With the start of the New Year workers in Berwick Citizens Advice Bureau are hearing bells - not the chimes of church bells but phone calls from clients seeking help.
The new telephone information and advice line, funded by The Big Lottery, is now up and running and available five days per week.
The service is staffed by two part-time paid workers and two new volunteers who are undertaking the six month training to increase the capacity.
Jennifer Hall, bureau manager, said: “Research we carried out to support our application to The Big Lottery showed the majority of callers struggled to access advice due to problems travelling, having caring responsibilities, being at work during the day, or housebound.
“Initial calls have proved this with many of the calls coming from rural areas such as Wooler and Seahouses.”
The telephone workers have already helped clients with a wide range of problems including housing, employment, consumer law, debts and benefits.
Callers get immediate answers to simple queries or signposted to other, more appropriate, services.
Those with more complex problems can receive a ‘call-back’ advice provision or, if they prefer, are offered face to face appointments with advisers and caseworkers at the main bureau in Berwick or at the weekly outreach advice sessions in Wooler.
Some clients have been seeking information to enable them to cope with their own problems, others have needed advice to help them decide which step to take first, and a few have needed someone to act on their behalf, perhaps handling debts, negotiating with third parties or even representing them at a tribunal.
As well as routine calls there have been a number of emergencies such as a client needing advice for a court hearing the same day and a caller who was potentially homeless.
A lot of callers have been seeking ways of maximising their income as they had insufficient or no money; some have been affected by illness and others the ending of seasonal employment.
Debt and struggling with Pay Day loans have been other reasons for contacting the bureau.
This additional funding, specifically for a telephone service, has allowed the bureau to answer calls from day one whilst slowly building up voluntary capacity to continue the service at the end of the four year funding.
In April the bureau will be joining other CABs across Northumberland in pooling workers to provide a five day per week county-wide telephone service and work towards a national ‘Adviceline’ service covering the whole country.
The bureau is especially pleased to have been able to attract additional volunteers for the new roles.
Jennifer said: “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 wanted to be able to offer these advantages to many more people who would like to help us provide the telephone service.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for a range of roles connected with the new project can get further details by calling in at 5 Tweed Street, Berwick, ring 01289 330502 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.