Every day over the last 20 months I’ve been proud to work as Chief Executive here at Citizens Advice Wokingham.
As we begin our search for four new trustees to join our board, I wanted to tell you all about why I think you’ll be joining a great charity and some of the challenges we face.
What is Citizens Advice Wokingham?
We are a small charity making a big difference. We have 80 volunteers, 12 part-time staff and eight trustees.
We exist because people in our communities often need a helping hand — some need this because there has been a significant impact on their life recently, others need some regular support. Our service is free, confidential, impartial and available for everyone.
In 2019 we supported 2,585 people with 7,017 issues. Securing £606,530 of income gain and £298,511 of debts written off. Our top five issues for clients in order of frequency were Benefits & tax credits, Universal Credit, Housing, Relationships & family and Debt.
Our core service provides advice and information on a wide range of enquiry areas including welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment law, consumer, relationships & families and much more. We usually provide this through two key offices in Wokingham and Woodley, a five-day a week telephone adviceline and in pop-up locations across all of our 17 parish and town councils.
Some of our cases are straight-forward, some are complex — but each one of them has an impact on the lives of those who we empower and support. We equip people with the advice, information and support that they need to move forward.
We also campaign for change, through our volunteer research & campaigns team — for example last year we secured support on council tax arrears, our most frequent debt problem clients present with — resulting in a monthly surgery with a senior manager from the council tax team to help anyone in arrears.
We also have projects such as:
- Home visitors — a new 12 month project funded by Wokingham United Charities and The National Lottery Community Fund — two part-time staff will provide complex casework support to vulnerable individuals and families in their homes and communities across the borough
- Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)— a project funded by Berkshire Community Foundation. We will be getting training from MHFA England to become an instructor, able to deliver the two-day Adult MHFA course to each and everyone of our colleagues — to ensure we can better understand and respond to those experiencing mental health problems
How we responded to COVID-19
Way-back in mid-March 2020 — that long ago I know! Working with Wokingham Borough Council and lots of brilliant local charities, community groups, religious groups and parish & town councils we formed the Voluntary Sector Action Group.
From that, we put ourselves forward to run a One Front Door. One central access point for anyone who needs help during this pandemic. We didn’t want people to be sent out a menu of services, having to try to understand their eligibility for services in a time of crisis.
Our volunteers and staff, working with re-deployed council staff took to the phones from over 90 homes across the county to support people, assessing what help they need and who could provide it. 60% of those we helped were then supported by the community hub for food deliveries, the foodbank, prescription collections or telephone support for social isolation.
40% of those who called us needed further support, help to understand furlough or other employment problems, help with debt or applying for benefits for the first time in their lives. We also had cases such as helping an elderly lady get her smoke alarm repaired, and helping a family get a new bed through an emergency grant and then put together in their home, in response to a terminal illness.
The challenges we face
We want to have more voices, backgrounds and experiences at the table — helping to drive our agenda. We will focus on, with your help, building a great team of trustees through away days and relationship building. We will also support you with any skills you’re looking to gain from being a trustee and supporting our charity on its journey.
Our strategy is clear — we want to be the go-to charity for anyone across our communities who are facing problems. We want them to think of us when they need help finding a way forward — and we’re determined to have the partnerships and structures in place to help achieve that.
We do not have a monopoly on helping people — but as we are a generalist advice and information service — our team have the skills and training to triage and assess needs, identifying when a client can benefit from help from another charity, or needs further support from our core service.
Effective partnerships are key in this, building relationships, forging new ones and ensuring that our clients get the support they need will always be at the top of our agenda.
We need stability to survive and thrive. Almost all of our project funds end within the next 9–12 months. We are confident that we will continue to secure support next year — but we need to think differently to ensure there is longevity in what we do — so that our services are here for our communities in years to come.
This is where you come in — So why should you join us?
- The team demonstrated how brilliant that they are through the coronavirus pandemic, agreeing to work from home even before the lockdown was announced, with no pause or suspension in our core services — ensuring we continued to be here for the people who need us, whilst delivering a whole new service
- 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
- 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 audit from national Citizens Advice to retain our membership, scoring 5s all round (excellent) in all nine leadership areas, including people management, governance, financial management, operational performance and equality leadership
- We have a highly skilled and supportive board of trustees, ready to support more trustees in delivering their 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 always going 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 the 11 other local charities in the room
- We are putting mental health at the centre of our strategy in supporting our vulnerable clients — we will deliver Mental Health First Aid training to all of our team including trustees, so that they can better understand and 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 soon
There is so much more I could say about what we are doing, about our impact and the reasons you should join.
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.
This time around we are not specifying skill gaps — because this can be learnt. We want to hear from a wide range of people, including people in our communities who have never been a trustee before — or never even given it a thought! You’re not left alone to figure this all out, you’ll be helped by a supportive board of trustees and a passionate management team.
To arrange an informal chat with one of our trustees or find out more information about the role please email email@example.com or call 0118 978 7258.
If you are interested in applying — please submit a letter to our email above just outlining why you want to join our charity and information about you so that we can review and make contact!
Visit our website www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk to see more about our work.