27 May 2020 (4-minute read)
At Citizens Advice Reigate and Banstead, responding to the Covid-19 lockdown has meant rethinking how we do just about everything. We shut our offices and outreach centres. We asked our volunteer advisers to work from home. We provided resources and support to make this radical change possible. The result is from the start of lockdown we have been helping clients as effectively as before and building on the positive changes we have been able to progress.
Andrea Dunhill is Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Reigate and Banstead.
All things considered, the year 2019/20 was eventful. Our most urgent priorities were to secure new premises in central Redhill and upgrade our IT system. We were successful in both. We also increased our accessibility to clients and improved our operational efficiency, overall level of service and number of an ongoing clients. This continues to be a strategic priority. We underwent a major operational audit visit, the first in 6 years, and scored 45 out of a possible score of 47 on advice quality, governance, strategy and management processes.
Thanks to our supporters
Before leaving 2019/20 behind I want to acknowledge the financial support and encouragement of our key funders and donors. We are a small charity that depends entirely on local support. Our membership of the Citizens Advice national network provides advice services but no financial support.
On behalf of our clients and the community, our thanks go to: Reigate and Banstead Borough Council (core funding), Henry Smith Charity, Raven Housing Trust, Community Foundation for Surrey, Netherby Trust, Healthwatch Surrey, Surrey County Council Local Assistance Scheme. We are pleased to work with the Department of Work and Pensions Universal Credit: Help to Claim service.
We are also grateful to Asda, Fidelity International, Travellers Insurance, Pfizer, George Osborne Limited for generous one-off donations; to the individuals who made donations; and our fundraising team who took part in sponsored walks or attended local fairs raising money and awareness.
There is no prospect of an early return to face-to-face advice interviews. We will keep this under review but as things look at present it could be well into 2021. Our focus is therefore on improving our understanding of client needs; supporting our wonderful volunteers; and developing access to relevant technology.
We already know that lockdown and Covid fear are changing client access to our service. Some may not want to visit our offices. We will make our advice accessible to as many as possible. Some clients will gain new skills and be able to reach wider sources of support. Wherever we can, we will seek to encourage this expansion of community resilience.
Also, it’s unfortunately clear that the Covid crisis is likely to increase demand for debt and benefits advice. Our training plan will take this fully into account – see below*.
Our priorities will be to look after the well-being and training of our people. They are the foundation of our service. We plan to expand our volunteer team.
We have enabled all advisers who are happy to work from home to do so. We’re grateful to friends at Voluntary Action Reigate and Technology (VARB) for introducing us to Fidelity International who generously donated iPhones. We have held team meetings on the Zoom platform. As the needs of clients and volunteers change, keeping abreast of available tech infrastructure will be essential.
Finally, I know I will be able to rely on the unwavering support and enthusiasm of the Senior Staff team. Whether in responding to new demands on their time and ingenuity, or in day-to-day caring support of volunteers, they have been brilliant.
This blog is based on Andrea's presentation to volunteers and staff at CARBS Training Day Online, 13 May 2020.