A public advice service in South Tyneside is celebrating 50 years of supporting local residents.
The Citizens Advice Bureau – which is based in Station Approach, South Shields – has been offering free, independent and confidential advice to those living or working in the borough for five decades.
All of our work in respect of financial inclusion goes a long way to alleviating some of the worst aspects of poverty and disadvantage.Ian Thompson
Over the years it has seen the number of people seeking advice on benefits and debt soar – with the issues now making up 80% of staff’s casework.
Ian Thompson, CAB’s chief executive officer, said: “The current economic climate, following the recession, has put great strain on the advice service and, whilst welfare benefits and debt have always made up a large part of the CAB’s workload, it now accounts for a staggering 80% of all problems we deal with.
“All of our work in respect of financial inclusion goes a long way to alleviating some of the worst aspects of poverty and disadvantage.
“Each year we recover millions of pounds for our residents, money which is spent in the local economy. With the continued support of the local authority, we hope to be able to do this for the next 50 years.”
The doors to the advice centre first opened in October 1966 and there are now between 6,500 and 7,000 new clients every year.
Issues on which people seek advice range from evictions, divorce, faulty goods, dismissal, welfare benefits and debts.
Cash to keep the service going was raised through the selling of bric-a-brac on the market, with volunteers delivering advice. Now, the centre employs 23 paid staff supported by 25 volunteers.
One volunteer who has been with the service since it started received an MBE for her services.
Rebecca Elsy joined the team after answering an advert in the Shields Gazette asking for help to set up a free advice agency.
Over the years, Mrs Elsy, now in her 90s, has held a number of roles within the service but remains the officer in charge of the Solicitor’s Rota, which provides free legal advice for those who may not be able to afford solicitor fees.
As part of the celebrations, staff attended a private screening of the film I, Daniel Blake, which deals with the red tape and inequalities within the welfare benefit system.
Karin Fox, bureau manager, said: “This film is particularly poignant for us at CAB as we deal with hundreds of cases like Daniel Blake, and our advice and assistance can change the course of events and resolve many social and economic problems being faced by our residents. The fact that we have been doing this for 50 years is even more remarkable.”
For details on the service, visit southtynecab.net/.