Volunteers’ Week & Citizens Advice
It is Volunteers’ Week! A time to recognise, celebrate and champion all of the wonderful work volunteers do day-in day-out.
Volunteering can be on a regular basis, such as our volunteers at Citizens Advice Wokingham — who give at least one day per week to support our community — or more informal volunteering including supporting people in your community, setting up or participating in a residents association or neighbourhood watch.
People volunteer for many different reasons — to gain skills and experience, to support their community, because they have a passion or drive to tackle a certain issue or simply to meet new people.
There are volunteering opportunities to suit everyone and that is why I am a big supporter of Citizens Advice.
It began with volunteers, both nationally and locally. Back in 1939 groups of people felt it important that appropriate advice and information was available to people to navigate systems, in-fact, Citizens Advice reflect that “advisers dealt with problems relating to the loss of ration books, homelessness and evacuation. They also helped locate missing relatives and prisoners of war. Debt quickly became a key issue as income reduces due to call-ups.”
A really important service was then setup at a really important period in time.
Citizens Advice Wokingham, or Wokingham Citizens Advice Bureau as it was then known, began in 1977 — operating from Wokingham Town Hall. It was a call-to-action from the-then town clerk Richard Rees Jones which led to Wokingham having a dedicated Citizens Advice in its area. Facilitated by just 10 volunteers, they provided help to people on issues we still see today — queries around benefits, debt and housing.
Volunteering is so important to the values of Citizens Advice Wokingham, that the Organiser’s annual report in 1986 reads: “The amount of time necessary to do the Organiser’s work properly, the responsibility the position carries, and the professional attitude required, are not now commensurate with a voluntary occupation, but the most important work of the Bureau — dealing with the enquiries — will always be the function of the volunteers.”
This remains true today, over 40 years later.
Although we now have a team of 9 part-time staff, the most important work that we do, supporting the people of Wokingham with their problems, is done by our dedicated volunteers. Week in, week out, they greet, assess, guide, advise, empower and support people with their problems.
Those problems vary — whilst benefits, debt, housing and employment law issues are not unfamiliar to our teams, we deal with many other matters.
For example with domestic violence. We may have a client who accesses our services to acquire a foodbank voucher, due to the immediate need to get food due to low or no finances. Through our conversation with the client the situation will start to unfold. We hear about the domestic violence situation at home, the complexity of deciding whether to stay in or leave the relationship.
Our high quality advice and information helps clients make informed decisions. We empower people. We provide them with options, specific to them and their needs, to move forward with their issue.
What I find remarkable, still, for Citizens Advice, is that there is a need for this service in every part of the United Kingdom.
With being born in Liverpool and living most of my life there, I saw daily need for support services. Moving to Wokingham to be Chief Executive of this inspirational charity, I still see daily need for support services. The need to access to advice and information for everyone and anyone, regardless of background or circumstances. From vulnerable people to those who just seek confirmation that they are on the right track with their actions. Our volunteers provide answers. We help some people with many things, including for example, applying for Universal Credit — helping them find appropriate identification, helping them fill in the application and helping them get a bank account.
So I say a massive thank you, to each and everyone of them. Our admin support, our receptionists, our assessors, our advisers and our other support volunteers — including support with supervision, communications and finances. They all do a wonderful job and help keep our charity going.
I also say thank you to our staff team who support our volunteers to fulfil their roles — guiding them through systems and processes, providing help, support, friendship and training along the way. We must also thank our funders, particularly Wokingham Borough Council, our town and parish councils and local grant-giving organisations. Without them, we would not be able to sustain delivering our services.
Now, of course, our services look very different. Much of our work relies on technology. People are wanting to access us in different ways and we are responsive to that.
Because we have a variety of volunteering opportunities, we operate open days to give you an insight in to what we do — a behind-the-scenes chat with our volunteers and a chance to ask us any questions before signing up.
If you are interested in joining our team, please visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk/volunteering and register for our next open day.
Citizens Advice is at the heart of your community and we reach out to anyone and everyone who need us. A helping hand in your time of need.
To find out more about some of our volunteers visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk/volunteers