How our charity is stepping up during the coronavirus pandemic

Jake Morrison
Apr 26, 2020 · 7 min read

We believe that no-one should be left behind, to struggle on their own. That’s why the Citizens Advice service has provided support in our communities for over 80 years.

That is why we, at Citizens Advice Wokingham, stepped up as the coronavirus pandemic escalated.

As a key charity in our communities, we provide advice and information to people week-in week-out to overcome their problems. We empower people to sort out their financial situation — looking at benefits, helping them budget and understand their debts including repayment plans and other options, we look at employment including fairness and discrimination, and we support individuals and families with issues such as domestic violence or mental health by finding the right organisations for them whilst dealing with their practical problems.

As the coronavirus pandemic escalated, we made contact with Wokingham Borough Council and offered our support and services to help them respond to the problem.

With the community response led by the local authority and working with other charities, we deliver the ‘One Front Door’, a single access point for any resident in need of help — and we help them find the right support related to their problems.

We were keen that there be one entry point, just one phone number, so that people do not have to go investigating to access help.

This was agreed on Monday 16th March, and by Thursday 19th March we had expanded our service to cover ‘One Front Door’. This service operates Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm on 0300 330 1189 or via www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk/coronavirus

Our dedicated and passionate team of staff and volunteers — supported by a number of re-deployed staff from Wokingham Borough Council — answer and triage all contact into the service.

They ask questions and work to understand the circumstances people are in, to find the right routes of support.

As you can see from the chart above, the most common routes are:

  • Food deliveries from Wokingham Community Distribution Hub or Wokingham Foodbank
  • Prescription collections delivered by Wokingham Volunteer Centre
  • Social contact support from Link Visiting Service
  • Our core advice service providing support on benefits, debt, housing, relationship & family issues, employment and much more

This system allows for people to call, tell us all about their problem, and be confident that we have the skills and knowledge to find the right support.

Here’s an example case from this week with the resident’s name changed. Christopher has a long term health condition and was recently rehoused in a council property, he has no internet access and needed support. Through asking the right questions and listening to Christopher, we were able to:

  • Help him register as a Shielded Individual on gov.uk over the telephone
  • Request a weekly food delivery from Wokingham Community Distribution Hub
  • Fill in an emergency application for an individual grant from Wokingham United Charities for a microwave, vacuum cleaner and bedding which was delivered 24 hours later
  • Referred to The Cowshed for some new clothes to be delivered
  • Setup a follow-up call from ourselves to check everything is ok and review benefits situation

Christopher is one of 1264 households, 300 of which identify as extremely vulnerable, across Wokingham Borough who have received support over the last five weeks through ‘One Front Door’ — whilst we continue to run a core advice service in parallel.

Here are some quotes about what people have to say about our One Front Door service:

- Hi, I am emailing to give my thanks to both CAB and the Wokingham foodbank, I am 81 and am looking after my wife who has alzheimers. I cannot go out as if I get the virus my wife cannot look after herself. The support I have received was really wonderful and I feel when this is over I will make a donation to CAB for there help.

- Thank you for arranging to have my medication collected and delivered to my apartment. I am so very grateful to you and whoever the volunteer was (Wokingham Volunteer Centre) who kindly waited all that time in Boots to collect it — such a relief. You and the volunteers do such a magnificent job I don’t know how I would have managed without you.

- To CAB and Partners, Again I write to say thank you for your help. Gifts from people I do not know. Food that I will enjoy. The medication that I need but cannot collect. The books, paper, pencils that I will put to good use. Special thoughtful, personal pampering items. It makes my heart burst with pride to belong to such a community. All of you who have come together to support.

Some of the team in our first week delivering One Front Door from our homes

All the work at Citizens Advice Wokingham is currently provided from over 80 homes across the area. Many of our team had never worked from home before — and none of them had delivered advice and support from home. So we are remarkably proud of their efforts and how quickly we were able to mobilise, with no down time in support for local residents.

Here is what some of our team have to say:

- As an adviser, it is a privilege to continue to work with the more complex needs of our clients and the challenging issues that they continue to face, knowing that other members of the team are helping daily in meeting immediate needs and responding to urgent queries and concerns. This really is a team effort which has involved rapid adaptation to new ways of working, ultimately in support of the community at this challenging time. — Sophie, Volunteer Adviser

- We are still here for Wokingham. Being able to link people who need support with volunteers who are able to help is great. We can arrange a food parcel delivery, prescriptions to be delivered to your doorstep or a volunteer to phone for a friendly chat. We are still able over the phone and though our website to give information on benefits, employment, debt or family issues. All this is helping keep people safe. — Ann, Volunteer Adviser

- As a triage “front door” assessor it has been great helping people who have some profound problems at the moment to make their lives a bit easier. — Bernadette, Volunteer Assessor

A huge thank you to each and everyone of our team, for supporting over 1200 people in just five weeks, having a huge impact on lives across our communities.

As an organisation we are also really proud of the work of our local charity partners and the local authority, who have come together so quickly to provide this wrap-around support for our community. Thank you!

Cllr John Kaiser, Deputy Leader of Wokingham Borough Council said:

As all people up and down the country suffer emotional and financial trauma I would like to say thank you to all the people serving residents none more so than the voluntary sector who have stepped up to the challenge presented by the Coronavirus, supporting professional staff working in all areas of public service allowing. them to administer services and relief to those affected by the pandemic.

A special thanks to the people who have volunteered in Wokingham, it would have been almost impossible for the council. to deliver services needed by the residents especially the vulnerable in the borough, I would also like to thank Wokingham Citizens Advice Bureau who have and continue to act as a gateway to services during these difficult times

Sarah Browning, Interim Chair of Citizens Advice Wokingham also said:

Our remarkable team of staff and volunteers have pulled out all the stops to make sure that we can offer support and advice to those who need us. Working with our partner organisations and finding the right help for each person who calls, the team have made sure that over 1000 clients feel less worried and alone after talking to us. I am hugely proud of that.

We were also proud to receive a mention from our national charity Chief Executive, Dame Gillian Guy, recognising our work, amongst others, that showcases the impact and resilience of our services in these unprecedented times. Gillian’s email read “I’ve seen so many excellent examples of new ways of working, championing our diversity and inclusivity, and supporting one another to work flexibly. They really do show the heart of our service and how we’re here for everyone.”

It is with great pride that we are able to run this new One Front Door service, a vital support mechanism for our community as a safety net, whilst continuing to deliver our core advice services with no major transition problems and a resilient, passionate team ready to help.

Over 80 people working from their homes, answering the phones and providing a safety net for those in need. Stepping up in a time of need, without hesitation.

Citizens Advice Wokingham continues to be here for our communities across Wokingham Borough — you can find out more information at www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk/coronavirus

Helping the people of Wokingham with free, independent and…

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