In a nutshell
Who are you?
Sylvia Dyke, partnership member of Three Parishes Big Local in Shropshire.
What did you do?
I help run a project that provides financial support and advice to local residents.
The nearest Citizens Advice Bureau is five miles away so we wanted to find an alternative support scheme that was more accessible to the community.
What’s the benefit?
So far, the service has brought in half a million pounds and helped 413 people in the area!
Meeting a need
Our Big Local area, Three Parishes, is in a rural part of Shropshire and lots of services are at least a bus ride away, including the nearest Citizens Advice Bureau. So, the partnership recognised the need to address this and set up the My Money Matters project – which all happened before I joined.
The partners put out a tender for a service provider who could give support to local residents on financial issues, and finally settled on Citizens Advice Shropshire as their values aligned well with our Big Local area.
The sessions begin
To run the project successfully, Three Parishes set aside £33,000 per year of Big Local funding, which covers the cost of one advisor, Karen.
Initially, the project took the form of group finance sessions, but they were slow to take off, so, the partnership changed tack to provide a service that was better tailored to the needs of individuals. A drop-in service was set up in each of the parishes where people can get the one-to-one support they need.
The most common issues that people need help with are PIP claims, Attendance Allowance claims, help with managing house bills, benefit calculations and bereavement support. Karen is quite flexible in her support and assists with filling out long, complex forms, pointing out opportunities and giving expert advice.
Adapting to lockdown
When the COVID-19 lockdown was announced in early 2020, we had to respond quickly to ensure that we were still able to provide essential support to local people. We moved all sessions to phone consultations and held some online, too. This has actually worked really well for people who prefer the privacy of a phone call.
Interestingly, Citizens Advice Shropshire are planning to continue as much of their support as possible by phone and online after the pandemic, so lots of these changes are here to stay. We’re still going to give people the option of meeting Karen in person when we can, safely do so and will need to find a building with suitable accessibility to fit everyone’s needs.
Aside from the need to adapt to the pandemic, there have been a number of hurdles along the way in this project that we’ve needed to overcome as much as possible. One of the main examples is the stigma some people associate with getting help or applying for financial support or allowances. One way we addressed this is to offer more than one location for the drop-in sessions and home visits and Karen always makes people feel comfortable.
Another obstacle has been making people aware of the government support that is available to them, particularly if they don’t have the internet at home. We try to share new or relevant opportunities through our social media channels and local press, and Karen’s knowledge and patience have been invaluable along the way, too.
The outcome and looking ahead
So far, the project has been a brilliant success and has helped 413 residents in Three Parishes Big Local access a total of over half a million pounds.
As it stands, the initiative will run till December 2022 when our Big Local plan comes to an end, so we’re now thinking about how we can find the funding to keep it going beyond that so we can continue to provide essential support to local residents.