HRH The Princess Royal visited our Horsham office yesterday, meeting staff and volunteers.

The Princess Royal – Patron of Citizens Advice – was welcomed by the Chair of Trustees, Irene Campbell, Chief Executive, Emma Cross, Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex, The Lord Egremont and The Chairman of Horsham District Council, Cllr David Skipp.

During her visit, The Princess Royal held discussions with staff and volunteers about their fantastic work in the community, the challenges the pandemic presented for our service and how they’re overcoming these barriers.

Irene Campbell, Chair of Trustees said: “The Princess Royal visiting CAWS headquarters in Horsham was a wonderful spotlight on the work that we do to support our residents. It also said thank you to our awesome staff and volunteers, without whom we couldn’t deliver our services.”

In 2020-2021, our local charity supported over 30,000 clients who came to us with almost 100,000 problems, such as debt, benefits, housing and employment. We are proud to have been a part of the community response to the pandemic, helping people to access emergency food and energy.

The Princess Royal discussed how in order for us to maintain the service and be available for clients, we had to immobilise our workforce and begin remotely working from home so people could continue to access our service. Throughout the pandemic, we endeavoured to be available for face-to-face interactions with clients when absolutely necessary and when there were no other options, ensuring we continued to reach the local community in need.

As part of the tour, The Princess Royal met the Community Engagement Team and learned how they have been working in partnerships to develop new services, improve access to information and create forums to share insight and feedback from our diverse communities. This work included building networks of volunteers to share vital information amongst their communities, such as Covid-19 and lung cancer.

The Princess Royal also heard:

  • Our collaboration with The Trussell Trust to provide a free helpline for people struggling to afford the basics. Whilst providing over 2,400 quick and seamless referrals to a food bank for local people since May 2020, The Princess Royal learned how the helpline also offers personalised advice to help address the underlying causes of the hardship.
  • How our advisors saw a 30% increase in employment problems compared to the previous year, as uncertainty over job security led to increased numbers of people claiming Universal Credit and unemployment benefits. This was alongside rising numbers of people being furloughed as the risk of redundancy grew.
  • How we have grown and developed our engagement with local communities and faith groups particularly in the Mid Sussex and Crawley area, forging strong links and building relationships based on mutual, respectful feedback. Through our community engagement work, we aim help to influence and inform work towards closing inequality gaps, especially in health and wellbeing areas, which have become more apparent due to Covid-19.
  • The 50% rise in debt queries in the Crawley area from our debt specialists.
  • How we helped 255 people with homelessness problems from April 21 – June 21. Often this is a result of financial problems, so as well as preventing homelessness, we are working to improve their financial wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety too. With 25% of clients’ families with young children, we helped ensure they had a safe and warm home which will also improve their education outcomes.
  • Our Research & Campaigns team explain their role in undertaking research and sharing insights on topics such as Universal Credit and other areas in need of improvement and preventing future problems, including keeping the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift.

Staff and volunteers were delighted to be able to meet The Princess Royal and discuss their service and the impact they’ve had on the people of West Sussex.

Barry Carter, Horsham Supervisor said: “The Princess Royal visiting was fantastic and it was an opportunity for the brilliant volunteers to get recognition for all the hard work they have endured throughout the pandemic.”

“She kindly told one of our receptionist’s that she is an important part of the service, as this is the first port of call for all clients and if they didn’t like the receptionist then they wouldn’t use the service, which I think made her day!”

Having toured the local office, The Princess Royal’s visit ended perfectly by fondly reminiscing with a staff member, who presented her with a picture of them meeting 45 years ago at the Royal Tournament. The pair agreed, they hadn’t changed a bit.

A huge thank you to Andy Whitman who very kindly volunteered his time and photography skills to capture this special day.