As Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice moves into a new era, trialling an outreach service in the community, volunteers look back over the 80 years since the service was first introduced.
The free, confidential, impartial, independent advice service opened its first offices on September 4, 1939, the day after war was declared.
The first Citizens Advice bureaux were in large cities and by the end of the war, volunteers had provided help with more than 10million requests from citizens across the country.
Kath Harding, senior administrator at Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, said: “People turn to Citizens Advice with all kinds of problems, debt, rent disputes, benefits advice and family breakdowns as just a few examples. When they do, they’re offered free, confidential, independent, non-judgmental and impartial advice. It’s a vital service that has changed millions of lives.”
From its humble beginnings, offering advice from a horse box, ice cream van and church halls, Citizens Advice has developed into a modern, professional organisation offering face-to-face advice, home visiting service, web chat and access to millions of advice pages online, typically looked at by 1,000 people at any one point in time.
Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice has more than 120 volunteers giving more than 720 hours freely every week, supporting more than 13,000 requests for advice every year.
Kath added: “It is estimated the advice offered supports almost 10 per cent of our population when considering the positive impact to the service user’s families and others who are affected.
“Our home visiting service is funded by a kind local donor in Arun and Chichester and over the last five years, members of our community have benefited by more than £5.9million of benefit entitlements because of this service.
“Today our Citizens Advice service here in Arun and Chichester is offering pioneering social prescribing services through the GP surgeries in Littlehampton and so the service continues to evolve. In the coming weeks, we will be opening new outreach centres across the Arun District Council area.”
The twin aim of Citizens Advice is to campaign for changes on rules or policies that affect people’s lives and raise awareness on matters such as scams, energy pricing and the rights of individuals, which benefit everyone.
Luca Badioli, chief officer of Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, said: “Our advice changes lives because we are constantly adapting to the challenges people face, from broadband bills to Universal Credit.
“Whatever the problem, our amazing staff and volunteers do all they can to help people find their way forward. We are here for everyone and we will continue to help make things better.”
Littlehampton’s Citizens Advice office in Anchor Springs will close in October as the services it moves into the community.
Luca explained: “Changing the way we currently deliver our services will allow us to better reach the most vulnerable and be more accessible to all of the residents within this community.”
The outreach service trial follows the realisation that many people sought the service only when it was delivered in the community and would not otherwise have engaged with it.
Confidential information and advice will be given from various outreaches in the town, including Littlehampton Library in Maltravers Road, Amber House women’s refuge in New Road, the food bank in Fitzalan Road, and Jobcentre Plus in Church Street.
A digital service, including telephone calls, webchats and emails, will be run from Dove Lodge, in Beach Road, Littlehampton.
Gill Yeates, Arun District Council’s cabinet member for community wellbeing, said: “We see this as a very positive move in Arun which will ensure that this important service reaches the people who will benefit from it the most.”
Visit arunchichestercab.org.uk/volunteer/volunteering for information on how to join the team.