In the present pandemic crisis, our service delivery has completely changed: We used to operate a drop-in service which often saw 40+ people daily. Our specialist services, outreaches and projects helped a further 50 people per week mostly by face-to-face appointment. We had more than 50 volunteers who most weeks helped as advisers, reception staff, form-fillers and on the telephone.
A lot of that has changed; we now have a new email service, telephone lines and new ways of working. Staff and volunteers working from home (including people who are self-isolating) are helping people with queries about benefits, employment, debts, relationship worries and much more!
We already know that the demand for our services, once the initial lock-down is relaxed, will increase sharply. New research from Citizens Advice has revealed that over 13 million people have already been unable to pay, or expect to be unable to pay, at least one bill because of the coronavirus outbreak. Of these, almost 11 million have missed or expect to miss a bill that would leave them vulnerable to severe consequences - including eviction, bailiff enforcement or disconnection - when Covid-19 financial protections end. We are going to be a crucial “go to” organisation for a wide range of problems. Locally, our free, confidential, independent and impartial service helped nearly 12,000 people from Telford & Wrekin last year with more than 21,000 problems and this is going to get much, much worse.
We therefore want to start now recruiting volunteers and we want to train and deploy them in new ways. We want to use the learning we have gathered from operating remotely to undertake recruitment of people who want to work from home, such as those with disabilities or caring responsibilities.
- We want to use the volunteering opportunities in our organisation to help those who have been laid-off due to the pandemic to gain skills and confidence and return to paid work. (These may be offered as intensive but short-term opportunities.)
- We want to consider how we can deploy more people remotely so that we can continue to offer services to clients by telephone, email and skype. We could use volunteers to increase our services such as interviewing people from their local community centre via a skype link or doing “home visits” for those people who have difficulty getting out of the house.
- We want to offer our services out of working hours for people who cannot access services during the day time; many people will be working all-hours once they get back to work.
Volunteering has an excellent track-record of helping people to increase their mental wellbeing. The Citizens Advice training in all roles, but especially that of the adviser is recognised as a sector-leading training course. Volunteering with Citizens Advice gives a range of skills including interviewing, listening skills, dealing with difficult situations, understanding and explaining complex information, customer services, customer care. It allows someone to build up a wide range of experience, while getting the satisfaction of helping others.
“Volunteering can help to provide people with ways out of poverty, by giving them new skills and confidence, and aid social integration. This is of particular value to those who are most excluded from the labour market, such as recent migrants or people with disabilities.” (The Guardian)
As part of the volunteering offer, local people will be offered access to the Learn My Way course on digital skills.
But all of this will take more money than we have. We need money to employ a trainer to train the volunteers and a supervisor to support them going forward, we need kit for people who may need adaptations to their computers, money for software and for mobile phones.
Citizens Advice Telford & the Wrekin is an independent local charity funded to work in Telford & Wrekin borough. Our Charity number is 1077566. We don't get money from central government and we are not part of the Council. We are afiliated to the national Citizens Advice and one of 500 places where people can get help.