CEO, Daniel Blake provides an insight into how Citizens Advice Haringey have responsed to COVID-19 and how the organisation is planning for a stronger future.
I imagine that most advice charities were as concerned as we were in Haringey when lockdown was announced. The technology of moving to a remote offer was actually relatively simple but what about the people who need us? Last year we helped nearly 15000 people, the vast majority seen face to face in person either at our office or at one of the many outreach venues we work from across Haringey. How would this work being transferred to the telephone? Would those who need us still get through?
Advertising was critical early on to ensure people knew how to contact us. Yes social media is important (it's critical to get your partners and community to retweet you!) but this is not the only channel. Leaflets, banners, e-mails, signs, posters and word of mouth all helped us to get the message out that we were still here, open for business and how you could reach us.
From the start of lockdown we strived to think of how we could make our services as accessible as possible even if we could not see people face to face. People of Haringey can reach us via telephone, email, text message, web chat, web messenger and letter.
We have also had to consider how we deliver advice to different groups of people who have not previously accessed our services. During lockdown we have seen nearly a 20% rise in people under 30 accessing needing help and support particularly about employment, furloughing, housing and debt. We have trialled very successfully a number of video conferencing sessions where people have been given the opportunity to post questions on the chat and get support to tackle their problems.
Do we need to return to face to face advice services? Yes absolutely. Should we learn from what we have seen and the feedback from our new advice channels? Yes absolutely.
People have said that they like having different ways of getting in touch with us. People like having options that give them the chance to access advice in ways that suit their lives, Many residents have told us that it is difficult getting to services that are 9-5 when they work and that being able to access us outside of those times has been a lifeline in the current climate. People have told us that they like not having to queue or arrive very early to venues to ensure that they are in the first 20 people. People like knowing that they will get a service when they contact us or any other agency.
Staff and volunteers have told us that they like operating a service where there are clear entry points to the service, that they like being able to offer personalised advice after being able to have a quality conversation with someone and that they like not having to turn anyone away or to see people queueing up.
We are all going to have to adapt to a new normal as we lockdown restrictions are eased. We want to get back to being open and seeing people face to face. We want to do this in a way that is safe for all. We want to make sure that no one is digitally excluded from any advice offer. We want to end the queues and the uncertainty and we want to make No Wrong Door the norm for advice services across the borough. We have learnt many things over the last three months that will help us to achieve this. It isn’t an either or between digital and face to face it’s how we use them both to offer a personalised service to the people who need us across the borough!
Citizens Advice Haringey are currently recruiting Digital Advice Volunteers. For information on this exciting new opportunity to gain new skills and support your local organisation visit www.haringeycabx.org.uk/volunteering