I started volunteering at my local Citizens Advice almost two years ago. I had enjoyed twenty years of headship, but was not yet quite ready to retire fully from work so wanted an opportunity to keep my brain active and give something back to society.
My first few weeks were spent on reception greeting clients and taking down information about them and the help they required. This was a useful time as it gave me a chance to get to know the IT system – which was quite complex and to get to know some of the advisers. Soon the next training session began and I spent several weeks (one half day in a training session and some time doing ‘homework’) learning about the benefit system, managing debt, housing, consumer problems, and lots of other information, much of which I knew nothing about. I was able to listen into the telephone advice line and sit in on client meetings with experienced advisers. Everyone in the office was extremely kind and helpful and the supervisor and manager were wonderfully patient. After about six months I was allowed to give telephone advice and now see clients face to face as well, both at drop in sessions and via booked appointments.
Our main source of information is the excellent Citizens Advice website which is updated weekly and provides us with up to date information and directs us to other useful sites.
We are an important part of the local community with 4 locations across North Dorset. In 2018-19 we helped 1792 people with 5955 issues. We share knowledge and best practice so people can expect the same quality of support across our service. We also work to fix the underlying causes of people’s problems using data and evidence gathered from our network. You may have heard of some of our campaign issues such as the recent one on Universal Credit which has informed and changed government policy.
If you feel you could give a day a week to support your local Citizens Advice office they would love to hear from you.
Sheelagh Brown OBE
Former Headteacher, Kingdown School Warminster, Wiltshire