2020 at Citizens Advice Wokingham

Jake Morrison
Dec 18, 2020 · 4 min read

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked all of our lives this year — I just wanted to take a moment at the end of this year to reflect on what our team at Citizens Advice Wokingham has done.

Video calls — a familiar sight over 2020

What a difficult and challenging year this has been. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the pandemic in terms of ill health, loss of loved ones and issues from the consequences of dealing with coronavirus, such as the loss of jobs, hardship and the impacts on mental health.

We knew from the start that at Citizens Advice Wokingham, we had a key role to play in supporting our communities across Wokingham Borough to navigate through this.

Working with Wokingham Borough Council, through the Wokingham Borough Community Response, we joined many other local charities to come together and provide holistic support — with us delivering the One Front Door telephone adviceline.

Through providing the One Front Door we have ensured people can get access to food provision, other essential items, prescriptions, social contact and our core advice and information services on areas including welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment law, domestic violence, relationships and much more.

In 2020 we have:

  • Helped 5,621 clients — a 113% increase on last year, with 14,263 issues
  • Received over 1,100 referrals through our website and had over 8,000 calls to our adviceline, with 95–98% of calls each month answered within seconds
  • Secured great outcomes for the services our clients need — with over £1.2million of income gains for clients, a 102% increase on last year, £410,388 of debts written off and clients reporting in our pilot improved mental health and wellbeing following our interventions
  • Signposted out from our One Front Door to over 75 local support services

98.1% of clients reported that they would recommend the service to others and we have received great feedback.

Our goal throughout has been to be here when people need us — providing a high quality, reliable and approachable service, supporting people to find a way forward in their time of need.

Just last week we received this feedback from one of our clients:

I was much less confident before I spoke to Citizens Advice Wokingham. I was burying my head in the sand. Thank you for giving me support and pointing me in the right direction. I feel a lot happier now. I have been helped with claiming Universal Credit for the first time.

This meant I was able to go to the opticians to get glasses. I had been putting it off for a long time, and I was getting headaches. I could have a free sight test, and also free glasses. I will be able to get my chipped tooth looked at next year now. I really appreciate your help.

Our annual people survey of staff and volunteers

Crucially, in delivering an effective and empathetic service, we would need our staff and volunteers to be happy! Our annual people survey results in September speaks for itself, 96% recommending Citizens Advice Wokingham as a place to work or volunteer, and feeling effectively supported with their wellbeing and to work from home.

As Chief Executive of the service in Wokingham, I was also really honoured to be awarded the ‘Excellence in Leadership’ award at the Citizens Advice annual national conference in November.

So — what’s next for 2021?

  • We will be working to ensure that we continue to be here, equipped enough to continue helping people pick up the pieces, as the consequences of the pandemic continue. Our advice and information services are crucial to this — this year we have seen a huge increase in employment and housing enquiries, and debt issues are rising
  • We have a number of projects either in full-flow such as our Debt Advice service and Advice in the Community, and our Advice First Aid training launching early next year to continue developing
  • We will be delivering important Mental Health First Aid training to 72 staff and volunteers in charities across Wokingham for free; to 60 more Wokingham Borough Council staff and to our Citizens Advice staff and volunteers both in Wokingham and across Berkshire — in order that we can most effectively identify and respond to people struggling with their mental health at the earliest stage

For more information on our work please visit our website www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk

A huge thank you to every single one of our volunteers, staff and trustees for making Citizens Advice Wokingham what it is, a special place to work or volunteer, supporting our communities to the best of our abilities. You’re all brilliant.

Thank you to our other charity partners across the Borough and more widely, for adapting your services and supporting people in need.

Finally, a huge thank you to our funders — for whom without, we just could not deliver a service. Funders this year have included (in varying levels) Wokingham Borough Council, Citizens Advice, Berkshire Community Foundation, Wokingham United Charities, The National Lottery Community Fund, The David Brownlow Charitable Trust, Postcode Neighbourhood Trust, and Money Advice and Pensions Service. Our parish and town councils Arborfield & Newland, Barkham, Charvil, Earley, Finchampstead, Hurst, Wargrave, Ruscombe, Shinfield, Sonning, Swallowfield, Twyford, Winnersh, Wokingham, Wokingham Without and Woodley continue to support us year-in year-out. Thank you.

Citizens Advice Wokingham

Helping the people of Wokingham with free, independent and…