On Thursday, February 14, Citizens Advice Wokingham was visited by former Chair of the Management Committee Dennis Eyriey, and original volunteer Jackie Jones.
The visit is one of the first in Citizens Advice Wokingham’s long-term initiative to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the opening of the first Citizens Advice offices in the country.
The first Citizens Advice offices did indeed open in 1939, but Citizens Advice Wokingham are seeking to unearth their own roots from their later establishment on June 27, 1977 by the then-Town Clerk, Richard Rees Jones.
Jackie, who was a member of the first set of volunteers to work at what was then titled the ‘Wokingham Citizens Advice Bureau’, spoke about her motivations and the experience of joining the new workforce.
She recalls: “I was informed by a friend on the Town Council about Citizens Advice, because she knew I’d be interested, owing to my background in benefits. I’d been involved with the Volunteer Bureau before.
“A meeting was organised, and an advert presumably run in the Wokingham Times, and 10 or 12 new volunteers had training.”
The Wokingham & District Citizens Advice Bureau records show that 10 founding volunteers became advisers. The service moved to Langborough Road while refurbishments were made to the Town Hall, before moving back again. Jackie was in the position of Deputy Organiser at the time.
“I was essentially there to support the advisers by managing them, holding meetings and so forth,” she says. “There were very few appointments. Most people came off the street to make enquiries. Their numbers built up quickly, and we were pressed for time because the service was proving so popular. Also, remember that we had to update the records by hand.
“Our day books were much the same as they are now in terms of the issues raised. Benefits, housing and debt were the most common, and a fluid community left many vulnerable residents to fill out paperwork on their own. The advice we gave was good, but not delivered as quickly as it can be now.”
She adds: “A lot of the time, members of the public would come in with local enquiries about where the nearest loo or chemist was. There was little restriction on whom advice could be given to either.”
Dennis was also involved in the Bureau’s establishment: “Once we had our new premises set up, we said, ‘Let’s get a Management Committee set up, and see where it goes’. I was the first Chairman.
“We started at the Town Hall in some grotty accommodation, and we didn’t even have a loo. That survived for a little bit until we got moved to Langborough Road for the refurbishment and back again.”
After a series of moves to different locations over the years, the Citizens Advice Wokingham office can now be found at Waterford House, Erftstadt Court.
‘‘We had to beg and borrow money for computer systems, which were being introduced at the time,” Dennis recalls ‘You’ve got to keep records much more now than used to be the case. We had no computers to start with, just a few record cards. There’s only so much you can write on a record card, and everyone then became very frightened about record keeping.’
Dennis stepped down as a Trustee in 2007, although the spell was not an unbroken one.
Chief Executive Jake Morrison adds: “As the 80th anniversary of the first Citizens Advice service approaches in September, we will continue to look in to the history of our charity here in Wokingham. It was great to welcome both Jackie and Dennis back to the charity to visit our current team and share stories. It is remarkable how so much of our work is similar to today.”
You can get help and advice from your local Citizens Advice or visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk or visit Second Floor, Waterford House, Erfstadt Court, Wokingham RG40 2YF. Tel: 0300 330 1189. email: email@example.com