It has been a big year for us all at Citizens Advice Wokingham – we had a great time celebrating the year and thanking our colleagues at our Christmas party.
We provide free, confidential, independent and impartial advice and information to anyone who needs it, living or working in Wokingham Borough - since 1977.
We are a member organisation of Citizens Advice, with a network of 270 local charities and our national body. This enables us to share experience, skills, knowledge and ideas to respond to problems in different ways.
This is my first full calendar year as Chief Executive here, having joined in November 2018. I am really proud of the work that we do and of all of my colleagues whether they be volunteers, staff or our trustees.
This piece is just to give you a flavour of their work, an insight in to what we do, and the contribution we make to our communities week-in week-out.
This year we helped 2,177 unique clients living or working in Wokingham Borough, with 6,056 issues. A 12% increase in clients compared to 2018.
Our assessors and advisers have secured just short of half a million pound of income gain for our clients, at £498,921 - a 36% increase compared to 2018.
On debt, they’ve helped clients to write off £285,693 of debt as part of our core service - which is a 108% increase compared to last year.
We also issued 70 foodbank vouchers working with Wokingham foodbank. Our Woodley office also work closely with Woodley foodbank who do not use vouchers.
Accessing our services
We have two main offices, our Wokingham office open five days a week and our Woodley office open three days a week.
Our telephone adviceline is operated from our Wokingham office and also open five days a week, they also help to answer our email advice enquiries.
We have also started four new projects this year:
- Council tax arrears - working with Wokingham Borough Council we now host a monthly council tax arrears drop-in at our offices, to support local residents in arrears - as this is our most common debt issue
- Community Advice - funded by Wokingham United Charities, we operate a two-day per week advice service direct in our communities of Gorse Ride and St Sebastian’s
- Help to Claim - working with Citizens Advice via Department for Work and Pensions, we contribute to a national telephone helpline and opened our Woodley office an extra day per week to support clients with making applications for Universal Credit
- Advice Task Force - funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, launched in October this year, we have committed to delivering ‘pop-up advice’ at least twice in all 17 town and parish council areas of Wokingham Borough over the next 12 months
What do our clients say about our services?
“After my visit I feel as though I am not alone”
“This has been most helpful in giving me the tools to address the dispute”
“Very easy to talk to and helpful as I was pointed in the right direction and given some helpful information”
“I’m leaving happier than when I arrived. Thank you”
We also received an Inclusive Employer award for supporting students with learning disabilities to gain valuable skills and experience.
We are a charity and our staff, volunteers and trustees care passionately about what we do, in supporting local residents overcome their problems. We are also a community of our own, helping people grow in confidence, develop skills and build friendships.
We started the year with 49 volunteers, we now have 70, and they are all doing a wonderful job.
We asked our team to provide their moments of the year - here are some of their responses:
“My moment would be the visit of HRH The Princess Royal to our office. It was a memorable day for us all and especially for me being introduced to her.” – Margaret, Volunteer Admin
“Following an extremely difficult period, I was encouraged to volunteer to regain some self belief. Citizens Advice Wokingham had advertised for volunteers, and so with support I applied, and was welcomed with open arms. I have gained self respect, confidence and unexpectedly friends and their support.” – Gael, Volunteer Receptionist
“For me it’s great to see all the new volunteers coming through training. They have a fantastic range of skills and share a desire to help people. I’ve loved seeing them grow in confidence as they start to put their training into effect and start dealing with clients on their own.” – Tony, Volunteer Assessor
“The highlight of 2019 for me personally was receiving my Assessor certificate last Friday. I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to achieve this in less than 6 months and help many clients at the same time. Two weeks ago a client dropped into the Woodley office and handed me a Thank You card for the help that I had given him and his wife. This made me realise what a difference we can make to people’s lives and very proud of the work that we do.” – Trevor, Volunteer Assessor
“In terms of client outcomes, enabling a client to move to smaller, less expensive accommodation. The local authority also agreed to provide the client with transitional (financial) support in the interim of the move and, in their new home, the client’s new rent was significantly reduced by 96%. In addition, the client continued to receive additional debt support and advice via our council tax drop-in, from my debt colleague and the local authority working in partnership.” – Jaki, Community Adviser
“I helped a client get council tax relief backdated for 9 years for a client!” – Carol, Volunteer Adviser
“For me, the moment of truth was when a client told me that without help from Citizens Advice Wokingham with his debts, he might have ended his life. It made me realise that in some situations the service is literally a lifeline.” – Dianne, Volunteer Adviser
“What I can say is that every day when I finish my work, I get an immense sense of satisfaction that we, as a team, have made a difference to our clients’ lives, sometimes a big difference - this is a good feeling. Just a few days ago we were successful in getting a bank to write off just over £2000 of a client’s debt by submitting a debt and mental health evidence form.” – Vayik, Advice Session Supervisor
We now hold open days at least once a month to enable prospective volunteers and other visitors an opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at what we do. You can also read more about the work of our colleagues on our website - through their day in the life of articles.
Championing the work of our team
As well as the client feedback wall in our reception area, celebrating the great feedback they receive - we also have a wall in our main office. Here, our colleagues write on a ‘brick’ to say how they’ve made a difference - what makes them proud to be here.
Some of the entries read:
“Achieved £90,000 settlement for client who was clinically depressed due to actions of his employer.”
“I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone come together to solve seemingly difficult problems. This attitude of optimism and encouragement within the office has helped me massively grow in confidence. It’s encouraging to see clients grow in confidence too.”
“Client has been able to eat a cheese baguette after I made several phone calls for her. She has only had one piece of toast in 3 days due to anorexia.”
“A client couldn’t afford food after paying towards her rent arrears. A call to Wokingham Borough Council Housing Team led to a more affordable repayment plan that client was happy with.”
A royal visit
For the first time in our 42 years we had a Royal visit, in the form of HRH The Princess Royal - Patron of Citizens Advice.
It was a wonderful day, shining a great spotlight on our important work, and the opportunity to recognise our staff and volunteers in a special way.
The day finished with a group photo, without our royal guest - but with our four local Members of Parliament including Wokingham MP Sir John Redwood and former Prime Minister Theresa May.
For me, the day was fantastic, but the secretly code-named HRH planning group, who worked hard for two months preparing the visit showed just what we can achieve when we get together to focus on something. We had a mixture of staff, volunteers and trustees all with one objective - and I was proud to see them come together.
We also are building upon our partnership working, both locally in Wokingham and across the Citizens Advice network. We want to share best practice, learn about different ways to respond to problems and engage with partners on how we can provide, together, the best way forward for the people who need our services.
- We chair the local homelessness forum working with local charities such as The Salvation Army and Wokingham in Need.
- We hold monthly development days with our team, with guest speakers from different local organisations coming along to share their work.
- Working with Wokingham Volunteer Centre to recruit new volunteers, but also to learn best practice on how we can be even better at supporting those that deliver our service on a daily basis.
- Working with Wokingham Borough Council on projects such as Council Tax Arrears, where together, we can provide more effective support to those in financial difficulties.
- We’ve also met with Homestart Wokingham, CLASP (a learning disability charity), Wokingham MENCAP, the learning disability forum and Transform Housing.
- Our local Borough Council leader John Halsall visited our offices in August to meet with the team.
So - 2019 has been a big year for us, and a period of change. We re-decorated our offices, we have a new management team, a new chair and board members in place, new projects, new ways of working and some challenges that we are still working on - such as IT!
But we are building a charity, in Wokingham, able to respond to problems in the ways our clients want - with new access points including opportunities to reach us directly in their own neighbourhoods, with a staff and volunteer team taking on the challenge - with sustainability and the future in-sight.
Our goals for 2020:
- We want to be the ‘go-to’ charity in Wokingham for residents and partner organisations, responding to new ways of working, giving new ideas a go and being a gateway to all of the fantastic work and support that is on offer in our communities
- Continue to support our colleagues, encouraging our newly set-up wellbeing group, introducing mentors and aiming to achieve an Investors in People accreditation - building a resilient team who are supported and encouraged to succeed, always
- Re-secure our core contract with Wokingham Borough Council when it is up for re-commissioning next year and build upon our community fundraising efforts
A huge thank you to everyone who has supported, accessed, championed or been part of our work this year. We are ambitious for another successful year next year and want to wish you all the best for 2020!
For more information on our charity, our services and team , please visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk
Citizens Advice is an important charity, doing inspirational work. Never be afraid to ask for help . And if you want to help don’t be shy - reach out and be part of a dedicated, passionate and vital network.
Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Wokingham