Fylde’s Citizens Advice Bureau, which dealt with £9m of debt last year, has set its sights on a major expansion after moving into a bigger new home.
The bureau, based in Kirkham but serving the whole of Fylde, dealt with more than 3,000 inquiries last year amid ever-increasing demand for its services.
As well as dealing with more than £9m worth of debt and helped local people access more than £1m worth of benefits and other entitlements, but chief executive Kim Cook described that as just ‘tip of the iceberg’ and the bureau had long been at capacity before the opportunity came to take over the whole of its base in Moor Street, Kirkham, after previously occupying just the first floor.
Now, with much extra space and a new telephone system, the bureau has launched an extensive recruitment drive for volunteers to allow it to meet public demand.
Kim said: “The official opening of the expanded premises is just the start – the bureau has some big plans for the future.
“We are currently exploring funding opportunities to develop online advice services; specialist debt, benefit and housing advice and a dedicated project to assist victims of domestic violence but in order to do this we need the public’s help.
“The CAB currently has a number of opportunities for passionate and enthusiastic people to become involved with volunteering roles that include reception, telephone advisers, face-to-face advisers, fundraisers, IT specialists, publicity and campaigning volunteers and trustees for the management board. Full training will be given in all cases.
“Fylde CAB has ben serving the local public since 1968 but for some time, we have known that, due to limited space, we could not recruit and train sufficient volunteers to meet the demand for our services.
“Fylde Council, who own the building we occupy and have always been very supportive, was able to provide the bureau with the opportunity to take over the whole building and we are eager to really build on that opportunity to take the service forward.
“The single biggest criticism of the local service has been that it was difficult to get through by phone. Our phone often rang continuously when all of our advisers were busy helping other clients and we know this was a problem for many, particularly those in isolated and/or rural areas who would struggle to drop in to the office.
“So the first thing the extra space has been used for is to install a new dedicated telephone advice service, which is already making a major difference, and we are now busily recruiting and training more volunteers to staff this Adviceline.”
“We expect telephone and face-to-face numbers to continue to increase and we also have lots of other ideas for growing the service, including hopefully extending the one-day-a-week outreach service we offer in St Annes to more days in more areas.
“Our inquiry numbers grew last year to 3,000 last year compared to around 2,600 three years earlier and all indications are of an ongoing upward trend - we want to provide the best possible service for the people of Fylde, whatever advice they need, and our new home and hopefully new volunteers to go with it, can help us do that.
“At present, we have 26 volunteers and would like to increase this to 36 by the end of the year with a steady increase continuing thereafter.
“People who volunteer with us stay for a varying length of time so to ensure a constant number of volunteers in post we need to recruit to replace those leaving as well as to boost numbers.
“Some of our volunteers retire each year but many go on to find employment using the skills they have developed with us.”
Anyone who would like to find out more can call Kim or Louise on 01772 673014 for an informal chat,
Fylde mayor Coun Peter Hardy, who performed the official opening of the new-look offices, said: “CAB volunteers do marvellous work across Fylde and I am pleased to see that they have been able to expand their work and will now be able to help more people.
“They provide legal advice, debt advice, help with housing matters – nearly everyone needs their help at some stage of their life. Where volunteers can’t help they almost always find a professional who can help.
“Without this help many people would find themselves pushed from pillar to post and unable to assert their rights.
“It is good that Fylde CAB is able to have such a good base from which to extend their activities and I was pleased to wish them well on behalf of the people of Fylde.”