Since becoming manager at Berwick CAB, Jen Hall has been at the helm of a team which has secured millions of pounds for its clients.
So it was with a little trepidation - as well as admiration - that her colleagues gathered to say goodbye last week.
Beadnell-born Jen first joined the CAB as a volunteer at Alnwick in 1990 before becoming deputy manager at Berwick two years later.
She was the first deputy manager at Berwick and the first outreach worker, visiting clients in Wooler and Seahouses. She was made manager in 1996 and since then the Berwick office has made gains of well over £15 million in financial help for clients such as unclaimed benefits, compensation and charitable funding.
Jen has also overseen endless welfare reforms, repeated closure threats and led campaigns on a range of social policy issues affecting local people.
But now as the local CAB is undergoing major changes - including a merger with the Alnwick and Hexham bureaux - Jen, 63, feels it is the right time to step down.
She says she has loved her job and will miss the clients, her colleagues and being part of all the bureau achieves for people.
“There have been many memorable moments,” she said. “The one that sticks in my mind the most is answering the phone to the Big Lottery and being told we were going to be awarded two lottery grants which we had applied for. I don’t know any other bureau that has had two grants at once!
“I’m proud that the clients who have come to us go away happy - we have a 99.7% approval rate, that we bring £1.6 million into the area every year and that dozens of our volunteers have gone on to further education, training and self-employment.”
Jen, a keen gardener, who has three daughters and two grandchildren, won’t be resting on her laurels now that she’s ‘retired’.
She is a parish councillor for Beadnell and involved in drawing up the North Northumberland Coastal Neighbourhood Plan, she runs the Berwick Exchange and Trading System Gardening Club and she is also owner of Seahouses and Alnwick Freegle, a website which rehomes unwanted goods and equipment.
What is certain is that her boundless energy and expertise will be sorely missed by her co-workers at Berwick CAB.
Gillian Arnold, advice manager, said: “I feel very privileged to have been Jen’s deputy for many years. Jen has worked tirelessly for Berwick CAB and her fundraising has kept the bureau afloat in some difficult financial times. Her courage, vision and imagination ensured the bureau moved forward to best meet the evolving needs of the community.
“Jen led the bureau by example, always finding time to raise awareness of policies and practices that adversely affect people’s lives and never forgot the needs of individual clients. Jen encouraged and supported staff and volunteers to reach their full potential and inspired us with her enthusiasm and compassion. I can speak for all of us when I say Jen will be very sadly missed.”
John Woodman, chairman of trustees, added: “Jen has inspired the bureau to stand for excellence of advice and advocacy. We have had some of the best audit results in the national service and have won awards for our social policy work. But underlying all this, she has a passion for helping people: our clients come first.”
The Berwick office deals with around 2,000 clients a year and has recently set up an adviceline so clients who are unable to attend the drop-in sessions can receive help over the telephone.
The merger with Alnwick and Hexham, which came into effect on April 1, will mean the Berwick office will be overseen by a chief executive based in Alnwick.