CITIZENS Advice could be hitting the streets of Woodley and Earley in a new mobile advice van.
The Wokingham service is trying to raise £30,000 to buy and kit out a transportable workplace to support the borough’s residents when they are out and about.
Since March 2020, its team has dealt with more than 14,500 calls and now wants to help people in different ways following the pandemic.
Jake Morrison, chief executive of Citizens Advice Wokingham, said putting its office on wheels will allow the team to reach the Wokingham community more efficiently.
“With Wokingham Borough spanning 17 different town and parish council areas and our main office being in Wokingham town centre, we have long recognised the need to proactively reach all the other parts of our communities that we are here to support,” he said.
“Before the pandemic we had a ‘pop-up’ advice task force, equipped with a huge gazebo and other items, and this was successful — so this is our next step.”
What to expect
The Mobile Advice Unit will feature everything Citizens Advice Wokingham needs to offer advice and information services on the go.
This includes advice sessions in locations across the borough, with regular meetings in areas with high levels of deprivation.
Citizens Advice Wokingham will also visit schools at pick-up times to support families, alongside appearing at supermarkets, GP surgeries and areas with greater footfall.
Mr Morrison said the team is working closely with organisations including Wokingham Foodbank, Kaleidoscopic UK and CLASP to create different types of outreach sessions, too.
“This means we can put on sessions together responding to emerging issues in certain areas, or by attending community events together,” he said.
“Citizens Advice is also a catch-all service, with no wrong reason to contact us, so working in partnership means people can access support from charities without the fear of being seen to access that support out in communities.”
The van will also have a room built on the inside so people can have confidential discussions, and residents will be able to request the vehicle to come to their area online.
To the streets
In order to expand its support from the telephone lines to the streets, Mr Morrison’s team is now busy fundraising online.
So far, it has raised more than £7,300 for the Mobile Advice Unit, which will go towards a six-year van lease and running costs.
“It is clear Wokingham borough is a friendly, supportive and charitable area,” Mr Morrison said. “We’re really pleased with the support and generosity of individuals, businesses and funders.”
The service has also received support from British Gas, Wokingham United Charities, Clifton Ingram Solicitors and David Brownlow Charitable Trust.
“All of this helps make the Mobile Advice Unit a reality, and we are all really excited about getting out and about to support more people,” the chief executive added.
Throughout the pandemic, Citizens Advice Wokingham has supported residents struggling to access food, prescriptions and essential services through its One Front Door scheme, helping more than 7,550 people.
Since the first lockdown, it has seen a 122% increase in the number of people helped and a 132% increase in the number of issues recorded.
At the same time, the service has continued to aid people with welfare issues, benefits, housing and more.
“I just could not be more proud of our team who have gone far more than the extra mile to support people [during the pandemic],” Mr Morrison said. “We have strived to ensure that we do not let people down that rely upon our support, whilst also dealing with a huge increase in demand.
“Our volunteers and small staff team have helped put over £2 million in people’s pockets and removed the burden of £673,000 of debt – whilst also living through the issues this pandemic has brought to us all.”
He hopes the new unit will help his team continue to support residents as employment, debt and income issues are expected to grow after the pandemic, and that it will support people who cannot call Citizens Advice Wokingham for help.
To find out more or to make a donation to Citizens Advice Wokingham, visit: www.bit.ly/3yUjKdt