It’s Volunteers’ Week – meet some of our amazing volunteers

Chris Freed, Head of Volunteering

Volunteers’ Week (1-12 June) is underway – a time to celebrate the contribution made by millions of volunteers across the UK. Over the next 12 days, we’re going to feature a volunteer each day… so watch this space to find out more.

Thank you to all our volunteers!

At Citizens Advice we are supported by an incredible team of more than 23,000 volunteers. It is thanks to their dedication, hard work and energy that we’re able to help more than 2.7 million people every year.

This Volunteers’ Week we want to say a big thank you to all our volunteers who give us their time, skills and passion to help deliver our crucial services. We couldn’t do it without them.

Volunteering benefits everyone

We get so much from the time our volunteers spend with us, but they get lots out of it too!

4 in 5 volunteers believe their employability has increased as a result of volunteering for Citizens Advice, 1 in 5 actually leave to take up employment and 9 out of 10 of our volunteers say that they feel more engaged with their community.

What can you do?

There are lots of different volunteer roles at Citizens Advice – from our trained advisers who provide 1:1 support for those seeking advice, to our administration volunteers who help keep local Citizens Advice centres running smoothly, to our Witness Service volunteers who support witnesses so that they can give their best possible evidence in court.

Take our “Which volunteer role is best for you?” quiz to find out more about the volunteering opportunities available at Citizens Advice and where you could fit in.

Over the 12 days of Volunteers’ Week we’ve been taking a look at the stories of 12 different volunteers – one each day. Our final volunteer is Yasmin but just scroll down to read volunteers’ stories from previous days.

Day 12: Yasmin’s story

“Volunteering at Citizens Advice has made me even more passionate about achieving positive social change… it has given me a window to the wider world.”

Yasmin, Research & Campaigns Volunteer at Citizens Advice Swansea, Neath & Port Talbot

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After finishing a degree in Ancient History at Bristol University, Yasmin decided to take a year out and get some experience in the voluntary sector whilst she decided what her next steps were going to be.

As well as training as an adviser, Yasmin has been helping out with the research and campaigns work at Citizens Advice Swansea, Neath & Port Talbot. “As a research and campaigns volunteer you conduct essential research into current affairs,” she says. “This research is then used to report on the status quo and even to influence policymakers to make positive changes.”

Recently, Yasmin has been collecting research about basic bank accounts, which all major banks should provide. She went in to local branches to ask them what they offered and found that, whilst all the banks did indeed provide a basic bank account, they were often under different names and counter staff didn’t always know about them. When it came to deciding if somebody could have an account, it was subject to a computer-generated credit rating as opposed to a more informed decision based on the customer.

The information that Yasmin has gathered is being fed back to the Citizens Advice research team and will be analysed to produce a report into the current provision of basic bank accounts for the general public. “The knowledge that my research has the power to shape our local and national community for the better is very satisfying,” she says.

Looking to the future, Yasmin would like to stay working in the charity sector although she’s also interested in a career in human rights law and politics. Whichever path she takes, Yasmin says that the experience she has gained through volunteering has been invaluable. “Volunteering at Citizens Advice has made me even more passionate about achieving positive social change,” she reflects. “It has given me a window to the wider world and allowed me to gain insights into how changes to government policies can impact on people’s lives.”

Day 11: Andrew’s story

“Volunteering has allowed me to continue to feel that I can still make a positive contribution to society.”

Andrew, Telephone Gateway Assessor at Citizens Advice Manchester

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When Andrew was made redundant in 2008 he decided to take early retirement. Having spent his career in education, both as a teacher and as a manager, he wanted to continue to use his skills in a constructive way whilst also developing new ones.

As a Telephone Gateway Assessor, Andrew’s role is to answer calls that come into the Citizens Advice ‘Adviceline’. “I have a set script that I go through,” he explains. “This enables me to screen clients and direct them to suitable places to get help, for example the Citizens Advice website, external agencies or to make them an appointment with an adviser.”

Volunteering has helped Andrew to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the issues that people face. “I have helped many clients to gain access to rights and entitlements they would otherwise not have got,” he says. “Everyone is vulnerable to major life changing events such as illness, redundancy, homelessness or breakdown in relationships and I get a great deal of satisfaction from trying in a small way to help people cope.”

Andrew volunteers for 1 day a week and says that he will continue to do so for as long as he is able. “Volunteering has allowed me to continue to feel that I can still make a positive contribution to society.”

Day 10: Irene’s story

“As a volunteer you get a lot of people thanking you… Witnesses are genuinely grateful for your help and for making it easier for them.”

Irene, Witness Service Outreach Volunteer at Medway Magistrates Court

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When Irene retired she wanted to offer her time and skills by doing some sort of volunteering. As an avid fan of crime novels and crime TV dramas, her daughter suggested that she might like to volunteer for the Witness Service – a programme run by Citizens Advice. Indeed, in her working life at HMRC, Irene had to sign the Official Secrets Act, which made her very aware of confidentiality – a skill that is very important when dealing with witnesses.

In her role as a Witness Service Outreach Volunteer, Irene provides 1:1 support to vulnerable people who have been called to court as witnesses in a trial. “It involves visiting them at home, explaining the court procedure to them, taking them on a pre-trial visit and accompanying them on the day of the trial,” she explains.

Irene loves her role because she enjoys talking and listening to people. “You meet such a variety of people,” she explains. “My friends say that I have always been a good listener and I have learnt so much from the people I have met – about their jobs, their hobbies, things that I had never heard about.”

She finds volunteering really rewarding as she knows she has played a part in supporting people through the trial process. “As a volunteer you get a lot of people thanking you,” says Irene. “Witnesses are genuinely grateful for your help and for making it easier for them. It’s the kind of praise you never get from a day-to-day job.”

Day 9: Hazel’s story

“The most rewarding part of volunteering is when you know you have helped someone to find a way forward.”

Hazel, Volunteer Generalist Adviser at Citizens Advice Guernsey

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Having spent 39 years as a teacher and headteacher, Hazel felt at a bit of a loss when she retired. “I was no longer doing something where I felt I was making a useful contribution,” she explains. To combat this feeling, she decided to volunteer at Citizens Advice Guernsey.

Hazel volunteers for 2 half-day shifts a week as a Generalist Adviser, providing advice to people on a range of topics, including employment, housing, wills and consumer issues, both by phone and face-to-face.

Even though there are always at least 2 Advisers available at any time, Hazel says that if she sees less than 3 or 4 people in a shift, she would probably regard it as being quiet! Indeed, the service that volunteers like Hazel provide is so valued by the Guernsey community that Citizens Advice Guernsey was nominated for and awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service last week – a very well deserved achievement.

“The most rewarding part of volunteering is when you know you have helped someone to find a way forward,” says Hazel. As well as enjoying the fact that she is helping people, Hazel has also enjoyed learning new skills. “I have benefited hugely from extending my knowledge way beyond the bubble of education,” she says. “Volunteering has also given me the opportunity to meet people from many different walks of life.”

Hazel would whole-heartedly encourage anyone to volunteer for their local Citizens Advice. “It is very rewarding and endlessly interesting with rarely a dull moment,” she says. “I believe that volunteering is important for the future of society – it gives us an awareness of others and their needs.”

Day 8: Gordon’s story

“Volunteering is good for the health of retired people, keeping the brain active, getting out of the house and building new social networks.”

Gordon, Volunteer Trustee at Citizens Advice Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent

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In 1997, Gordon suffered a back injury at work and wasn’t able to continue doing his job. He was offered early retirement and his company paid for him to attend a pre-retirement seminar. One of the key pieces of advice was to start 2 new hobbies – one at home and one outside of the home – so when he saw an article in his local paper asking for people to volunteer at Citizens Advice Cardiff, he got in touch and started training as an adviser.

A few months later, Gordon was asked to become a Trustee. He then moved to become Treasurer at Citizens Advice Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent, later becoming Chair. He was also invited to sit on the Citizens Advice Wales Committee and then served for 6 years on the Citizens Advice National Board.

As a Trustee, Gordon has been able to apply his business skills and experience to help to develop Citizens Advice, both locally and nationally. He was closely involved in the establishment of the Citizens Advice ‘Adviceline’ telephone service in Wales, using his experience of managing the IT development for BT Call centres in the 1980s and early 90s. He has also shared his experience of running big projects and of leadership through mentoring various managers.

Gordon says he’s gained a lot from volunteering. “Volunteering is good for the health of retired people, keeping the brain active, getting out of the house and building new social networks,” he reflects. “I’ve also met lots of interesting people, from Princess Anne to MPs and Welsh Assembly Members, as well as clients, staff and volunteers across the service.”

Today, Gordon is currently on the Trustee Development Group – a body of trustees who keep national Citizens Advice in touch with the opinions of trustees across the service, helping to ensure that they are engaged with, consulted and listened to. He also continues to volunteer as a Trustee of Citizens Advice Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent.

Day 7: Steve’s story

“Being a volunteer I feel part of a team and love that I am helping to make a difference in people’s lives, especially those that are vulnerable.”

Steve, Reception Volunteer at Citizens Advice Woolwich

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After taking early retirement, Steve decided he wanted to give something back to his local community and, when he saw an advert to get involved with Citizens Advice Woolwich, he jumped at the opportunity!

Steve volunteers on reception when Citizens Advice Woolwich is holding drop-in sessions. He manages the reception area, greeting and registering those who come seeking advice and, if appropriate, he signposts them to other agencies or outreach services that Citizens Advice run.

Steve really enjoys the fact that, through volunteering, he has learned a lot. “I like the fact that training and learning are on-going,” he says. “It makes me aware of issues such as housing and changes to benefits.”

However, it’s not always easy.“I find volunteering challenging at times because I want to help everyone and sometimes it is not possible,” Steve reflects. “But it is also very rewarding. Being a volunteer I feel part of a team and love that I am helping to make a difference in people’s lives, especially those that are vulnerable.”

Day 6: Frances’ story

“There are a wealth of opportunities for those volunteering for Citizens Advice and you will be welcomed and valued. Take the next step and do it!”

Frances, Volunteer Adviser at Citizens Advice Coventry

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After downsizing the family business and with her children and grandchildren having ‘flown the nest’ Frances found she had time on her hands. She started volunteering for Citizens Advice Coventry because she wanted to give something back to her local community.

Frances volunteers for 2 days every week as an adviser, providing support and advice to clients both in the centre and on home visits. She also responds to email requests for advice, giving information or referral where required.

Frances enjoys her role, especially when she knows she has helped someone in need and they leave their appointment feeling upbeat and positive. However, she says it can be frustrating when she can’t help a client in the way that they want. “Language barriers can also be a challenge,” she says “But an open friendly manner always helps!”

Reflecting on her volunteering experience Frances says that she has gained a variety of skills that she was unaware she possessed, like the ability to empower someone to take control. “I’ve gained a broad spectrum of knowledge and have also learnt to look at things from different angles,” she says.

What advice would she would give someone who was thinking of volunteering? “There are a wealth of opportunities for those volunteering for Citizens Advice and you will be welcomed and valued. Take the next step and do it!”

Day 5: Andrew’s story

“Knowing that I am helping people through something that is extremely difficult makes volunteering really worthwhile.”

Andrew, Witness Service Volunteer at Leeds Crown Court

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When Andrew retired in 2002 he wanted to do something worthwhile in his local community. He went along to an open day at his local magistrates court where he found out about the opportunity to support witnesses as a Witness Service volunteer – a programme that is now run by Citizens Advice.

As a Witness Service volunteer, Andrew’s role involves supporting people who have been called as witnesses to provide evidence in a trial. He leads pre-court visits to show witnesses what a court looks like and to explain to them what will happen when they are called to testify. On the day, his role is to welcome witnesses to the waiting area, to answer any additional questions they may have and to provide moral support, accompanying them to court when they are called.

“My job is to make the witness experience less daunting and more human,” summarises Andrew. “Knowing that I am helping people through something that is extremely difficult makes volunteering really worthwhile.”

Since volunteering Andrew says that he has gained a real insight into people’s lives and experiences and is more understanding and tolerant than he was before. “Being able to perform a role in society is very rewarding,” he says. “Without this support many witnesses would be very reluctant to give evidence.”

Day 4: Cathy’s story

“Volunteering has given me back my self worth… it has made me feel good again.”

Cathy, Research and Campaigns Volunteer at Citizens Advice Knowsley

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Cathy started volunteering for Citizens Advice Knowsley in July 2015 because she was job hunting. She wanted to gain new experience for her CV whilst also showing prospective employers that she was continuing to use the face to face skills she had gained in her last job.

Cathy currently volunteers in 2 roles – as a Gateway Assessor she’s the first point of contact for people who come in to seek help, and as a Research and Campaigns volunteer she identifies local issues that affect clients and advocates for these to change.

As a Gateway Assessor, Cathy noticed that many clients had problems understanding their benefit letters. So she designed a ‘Readability Campaign’, advocating for benefit communications to be made simpler and easier to understand. She was invited to speak about the issue and make recommendations at a local Department for Work and Pensions partnership group. She hopes that, as a result, the wording of benefit letters will improve and is now planning some focus groups to do further research.

Through volunteering, Cathy has developed many new skills: “I have learned that I am really good at campaigning and creating proposals and I know I have a real passion for helping people.”

As a result, she has seen an increase in her confidence. “Volunteering has given me back my self worth as it has made me feel good again,” she says. “Having a disability and being a mum I sometimes felt that I was unable to get back to work. Since volunteering I am now ready to start a new journey.” Cathy is currently looking for paid work and hopes to go into a role where she can use the skills she has gained through volunteering.

Day 3: Stephen’s story

“I would encourage everyone to volunteer as it is great to be able to give back to society.”

Stephen, Volunteer Debt Adviser at Citizens Advice Exeter

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Before retiring, Stephen was employed for 30 years in the banking sector. When he decided to stop working, he wanted to use his knowledge and experience to give back to society whilst also learning new skills.

Stephen volunteers 2 days a week as an Adviser at Citizens Advice Exeter. He specialises in debt advice and has trained as a Debt Relief Order (DRO) Intermediary, which means he is able to assist debtors in making an online application for a DRO to the Insolvency Service.

Indeed, Citizens Advice Exeter has just been awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest award given to volunteer groups in the UK – which is testament to the dedication of volunteers like Stephen.

“Helping clients to resolve debt situations is usually challenging but very rewarding,” Stephen explains. “Their issue may not have gone away but the relief for the client is that there is someone there alongside them to advise them and give them time.”

“The best part about volunteering is getting a ‘thank you’ from a client whom you have advised,” reflects Stephen. “I would encourage everyone to volunteer as it is great to be able to give back to society.”

Day 2: Liz’s story

“The people are the most enjoyable part of the job… volunteering at Citizens Advice, you never know who is coming through the door next.”

Liz, Volunteer Archivist at Citizens Advice Bristol

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Liz has been volunteering at Citizens Advice Bristol since the centre was set-up in 1977. Inspired by the plight of people she heard about in the news, her neighbour was involved in setting-up the centre and she saw it as a perfect opportunity to help those she was hearing about.

Initially, Liz volunteered as an adviser, but she is now an archivist. Her role involves filing all of the paper copies of documents that have been kept since Citizens Advice Bristol started – a big task!

Liz enjoys volunteering because she likes meeting new people. “Volunteering at Citizens Advice, you never know who is coming through the door next,” she explains.

Reflecting on the service that Citizens Advice provides, Liz says, “To reassure people, take away their fears and give them confidence to help resolve their problems is really rewarding. We help to keep an awful lot of people going who would otherwise not be able to.”

Day 1: Ashok’s story

“Through volunteering I have gained new friendships and a greater understanding of the diversity of my community.” 

Ashok, Financial Support Volunteer at Citizens Advice Brent

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Ashok (pictured, above right, with the Mayor of Brent) has been volunteering at Citizens Advice Brent since 1986. At this time he was still working as a chartered management accountant. He wanted to use his knowledge of company law, insurance, pensions, taxation and accounting to help people in need so he gave up one evening a week to support people by giving financial advice.

Since retiring, Ashok has become a debt management volunteer, providing specific advice to people on pensions, insurance, investment issues, Debt Relief Orders and bankruptcy. In addition, he has been involved in putting together funding bids, working with trustees on fundraising campaigns and supporting the Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Brent with finance reports.

Through his role, Ashok has supported many people to make informed financial choices, helping them to plan for themselves and for their families’ futures. He has also saved Citizens Advice Brent nearly £20,000 per year by taking over the accounts and changing the auditors. In addition, a number of the funding bids that Ashok has worked on have been successful, including an outreach project that provides advice to parents of children under 5 at the local children’s centre.

Due to his success, hard work and dedication as a volunteer, Ashok was chosen out of hundreds of applicants to receive the Community Champions award from the Mayor of Brent Council in 2014 – a fantastic and very well deserved achievement.

When asked to reflect on what he has gained from volunteering Ashok says, “Through volunteering I have gained new friendships and a greater understanding of the diversity of my community through the volunteers I work with and the clients that I help. I love helping people and will stay volunteering for as long as my body allows me to!”

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