people the help they need.

But why are centres like this needed if things like Universal Credit are running as smoothly as Ms Rudd insists they are?

"This is a really good example of how local volunteer work with government, with local support, to deliver additional services that are needed," she added.

"Government provides some support, some essential support and I am very proud of our welfare system that provides a safety net and then also helps people into work, providing housing benefit and other support.

"But there is always going to be people who are harder to reach and this is a really good example of a community-led service that helps people access additional services.

"I have heard stories today about women who were suffering from domestic abuse, drug addictions, and they are the sort of people who are not confident. By coming into a community centre like this, meeting volunteers from their own community, sometimes their neighbours or from another street, they can come in, have a cup of tea, and start them on their journey to get their confidence back, it makes a huge difference."

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Taunton Deane's MP sparked controversy when she said in Parliament Taunton residents had 'thousands more' in their pockets. If that were true for every area of town - the dedicated team at the Link Centre wouldn't need to be working hard to ensure its community is supported.

But Ms Rudd said it's a 'complex issue' to discuss, and things like an increase in foodbank usage are hard to pin down to a single cause.

She said: "I think you've got a fantastic Member of Parliament here with Rebecca Pow, she's clearly very well known at the job centre for all the work she done, and she's clearly well known at the Link Centre from all the users, because she has already engaged with them in many different ways.

"There are lots of different views why foodbank usage has increased. We know that it's quite complex and if you talk to people who use foodbanks, there seems to be different reasons why you use them. The most important thing is people get the support they need.

"That's why I am here at the Link Centre to learn about the different signposting that goes on locally.

"It's really interesting to find different examples of how local communities address those needs. And what you've got here is something pretty exceptional where there are some really motivated, individual leaders, who are bringing, or linking, as in Link Centre, the different support systems together."

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The new link centre has a brand new kitchen area and larger facilities to utilise.

Paul Hughes, chairman of the Trustees, said: “Most people are amazed to discover that Somerset’s county town is hiding one of Britain’s most deprived communities.

“Sadly, east Taunton is an area of low incomes, child poverty and above-average unemployment.

"These problems are compounded by multiple health issues and frequent low levels of literacy and numeracy.

"In the past there have been serious problems with drugs, crime and poor housing but there are signs that since the community has started coming together under the Development Trust, this tide of misfortune is turning.

“Sometimes the media seem to be dominated by stories of poverty and crime. It’s good to be able to say – ‘hey, things can get better if people work together’.

"Often individuals and communities just need a leg up to get started. Then they can make things happen.”

The Link Centre provides a supportive, non-judgemental “safe haven” for individuals and also help to reduce isolation and vulnerability, particularly among those with mental health issues and the elderly.

The Link Centre manager, Denise Chidgey, said: “Now we have a bright, open reception area, decent sized office accommodation, a confidential counselling room with its own access, a kitchen area large enough to run training courses and a conservatory to provide a social meeting area.

"One of the key features of the Link scheme is the involvement of volunteers from within the community.

"More than 70 local people already help out in one way or another and the better facilities will hopefully encourage others to become involved.

"Through our ‘Link Power’ scheme we aim to help people develop self-respect and confidence as well as providing opportunities for them to acquire life and work skills.

“Link Power has taken on responsibility for keeping the area neat and tidy. Our volunteers mow communal grassy areas and verges, trim hedges and organise regular litter picks. For a modest charge they will also help people with gardening, disposing of unwanted items of furniture and white goods (reducing fly tipping) and even helping people move house. Volunteering at Link Power is one way people can build up their employability.”