Anne does it on Tuesdays, and Philip does it on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. Tom does it on his day off from college where, as a recent law graduate, he’s taking the legal practice course. He thought it would look good on his CV, but he admits it’s been much more than that. It has given him an insight into the challenges and problems some people face and given him some useful interview skills he may use in his future career. Philip is recently retired and felt he wasn’t ready to give up a working life entirely. He enjoys the company of the office environment, and meeting a varied cross-section of the general public. Anne runs her own small business from home. She enjoys working for herself, but admits she can sometimes feel a bit isolated, which is why she loves her ‘day off’ doing something completely different.
Anne, Tom and Philip are all volunteer advisers with Citizens Advice, the national network of centres offering free, confidential information to the general public on a range of topics, from consumer rights to benefit entitlement, from problems at work to immigration. Although the organisation do employ some paid members of staff, the overwhelming majority are, like Anne, Tom and Philip, volunteers, and it is these volunteers who provide the backbone of the Service. Could you be part of this ‘backbone’?
As a teacher, then a headmaster, for over forty years, Philip often found himself fielding questions from anxious parents: “How do we apply for a secondary school place?”, “The Council have offered us a house but it’s further away – will we get help with transport?”, “Are we eligible for free school meals?” He frequently referred parents to Citizens Advice and was curious to find out for himself how the Service worked. He now puts the skill and experience he gained, working with these parents and pupils over the years, to good use with a new group of citizens needing help and information. Anne thoroughly enjoyed the training she received from Citizens Advice, particularly, as someone who works largely on her own, the courses on interview skills with their interaction and role-playing. But she did admit to feeling a little apprehensive. How was she going to remember all that information? Would she ever be able to answer her clients’ questions? She quickly came to realise though that she didn’t need to know everything, just where to look for it! Because the ethos of Citizens Advice is not to tell people what they should do, or even offer specific advice.
Rather it is to talk through the situation with the Client and offer them a range of options, perhaps discussing the pros and cons of each, and directing them to where they may find further useful information – on Citizens Advice’s comprehensive website for example, or maybe another specialist agency. “It really has been a rewarding experience”, says Anne, “to feel that you’ve helped somebody to move on, and to see them walk out a little bit happier than when they came in!” “And”, she adds, “If I can do it, anybody can!” So, can you?
Citizens Advice are always looking for willing volunteers with whatever time they are able to offer, whatever their background and experience. And it isn’t just advisers who are needed; the Service use volunteer admin staff, receptionists and research and campaign staff too. So why not make contact with your local branch and find out where you could fit in? www.citizensadvice.org.uk
*Volunteer advisers’ names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality.
For free, independent, confidential advice on a wide range of topics call 0344 848 7969, visit our office at Bridge Street, Godalming Mon to Fri: 10am-4pm or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Citizens Advice Waverley is a registered charity no 1098859. You can help local people get the support they need by making a donation at www.waverleycab.org.uk/fundraising.