It is nearly six full months since I took up the position of Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Wokingham – having joined mid-November 2018.
I have really enjoyed my time here, working with our fantastic volunteers, small staff team and trustees. A lot of that time has been spent engaging with stakeholders, particularly councillors and senior officers at Wokingham Borough Council, as well as a number of parish and town councils across Wokingham.
Wokingham is a very charitable district and full of very supportive people.
For the last six months I have worked to listen to and engage with our volunteers and staff – who are critical to the work we do, providing high quality advice and information.
I regularly review our client feedback and cases to see what sort of work our team are doing.
No matter how big or small the case is, our team are always happy to help, and I always encourage you to access your local Citizens Advice if you require any help, or if you would like to volunteer!
There are a number of cases which our volunteers and advice-focussed staff have led on with some great results, which I look forward to sharing with you in the near future.
I am particularly proud of our Research & Campaigns Team. A dual aim of the Citizens Advice service is to operate a research & campaigns function, to influence policy makers, using the evidence we have from our client interactions.
Our campaigns volunteers are very active – led by co-ordinator Ros Croy, leading the Big Energy Saving Week campaign in January, working with Sir John Redwood MP, identifying council tax arrears as a large issue in the area, campaigning for more mental health support with GPs and holding stalls in town centres to raise our profile, including the recent May fayre.
On council tax arrears, we have just launched a new joint project with Wokingham Borough Council, led by our experienced Debt Supervisor Sue Cornish and a number of our volunteers.
Local residents with council tax arrears will be contacted by the Borough Council and invited to attend to have a conversation about next steps, with the Citizens Advice team there to provide you with advice and information to make informed decisions.
We have also had quite a few new volunteers (with particular thanks to The Wokingham Paper for giving us the space to highlight our work, encouraging local residents to join us).
With this new increase in volunteers and some very experienced ones. We now hold monthly development days. Just one day per month where we close the service and focus on our teams development.
This means we have a team meeting at Wokingham Town Hall in the morning, where we have training updates on issues such as Universal Credit, homelessness and divorce, so that we can better support our clients with their issues.
We also redesigned our reception area to give it more of a welcoming feel and our wonderful reception volunteers provide a warm presence to the waiting area with an eagerness to help you have a welcoming experience of Citizens Advice Wokingham.
Shape our services
I have noted in this column before, our charity is nothing without our clients. As much as our staff, volunteers and trustees are important pieces of our jigsaw, we must have clients to support.
We see a minimum of 2,200 clients a year, and we will continue to do so, as that is what we are here for.
What we want to do though, is hear directly from you. Have you accessed our services within the last few years and have some feedback? Positive, negative or a mixture both?
Perhaps you haven’t accessed our services but feel we could have helped you, but something stopped you. Let us know.
I believe that the charity sector should always adapt. We are the pioneers for making a difference. We exist to fill the gaps in provision that are not provided by others, or do not go far enough.
To truly provide a meaningful, effective service, we must suit your needs. While we can attempt to do that with the best of intentions, your views and comments can open a different trail of thought.
You are also welcome to visit our offices to meet with myself or any other colleague to talk through your experiences, or where you feel we could improve to be more accessible.
Please contact us via the above email address to arrange a visit. I’ll make you a cup of tea!
On the topic of feedback, we have spent time in the last two months engaging with our staff and volunteers.
Asking what Citizens Advice means to them, what do they want our clients to feel after they have visited us, and how can we shape our services over the next few years to meet the demand of local residents and identify any gaps in support which we could fill.
Our team had a lot to say and it will really help us with our planning process.
In terms of clients – they want our clients to:
“Always feel welcomed, respected, helped and empowered”
“Walk away knowing that their problems will be dealt with by volunteers who have the right training”
“Feel more on top of things each time they see us”
They want our charity to be:
“Accessible, friendly, widely known about and have a great reputation for advice”
“The go to place for any problem”
“Accessible to all”
And they say they volunteer because:
“So many people get a raw deal through not knowing how things work”
“I believe we can make a difference for the client”
“I want to help others who are struggling in life and hope that volunteering will improve their situation and make the future for them a brighter one”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org