Vital Banbury benefit advice centre set to close

Oxfordshire Wheel, Banbury, staff. From the left, Eileen Bristoll, Rita Wright and Ann Jennings. NNL-190129-121444009
Oxfordshire Wheel, Banbury, staff. From the left, Eileen Bristoll, Rita Wright and Ann Jennings. NNL-190129-121444009

Banbury’s only dedicated benefits advice centre is to shut its doors at the end of March unless funds or a new premises are found.

Known as the Oxfordshire Wheel, the free to use, charity run advice centre, next door to Banbury Library, has been unable to secure funding to safeguard its future.

The news was only relayed to the Banbury office two weeks ago, allowing no time for the team to secure additional funding meaning, that without investment, this vital and unique advice centre will be lost.

The centre is run from a small office by a dedicated team of five volunteers with Rita Wright and Ilene Bristoll, two of the wheel’s longest serving members who are desperately trying to keep the service viable.

Rita said: “It’s impossible for us to find the rent and the heat and the light for us to continue.”

Focusing solely on benefit advice the volunteers bring with them transferable skill sets from a range of backgrounds including mental health, education and business, allowing Oxfordshire Wheel to guide and advise clients on the entire gamut of benefits available.

Rita said: “We fill in the forms for people and if the claim is unsuccessful we then do the mandatory reconsideration and then the appeal. We see on average 15 clients a week”

Over the years the centre has assisted thousands of people to access benefits they are rightly entitled to and within the current climate their services are as sought after as ever.

Ilene said: “Universal Credit has been an absolute nightmare. It’s not working.”

Rita added: “The thing is the application has to be on computer and some people have not got one.”

Although the focus is benefits, the service’s results have other beneficial outcomes for its clients and the community as a whole, relieving enormous levels of stress, improving health and putting money back into the community.

Ann Jennings, a recent addition to the volunteer team, said: “It has been a complete revelation to me. The help that Rita and Ilene give, it takes my breath away to hear the trauma people are going through.”

The team is seeking a small, rent free room to relocate to or corporate funding to enable the service to continue.

Running costs are between £7,000 and £8,000 per annum all inclusive which in the scheme of things and for the impact the service has is not a lot of money to find.

Gail Hanranhan, programme manager for Oxfordshire Family Support Network, who oversee the ‘Wheel, said: “We took over to see how it would work for a year. It’s not what we do as an organisation but we gave it a year. It’s been a really difficult decision but it’s not part of our core work.

“They do a brilliant job.”

Rita added: “The service is really good and it will be terribly missed. It just a tragedy not of our making.”

For more info or to help call Ilene on 01295 266887.