Free advice and more at Cranbrook’s Citizens Advice Bureau
PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:40 16 May 2017
Having recently celebrated its second anniversary in the town, Cranbrook’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is going from strength to strength, writes Paul Strange.
Cranbrook Town Council has made the CAB its charity of the year, an emphatic acknowledgement of the essential work it does in the new community.
And as Cranbrook increases in size, the town’s CAB hopes to expand its services.
Open on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at the Younghayes Centre computer suite from 9.30am to 3.30pm, it’s a free service that anyone can use, offering independent and impartial, confidential advice.
The CAB advises on a wide range of issues, including debt and money management, employment, law and the courts, benefits, consumer rights, housing and homelessness, family issues, domestic abuse, education, immigration, health and social care, and discrimination.
An adviser can help fill out forms, write letters, negotiate with creditors and represent clients at court or tribunal. The office also gives intensive support to clients with complex needs.
Like other CABs, Cranbrook’s CAB is an independent local charity. Staffed by volunteers, there’s no funding from central government and it’s dependent on grants and donations.
The man who’s been involved at the Cranbrook office since day one is Nevile Salisbury-Rood, joint CEO of Citizens Advice East Devon. “Goodness me, where has that time gone?” he says with a chuckle, as he reflects on the many months that have passed since the Cranbrook office first opened its doors in March 2015.
Nevile acts as an adviser at Cranbrook. He sees a stream of clients – five to 10 a day – attending CAB’s fortnightly drop-in sessions at the Younghayes Centre.
“There are virtually no issues that I haven’t seen here, even medical negligence,” he says. Those issues are similar to those tackled by most CAB offices, although clients tend to be slightly younger in Cranbrook.
The town’s CAB is part of Citizens Advice East Devon (CAED) with 11 paid-for-staff and 56 trained and accredited volunteers giving advice to the community in seven locations across the county.
In 2016/17, CAED had 13,307 contacts with clients in the seven locations, and saw 3,203 new clients. Its advisors dealt with 7,847 issues, equating to one issue for every 16.9 individuals in East Devon. It recorded income gains for clients of £745,610 of which £557,000 was attributable to statutory benefits or tax credits.
In its last client satisfaction survey, CAED says 100 per cent of those surveyed said they would use CAED’s services again, while 97 per cent said they had a positive view of the overall service. More than 50 per cent of clients reported an improvement in their mental health, with 34 per cent saying they had to make fewer visits to their GP.
“Both Nevile and I have always been passionate about having a presence here in Cranbrook,” says Hilary Nelson, CEO, strategy and development, CAED.
“We see that there’s a need here for our services and as the community grows that’s only going to increase. And we feel that we can be quite a good joining-up mechanism, because we see a lot of different problems and we have a lot of different contacts with different agencies.”
Free legal advice is available.
“We are fortunate that we’ve got support from a solicitor from the Family Law Company in Exeter, who works pro bono [professional work, undertaken voluntarily and without payment] for us once a month,” says Hilary. “That’s been a well-used service.”
Cranbrook has been a breath of fresh air for the CAED CEOs.
“I can feel there’s a real community spirit here,” says Nevile. “Since I’ve been here, you can see the community spirit developing more and more.”
“There’s a huge enthusiasm for the town, for what it is and what it’s going to be, and that’s really refreshing,” says Hilary.
“The town has got a great community development worker – Keith Johnson,” says Nevile. “He’s inspirational in everything he tries to get going, and he always tries to involve me or involve the CAB in some way, which is good.”
“Having the Citizens Advice Bureau available in Cranbrook makes a great deal of difference to people,” says Keith Johnson, Cranbrook’s Community Development Worker.
“It’s not always easy for people to travel further afield and this helps more people get the advice and support they need. CAB’s help ensures that we can all exercise our rights, even when we don’t know exactly what they are. We live in a complex world where increasingly we experience problems that we can’t navigate a way through ourselves. Knowing that help is available in the town is very reassuring.”
And there’s more praise for the town’s CAB, from Cranbrook Town Council (CTC).
“CTC has chosen the Citizens Advice Bureau as its charity of the year in recognition of the excellent work it has done, and continues to do, in support of the residents of Cranbrook,” says Kevin Blakey, CTC’s chairman. “Our new town has a very young average demographic, and the CAB is an essential service to many who need advice on matters they may never have encountered before.
“Not many people know that the CAB is not a government body and receives no state funding, so it relies on its own fundraising. CTC is happy to support its important work and to help secure its services for the future.”
“It’s fantastic that the town council has recognised our importance by making us its charity of the year,” says Hilary. “Hopefully that will raise our profile and make local people aware of what we’re doing. It’s also a really nice recognition of the work that Nevile has been doing.”
“We’d like to think that long term we would be here more often than we are at the moment, especially when the town hall is eventually built,” says Nevile. “Maybe we can have a home there, and open two or three days a week. I’m sure there would be demand as the town grows.”
Cranbrook CAB is open on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at the Younghayes Centre, 9.30am-3.30pm.
Devon Adviceline: 03444 111444 (03003 300650 mobiles), weekdays, 9.30am-4pm.
Volunteers needed for a wide range of roles at Cranbrook and other CAED offices, including advice, fundraising, PR, admin and IT support.