Behind the scenes at Banbury’s Citizens Advice as Christmas looms

Banbury CAB staff. From the left, Hayley Watson, Keith Watson, Sharon Graham and Andrew Carter. NNL-181016-153753009
Banbury CAB staff. From the left, Hayley Watson, Keith Watson, Sharon Graham and Andrew Carter. NNL-181016-153753009

Behind an unassuming door, hidden in plain sight, is a charity that is a one-stop shop for solutions to a multitude of socio-economic problems.

Founded in 1939 Citizens Advice (CA) consists of a network of 316 independent charities that offer free and confidential advice on money matters, debt reduction, work related issues, housing, benefits, legal advice and more.

Nationally rebranded in 2003 from the Citizens Advice Bureau, Citizens Advice in Banbury relies on the dedication of around 130 volunteers who collectively give 750 hours of their time each and every week.

The charity is currently gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year – Christmas.

The pressure of the annual holiday can lead people into various problematic circumstances. It is also a time that unscrupulous criminals will prey on the vulnerable.

In preparation CA is running a campaign via its Money Academy to highlight the dangers of loan sharks. Appropriately it is called ‘It’s beginning to cost a lot like Christmas’.

Keith Davies, volunteer manager, said: “Christmas is coming up and sometimes people will be tempted to stretch their finances. After Christmas we see a spike in enquires.

“People feel pressured to overspend, which can cause spiralling debt and worries about repayment, which causes stress and then relationship problems. The campaign we are running seeks to raise awareness about the cost of credit and the dangers of borrowing from illegal lenders.”

The advice centre looks to assess people’s situations quickly.

Mr Davies said: “It’s a bit like casualty when you get seen by a nurse first. Initially we assess people to find out what the problem is and if there is anything urgent that needs immediate attention.

“About half of people’s problems are resolved during that initial 10-minute check. If we can’t resolve the client’s issue at that stage, then an appointment with an adviser will be made, typically within two weeks.”

The Banbury centre also receives around 120 phone enquiries a month to their call centre which is manned by a team of volunteers.

Volunteer Lynn Lewis said: “A lot of young people will not come in for advice or don’t realise that we can help over the phone, or by email.

“They do everything with their phones so the advice line is much more important. Young people will always pick up their phone.”

Banbury CA is located in Cornhill House by Ladbrookes.

For advice call 03444 111 444.

To volunteer email recruitment@citizensadvicenosn.org.uk.