Citizens Advice As Adult Education And Empowerment
As Citizens Advice 1066 celebrates its 80th birthday, Mike Ryan gives a personal view as an Adviser for seven years.
The organisation has been serving the country since 1939 and our statistics and campaigns are respected and frequently heeded by Parliament and Government. As an organisation, we emphatically believe there is such a thing as society and that we progress as a society when we help each other, especially in confronting low levels of income, ill health, social exclusion or discrimination of any type.
PICTURE: Rod Webb
Each Citizens Advice office is its own independent charity, although we have a national office which serves as our information hub and standard setter. It also collects information for research purposes on the kinds of problems our users experience.
In our work, we rely on a framework of existing laws and a very sophisticated series of online knowledge sites. It’s one thing for one of our clients to have a legal right to fair and equal treatment, but without knowing their rights and how to act on those rights, life can be a tough struggle.
This is where we come in. Whatever the problem, we listen. When clients tell us their often painful stories, they can get an immediate sense of relief, even before a word of advice has been given. The issues we deal with mainly relate to debt, housing, employment, relationships, benefits, consumer matters and immigration. Pretty wide! We do this with free, impartial and confidential advice – either face to face or by phone, email or web chat.
Our service relies mainly on trained volunteers, although we have a small core of paid staff, mainly in more supervisory or management roles. For the volunteers, working for Citizens Advice office is a rewarding form of adult education: our online learnings and practical trainings have launched many a later academic or employment success. Our volunteers come from all walks of life and all ages. The only requirements are a willingness to be of service – and to learn.
Of course, it helps to have basic computer skills and, more importantly, a commitment to our principles: free, impartial, independent and, above all, confidential advice delivered without any form of judgment or discrimination. We seek positive people who can express themselves as well as listen, people able to engage in teamwork – a sense of humour is an advantage. We always need people who can spare the equivalent of a day per week at least, but we are flexible about hours worked to suit volunteer needs.
Citizen Advice offices also act as adult education hubs for those who use our service. We inform people, showing them how to use tools and organisations of local society to make their lives better; information is based on their expressed needs or those uncovered by sensitive questions.
This might be called empowerment by some. For others, sharing ways to resolve one or two anxiety-provoking burdens, it might mean a happier (or at least less unhappy) period of life. And sharing is contagious, so less stressed parents make for happier children. A more confident and better-informed client will often build on their initial small successes.
It’s quite a pleasure to see someone walk in the office room depressed or weighed down by burdens and walk out of a short interview smiling. Before I started the work, I would not have believed how often that happens.
• For more information visit www.citizensadvice1066.co.uk or phone 01424 721458
• For Volunteering email [email protected]
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