Berwick Citizens Advice Bureau has been handed a financial lifeline thanks to a lottery grant of over £200,000.
The money will be used to provide a new type of telephone advice line, improving CAB services for people living in rural areas and those unable to visit the Tweed Street office in person.
“It’s fantastic news,” said Berwick CAB manager Jennifer Hall. “This new funding will allow us to answer calls from day one whilst we slowly build up voluntary capacity to continue the service at the end of the funding.”
The four year £213,871 Big Lottery funding will pay for two posts and the running costs of a diagnostic, telephone ‘Gateway’ service 10am – 4pm, 4 days per week.
Callers will be able to get immediate answers to simple queries or signposted to other more appropriate services.
Those with more complex problems will receive a ‘call-back’ advice provision or if they prefer be offered a face to face appointment with advisers and caseworkers at the main bureau in Berwick or the weekly outreach advice sessions in Wooler.
The bureau has struggled to answer the many telephone calls it receives every day due to a lack of trained volunteer advisers and the resources to recruit, train, support and supervise additional volunteers.
Ms Hall explained: “CABs in other parts of the county either have a higher level of population or have more residents with the time available to consider volunteering.
“Where they attract 20 -30 interested candidates each time they advertise, we struggle to recruit and train three or four volunteer advisers a year.
“We will now be able to join other CABs across Northumberland in April next year to provide a five day per week telephone service and work towards Citizens Advices ultimate aim of a national ‘Adviceline’ service covering the whole country.”
As well as struggling to find prospective volunteers the bureau had to work hard to secure the funding. This was their third application to the Big Lottery in two years.
“We were turned down twice but took on board the feedback we received and, for example, strengthened the evidence we provided of the need for the service,” explained Ms Hall.
“We also took advantage of the advice available from local support services such as Christine Nicholls and her colleagues at Community Action Northumberland.
“It is right that in such straightened times funding should go to the best projects but a Big Lottery Reaching Communities application takes about 60 hours of work to complete, and although its a two stage application, the odds of being successful are only about 10%.
“We knew the need was there as the phone keeps on ringing and we knew we had a potentially successful plan to meet that need. Current volunteers tell us they enjoy the face to face advice role because they are helping their community, putting something back into society, learning new skills, gaining nationally recognised qualifications, keeping their brains active and, for some, just getting out of the house.
“We want to be able to offer these advantages to many more people and also provide a new, more reliable way of getting free, independent, impartial, confidential advice and information by phone.
“Last year Berwick CAB assisted approximately 2,000 individuals, we are hoping to help an additional 3,000 telephone callers over the next four years.”
The posts are currently being advertised and anyone interested in volunteering for a range of roles connected with the new project can get further details by calling in at the bureau at 5 Tweed Street, Berwick, by ringing 01289 332186 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.