Frances volunteered at Citizens Advice in West Sussex for an incredible 10 years. After which she took her experience, skills and new-found confidence and became a paid member of staff with her new role as, Best Practice Project Support Officer.

What made you decide to volunteer for the CAWS?

I think the seed was sown many years ago when I happened to meet someone who volunteered for Citizens Advice. She told me how interesting and stimulating the role was and I remembered this conversation some time later when I was interested in volunteering. I wanted to find something people-centred and community-based, that was challenging but that also fitted around family and caring commitments. I liked the fact that Citizens Advice in West Sussex offered such a comprehensive training scheme. It felt that real commitment was needed on both sides.

Tell us about your volunteering role at the charity?

I’ve always volunteered in Burgess Hill, firstly at the CAWS office there and subsequently at the town council help point and at the library. I’ve mainly done face-to-face sessions with clients. However, during lockdown I started doing Adviceline and webchats from home. I also did some case reviewing for the Research and Campaigns Team.

What did you enjoy the most about your role?

Undoubtedly, it’s the times when you are able to make a real difference for a client that are the most satisfying. This could mean finding the right bit of information from our resources which answers a client’s query. It could be seeking expert assistance for a client (from specialist advisors) when their issue is particularly complex. It might be supporting a client to resolve a difficulty with a company or organisation. It’s not always possible of course to find an answer, but when we can, it’s a rewarding feeling.

Separately, the team working element of CAWS has been very enjoyable. At a small office such as Burgess Hill, you’re working closely with colleagues, both paid and voluntary. I’ve really appreciated the supportive, good-humoured environment.

What was the most valuable part of your volunteering experience?

It’s hard to pick out individual parts. Inevitably, I’ve encountered a wide range of issues that I’d not come across previously. I also feel my knowledge of the way the UK works (and how to find out about how it works) has increased greatly. But it is still true that no two enquiries are ever the same, and no two clients are ever the same. Meeting such a range of different people is very rewarding. I value the fact that volunteering for CAWS has enabled me to be part of a service which is used, and which is relied on, by so many people.

How did your volunteering role help you in becoming a member of staff? Did you learn any specific skills?

Definitely. Knowledge of CAWS subject areas was crucial of course. But for me (always slightly computer reticent), perhaps equally important was the fact that I was comfortable using their IT systems. Getting used to working from home during lockdown meant that applying for a job which involved remote working was far less daunting from a technical point of view.

Also, knowing their personnel and office culture was also very helpful. I’d been out of paid employment for some years, and so applying for a job was a big step which was made a lot easier by the fact that it wasn’t a leap into the unknown.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering for CAWS?

It’s a great way to contribute to your local community and there’s a range of volunteer roles, so there’s lots to choose from. I’ve found being an advisor challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

If you’re interested in volunteering, click here

Frances, Best Practice Project Support Officer