Desperation, sadness but also resilience and amazing community spirit - looking back on a truly remarkable year for Banbury's Citizens Advice

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The charity says it has had to step up and meet needs that have never presented before, with very little preparation or additional resources

Reflections on 2020 from Banbury's Citizens Advice

This has been a truly remarkable year where charities like Citizens Advice have needed to step up and meet needs that have never presented before, with very little preparation or additional resources.

Our figures show that three quarters of people seeking help with benefits or employment in 2020 had never contacted the charity before. Many people made contact for the first time in their lives after losing jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the work delivered by Citizens Advice, a network of 218 local independent advice charities across England and Wales, supported 1.1 million people or 12 people every minute! The advice website was incredibly busy too with 47.7 million page views.

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Reflections on 2020 from Banbury's Citizens AdviceReflections on 2020 from Banbury's Citizens Advice
Reflections on 2020 from Banbury's Citizens Advice

Our client profile has changed quite significantly. We are seeing people who have always held jobs and have never had to negotiate the benefits system before. Many have no idea of what they are entitled to, nor what help is available to them or how to access it.

In Cherwell and South Northants we have supported over 5,000 people this year. Most of these needed help with employment issues, benefits and housing. We have seen more younger people than ever before and nearly twice as many women than men. Ordinarily about half of the people we support have a disability or long term health condition but this year 71 per cent did not have any health problems.

As much as we are delighted by the roll out of the Covid vaccine and the anticipation of returning to life as usual in 2021, we recognise that the impact of this pandemic will still be felt for some time yet. But we can rest assured that the commitment of charities and volunteers remains strong and we will get through this.

We only have to look around at the incredible community spirit and compassion that people are showing for their neighbours and their community. The team of indefatigable staff and volunteers at Citizens Advice have worked harder than ever before to ensure that people were given the support they needed. When lockdown prevented working in the office, advice volunteers and staff set up their computers on their dining room tables to be able to take calls and help anyone in need. Their determination, flexibility and resilience meant that we have helped as many people in 2020 as we did in the year before the pandemic.

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Our North Oxfordshire volunteer drivers stepped up too, delivering free food parcels at the start of the first lockdown when new shopping processes had not yet been sorted out. Our social prescribing team were on the phone every day supporting those who were shielding or socially isolated and being the friendly voice that helped many people survive the challenges thrust upon them. Not one wavered despite the challenges thrust upon us.

So as we head for a new year let's continue this wonderful community spirit and resolve to help our neighbours and our community. If you don't have the time to volunteer then support your local Citizens Advice or other local charities through donations and fundraising. Tell others about the support available to them if they are experiencing difficulty and most importantly, have a safe and happy New Year!

By Pat Coomber-Wood

Chief executive

Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire and South Northants