Eastbourne charity reflects on the end of a challenging year

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Alan Bruzon predicts demand for Eastbourne Citizens Advice will grow with more people needing debt advice due to Covid.

Eastbourne Citizens Advice (CA) has continued to support people through the pandemic by staff and volunteers working from home.

Alan Bruzon, chief officer for Eastbourne CA, said, “In the run up to Christmas I’d really like to thank our volunteers for their amazing work during the pandemic.”

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The charity, which is part of the CA network across England and Wales, provides free confidential and impartial advice and campaigns on big issues that affect people’s lives such as money, housing or employment.

Volunteers working from home SUS-200812-153213001Volunteers working from home SUS-200812-153213001
Volunteers working from home SUS-200812-153213001

It says the goal is to help everyone find a way forward, whatever problems they face.

Alan said the charity also helps people understand their employment rights and government support they are entitled to.

Eastbourne CA gets support from Eastbourne Borough Council, but Alan said it has to raise the extra funds to be able to keep going - another reason the lockdown has brought challenges.

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He said, “When the first lockdown started we had to cancel various fundraising events which we hoped would raise thousands of pounds. We were very grateful to receive extra support from Sussex Community Foundation and the Big Lottery.

“We’re getting ready for the challenges ahead including increased demand for debt advice and other issues relating to job losses. Also as we leave the European Union we anticipate more demand from across the community.”

Alan said that the lockdown has really changed the way the staff and volunteers have been able to work.

He said, “Since the lockdown started we switched completely to home working, with all our eight paid staff and 54 volunteers having to make the change which they did very well.

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“We’ve helped over 2,000 people by phone and email and have started using video chat as a communication channel via key agencies. Our work has helped increase people’s income by over £2 million during the pandemic, mostly through advice and help claiming benefits and overturning incorrect benefit decisions.

“Our team has had to adapt to a huge change during this difficult time and I’m immensely proud of the huge contribution they have made to the community of Eastbourne. Our work has often been about help in a crisis and this has never been more true than during the past few months.

“Thanks to our volunteers - we really couldn’t do it without them.”

Peter Wilkinson, one of the volunteers, said, “Being able to volunteer from home has certainly been beneficial to me on a personal basis. It has made me feel that I was able to make a real contribution with my colleagues from CA to dealing with these exceptional circumstances, and this led me to up my hours.

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“Many of my more recent contacts with clients have related to benefits, housing, employment and relationship issues - which are often compounded by the impact of the pandemic. This has enabled them to feel more supported in what are for many people even more isolated times than ever. Previously there were issues that were specifically coronavirus related - access to food and the furlough scheme.

“Many clients have expressed gratitude at being contacted whether their goals are met or not. CA have been referred to as a last resort, so in many ways the role of Eastbourne CA and its staff and volunteers remains unchanged - treating clients with respect and doing the best we can to help them achieve their goals wherever that is possible.”

A client, that remains anonymous for confidentiality reasons, expressed their thanks to the service. They said, “Your help, support and guidance was outstanding. The fact that you continued to be there with this support during the lockdown period is remarkable. The service you provide to the public is awesome.

“You should all be very proud of yourselves.”