September 2019 (2-minute read)
At Citizens Advice Reigate & Banstead our purpose is to help local people find a way forward, whoever they are, whatever their problem. We also want to be as accessible as possible. In 2016 research by our Banstead office showed some residents of Tadworth and Preston needed our help but couldn’t easily come to the office for health or transport reasons. This article shows how we set about filling the gap in our service with a successful new outreach.
Helen Howe is a Volunteer Adviser and Organiser at Citizens Advice Reigate & Banstead.
In 2016 Banstead office outreach group realised that many residents in the north of Reigate and Banstead Borough weren’t aware of Citizens Advice. Some even thought we had closed.
We researched local organisations and asked schools, GP practices and others to help us identify which area would benefit most from a better service. All the evidence pointed to Tadworth.
Happily, we soon found Merland Rise Church.
Next, we had to find a suitable site. We needed confidential interview rooms, a reception area and, disabled access close to public transport but with carparking. Happily we soon found Merland Rise Church.
Community Hub Effect
The church team offered us facilities on a regular basis. Their project is to build a community hub around the church’s mission. They quickly saw that Citizens Advice would be a valuable addition to their services.
We held our first outreach session on 7 November 2017. Our thanks are due to the team for their warm welcome and great support ever since. At the time Senior Pastor Richard said: “I’m delighted that CAB is bringing extra support to the Merland Rise local community. The purpose of everyone here is to serve and we’re thrilled you are going to be working with us”.
We’re proud to join the growing number of local groups contributing to community regeneration.
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council have also encouraged our presence in the Tadworth area. The council’s ambitious Preston Regeneration Project is bringing big improvements. We are proud to back this by joining the growing number of local groups contributing to a widely-based community regeneration. As well as Citizens Advice, the Church provides space for a Raven Housing Trust help desk, the Epsom & Ewell Food Bank and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council community development.
The problems facing people in Tadworth, Preston and Tattenham Corner are similar to those elsewhere. Housing and benefit issues, household bills in arrears, and wider debt problems have all been raised. Both employed and self-employed clients have also asked for our advice on work problems.
Unfortunately our clients quite often experience several problems at once. Recently, an older couple’s income was severely reduced when the onset of a chronic health condition meant one partner could no longer work. Their savings were gone and their benefits limited. We began to help immediately at a drop-in session but later organised an appointment to continue our support.
Spreading the word
Starting an outreach from scratch means letting everyone know. Not just that we’re here but also what we do. We tend to think Citizens Advice is a famous brand so everyone must have heard of us. That may be true of more mature citizens but not so much with younger ones who also need us.
Starting from scratch means letting everyone know. Not just that we’re here but also what we do.
We hope our service will soon become part of community knowledge – something everyone knows about. Lots of people are helping us spread the word. Libraries, GP surgeries, health centres and local charities are distributing leaflets and news on social media. And we’re very grateful to ASDA Burgh Heath for inviting us to meet customers and a generous grant to pay for a new printer.
Since Spring 2019 we’ve held advice sessions twice a month on the 1st and 2nd Tuesdays. Already the increased frequency is proving useful in raising awareness. Read more about our Merland Rise drop-in sessions with trained advisers.