Our Year at Citizens Advice Wokingham (2019)

Jake Morrison
Dec 18, 2019 · 10 min read

It has been a big year for us all at Citizens Advice Wokingham and we had a great time last week celebrating the year, thanking our colleagues at our Christmas party.

Citizens Advice Wokingham staff and volunteers

We provide free, confidential, independent and impartial advice and information to anyone who needs it, living or working in Wokingham Borough — since 1977.

We are a member organisation of Citizens Advice, with a network of 270 local charities and our national body. This enables us to share experience, skills, knowledge and ideas to respond to problems in different ways.

This is my first full calendar year as Chief Executive here, having joined in November 2018. I am really proud of the work that we do and of all of my colleagues whether they be volunteers, staff or our trustees.

This piece is just to give you a flavour of their work, an insight in to what we do, and the contribution we make to our communities week-in week-out.

Helping People

The statistics
This year we helped 2199 unique clients living or working in Wokingham Borough, with 6056 issues. A 13% increase in clients compared to 2018.

Our assessors and advisers have secured over half a million pound of income gain for our clients, at £508,921 — a 40% increase compared to 2018.

On debt, they’ve helped clients to write off £298,511 of debt as part of our core service — which is a 118% increase compared to last year.

We also issued 70 foodbank vouchers working with Wokingham foodbank. Our Woodley office also work closely with Woodley foodbank who do not use vouchers.

Accessing our services
We have two main offices, our Wokingham office open five days a week and our Woodley office open three days a week.

Our telephone adviceline is operated from our Wokingham office and also open five days a week, they also help to answer our email advice enquiries.

We have also started four new projects this year:

  • Council tax arrears — working with Wokingham Borough Council we now host a monthly council tax arrears drop-in at our offices, to support local residents in arrears — as this is our most common debt issue
  • Community Advice — funded by Wokingham United Charities, we operate a two-day per week advice service direct in our communities of Gorse Ride and St Sebastian’s
  • Help to Claim — working with Citizens Advice via Department for Work and Pensions, we contribute to a national telephone helpline and opened our Woodley office an extra day per week to support clients with making applications for Universal Credit
  • Advice Task Force — funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, launched in October this year, we have committed to delivering ‘pop-up advice’ at least twice in all 17 town and parish council areas of Wokingham Borough over the next 12 months

What do our clients say about our services?

Our client feedback wall in reception

We also received an Inclusive Employer award for supporting students with learning disabilities to gain valuable skills and experience.

Our People

We are a charity and our staff, volunteers and trustees care passionately about what we do, in supporting local residents overcome their problems. We are also a community of our own, helping people grow in confidence, develop skills and build friendships.

We started the year with 49 volunteers, we now have 70, and they are all doing a wonderful job.

We asked our team to provide their moments of the year — here are some of their responses:

Margaret Newstead meeting HRH The Princess Royal
Trevor receiving a certificate for passing the Citizens Advice assessor training

We now hold open days at least once a month to enable prospective volunteers and other visitors an opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at what we do. You can also read more about the work of our colleagues here — through their day in the life of articles.

Championing the work of our team
As well as the client feedback wall in our reception area, celebrating the great feedback they receive — we also have a wall in our main office. Here, our colleagues write on a ‘brick’ to say how they’ve made a difference — what makes them proud to be here.

How I’ve made a difference wall

Some of the entries read:

A royal visit

For the first time in our 42 years we had a Royal visit, in the form of HRH The Princess Royal — Patron of Citizens Advice.

It was a wonderful day, shining a great spotlight on our important work, and the opportunity to recognise our staff and volunteers in a special way.

The Princess Royal meeting our volunteer receptionists
The Princess Royal talking with clients

In the above picture, The Princess Royal meets with Sue (left), our longest serving staff member of 14 years, along with 3 clients on debt and employment issues.

The day finished with a group photo, without our royal guest — but with our four local Members of Parliament including Wokingham MP Sir John Redwood and former Prime Minister Theresa May.

For me, the day was fantastic, but the secretly code-named HRH planning group, who worked hard for two months preparing the visit showed just what we can achieve when we get together to focus on something. We had a mixture of staff, volunteers and trustees all with one objective — and I was proud to see them come together.

The end of our Royal Visit

Partnership working

We also are building upon our partnership working, both locally in Wokingham and across the Citizens Advice network. We want to share best practice, learn about different ways to respond to problems and engage with partners on how we can provide, together, the best way forward for the people who need our services.

Locally
We chair the local homelessness forum working with local charities such as The Salvation Army and Wokingham in Need.

We hold monthly development days with our team, with guest speakers from different local organisations coming along to share their work.

Working with Wokingham Volunteer Centre to recruit new volunteers, but also to learn best practice on how we can be even better at supporting those that deliver our service on a daily basis.

Working with Wokingham Borough Council on projects such as Council Tax Arrears, where together, we can provide more effective support to those in financial difficulties.

We’ve also met with Homestart Wokingham, CLASP (a learning disability charity), Wokingham MENCAP, the learning disability forum and Transform Housing.

Our local Borough Council leader John Halsall visited our offices in August to meet with the team.

Performance

As member organisations of the Citizens Advice network we are regularly assessed against a Performance and Quality Framework.

People survey — this is an annual survey of all of our staff and volunteers, asking 10 set questions. On ‘I would recommend the local Citizens Advice as a place to work or volunteer’ in 2019 we scored 98% agree or strongly agree, compared to 83% in the previous year.

Leadership Self Assessment — this is a full audit from national Citizens Advice performance assessors, reviewing nine leadership areas, including equality, operational performance, people management and risk management. In 2019 we scored 5 ‘excellent’ in all nine leadership areas, compared to 4 ‘good’ in the previous year!

What next?

So — 2019 has been a big year for us, and a period of change. We re-decorated our offices, we have a new management team, a new chair and board members in place, new projects, new ways of working and some challenges that we are still working on — such as IT!

But we are building a charity, in Wokingham, able to respond to problems in the ways our clients want — with new access points including opportunities to reach us directly in their own neighbourhoods, with a staff and volunteer team taking on the challenge — with sustainability and the future in-sight.

Our goals:

  • We want to be the ‘go-to’ charity in Wokingham for residents and partner organisations, responding to new ways of working, giving new ideas a go and being a gateway to all of the fantastic work and support that is on offer in our communities
  • Continue to support our colleagues, encouraging our newly set-up wellbeing group, introducing mentors and aiming to achieve an Investors in People accreditation — building a resilient team who are supported and encouraged to succeed, always
  • Re-secure our core contract with Wokingham Borough Council when it is up for re-commissioning next year and build upon our community fundraising efforts

Our photographs of the year

These are the moments we’ve caught on picture, that we wanted to share from this year!

To finish

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported, accessed, championed or been part of our work this year. We are ambitious for another successful year next year and want to wish you all the best for 2020!

For more information on our charity, our services and team — please visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk

Citizens Advice is an important charity, doing inspirational work. Never be afraid to ask for help — if you want to help don’t be shy — reach out and be part of a dedicated, passionate and vital network.

Jake Morrison
Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Wokingham

Citizens Advice Wokingham

Helping the people of Wokingham with free, independent and…

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