Have you ever wondered what it would take to be a volunteer with Citizens Advice? Here, Kevin, who is training in the Farnham office, gives an insight into the charity’s work...
Why did you decide to become a volunteer?
All my career was in NHS management, specialising in mental health and learning disabilities, so as part of my work I was aware of Citizens Advice (CA) and the impact it had on people who were often very dislocated from the system or were struggling to make sense of life.
Probably more significantly though, I have a family member who has problems with alcohol and significant mental health problems who has been saved from homelessness and poverty half a dozen times or more over the years by different CA offices.
What struck us, as a family, was the genuinely staggering kindness, patience and non-judgemental approach shown by the different advisers we have seen over the years.
I’ve now experienced close up how CA can help individuals as well as the important campaigning work it does to improve the lives of people living in the UK.
What is your typical day?
At 9.30am we look at the schedule for the day and decide who will deal with which appointment, based on experience.
For trainees, the supervisor arranges observation of experienced advisers or allocates a straightforward enquiry; more complex issues go to a ‘more seasoned’ campaigner. We are ready to go at 10am when the doors are open.
We prep in advance of each booked client so we’re ready rather than going in cold; however, the day can get fairly chaotic with the buzzer going again and again as people drop in.
Some of us will also be on the phones, answering the national helpline, and some will be on emails. All of this will be going on at once.
Have you dealt with someone and felt you made a real difference?
I saw a young woman who was really anxious about seeing us; she had a raft of issues to deal with and the challenge was to prioritise them; she didn’t even have a GP as she had just moved into the area.
She needed a birth certificate, so I worked out how to get it online. Once she had it, she was able to set up a bank account. At one point she said: “No-one’s ever kind to me, you’re actually listening.”
Why do you continue to do it?
Having retired, I wanted to do something directly with people. Even with a background in the NHS and social services, getting help for our family member was unbelievably difficult; I wondered how others managed.
I value the chance to make a difference for people who are struggling with a problem, as we were. I have also met some great people in the office and enjoy the office camaraderie.
What are the typical issues people bring?
Anything from debt or benefit issues to the time of the next bus to Guildford!
What would you say to people thinking about volunteering at Citizens Advice?
Do it! It doesn’t matter what your background is. Bring yourself and any skills or experience to the table. What’s most important is an empathic style, being non-judgemental and being resilient in dealing with the hardship that many people face.