The Wokingham Paper

Citizens Advice: We are looking for a new chair and this is why you should consider it

Citizens Advice
The Princess Royal visits Wokingham Citizens Advice on Friday, September 27, to help celebrate the organisation's 80th birthday

Every day over the last 17 months I’ve been proud to work as Chief Executive here at Citizens Advice Wokingham.

Whilst we start our search for a new Chair, I wanted to take the opportunity to write about why I think you should be considering it.

Citizens Advice Wokingham is a small local charity making a big impact across our communities, and we are proud to be part of the wider Citizens Advice network.

Our story began in 1977, when Town Clerk, Richard Rees, made it his mission to have a Citizens Advice in the area —  and we have provided
a service  ever since, starting with just 10 volunteers in a room in Wokingham Town Hall.

Fast forward to April 2019 and to date (4th March), we have helped 2,164 people (a 13.5% increase on the previous year) with 6,067 issues.

Our dedicated volunteers and staff have secured great outcomes in those cases —  with £622,090 of income gain (a 107% increase) and £311,456 of debts written off (a 150% increase) for our clients. All in a service that is provided free of charge to all people living or working in the borough.

At Citizens Advice we provide advice and information to help people overcome their problems —  we support people with queries around welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment law, discrimination and much more —  including helping people understand their rights.

The people we help say:

“The adviser was really helpful and listened to me carefully. I feel so much better and confident after having spoken to her.”

“I’m leaving happier than when I arrived. Thank you.”

We are also a front door to many other services —  we are often a safe feeling space for people to explore their options and identify next steps, guided by high quality advice, information and an understanding of services in the area.

And we also give people opportunities.

We currently have 74 passionate and dedicated volunteers and 10 part-time hard-working staff working with us.

Some volunteers join us for a hobby and some to gain skills or confidence for employment. We are proud to have been awarded an Inclusive Employer award by Optalis —  for offering regular work placements for people with learning disabilities. We also take university students in placement —  often studying law.

A university student who volunteered with us last year wrote this on our Making A Difference wall: “This attitude of optimism and encouragement within the office has helped me grow massively in confidence”

What do we do?

We provide a core service, funded by Wokingham Borough Council and town and parish councils. This is in the form of a drop-in service at Waterford House in Wokingham Town Centre and in Woodley. This also funds our five-days-a-week telephone adviceline and email advice. Our core service triages people through assessments, and provides follow-up appointments where necessary

Our core service also has two specialisms, a debt advice supervisor and a volunteer employment law team —  all working hard with a caseload and sharing expertise with the wider team

Our Help to Claim service, funded by Citizens Advice nationally via their DWP contract. This service helps people understand and claim Universal Credit where appropriate. Locally this service is one day a week on the telephone, and allows us to open our two-day per week Woodley office for an extra day, on a Tuesday

Advice Task Force, funded by a small grant from the National Lottery Community Fund. Following feedback from local residents and parish and town councillors, transport issues into Wokingham or Woodley town centres can be difficult. Our volunteers form part of a ‘task force’ which pops-up across all 17 town and parish councils and attends community and charity groups to take our advice to the community

So why should you join us?

In our annual people survey in 2019, 98% of our staff and volunteers said that they would recommend this as a place to work or volunteer (up from 83% in 2018)

We are shaping our services regularly to ensure they are as meaningful and effective as possible for the people who need us —  this includes launching a new online booking system so that people can book a fixed slot telephone call for an assessment, which is already reaching more people who work during the day

And we are helping more people and securing more outcomes than ever before

For the last two years running we have scored the highest possible score in our annual membership audit from national Citizens Advice, scoring 5s all round (excellent) in all nine leadership areas, including people management, governance, financial management, operational performance and equality leadership

We are expanding our opening hours to reach even more people expanding our hours from 3pm closing to 4pm, and trialling an evening advice session for the first time.

By doing things differently and supporting our team, we have also been able to increase the amount of calls we answer, up 7% on last year, with a goal to increase by another 10% in the next financial year

We have a highly skilled and supportive board of trustees, ready to support the Chair in delivering the role and continuing to support our charity to move forward Funders like us —  and you would hope so. Our core funder classes us as a high performing contract, and we are open with funders about when things are not working, how we could do things differently and offering to go that extra mile.

We also think other charities like us. We have worked hard over the last two years to build relationships, and recently we were voted in joint second place to receive £12,500 of unrestricted funds, voted for by 11 other local charities.

We are putting mental health at the centre of our strategy in supporting our vulnerable clients —  we secured funding recently to deliver Mental Health First Aid training to all of our team, so that they can better respond to people experiencing problems

We have also put wellbeing at the heart of our day to day work, empowering our staff and volunteers to lead a new wellbeing group, and they’ve decided to tone down the biscuits and offer fresh fruit every week, along with organising social events and reviewing the way our offices are.

Our goal is to secure Investors in People accreditation.

There is so much more I could say about what we are doing, about our impact and the reasons you should join.

The challenges for a new Chair will be strategic, how do we continue moving forward —  comfortably positioning ourselves as the go-to charity in Wokingham, working with our knowledgeable trustees to get the most out of their skills.

We need someone who can champion and support our team, whilst positively challenging us to always do better.

If you are looking to have a key influential role in supporting our communities, give this role a thought.

We operate an open door policy for anyone who wants to find out more about our services —  do get in touch with us if you would like to visit and meet with myself and our colleagues.

Could you be our next Chair to support us on our next chapter?

To arrange a visit, have a chat or find out more information about the role please email jake.morrrison@ citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk or call 0118 978 7258.

Visit www.citizensadvice wokingham.org.uk to see more about our work.

JAKE MORRISON

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