More than 120 CAB staff, volunteers and distinguished guests gathered at The Martlets Hall, Burgess Hill, on Thursday November 6 to mark 75 years of free, independent, confidential advice-giving from Citizens Advice operations around the country.
A mix of presentations and break-out sessions also focused on how the charity supports and helps local people in the present day, and looked to the future, highlighting the need for continued funding in the current challenging environment.
The Town Mayor of Burgess Hill, Anne Jones MBE, opened the event and summed up the value of the service, saying ‘you have over 75 years helped an enormous number of people… It’s the volunteers who have made this organisation so important in so many people’s lives. We all owe you a great deal for the time and effort you have all put in so diligently’.
Burgess Hill Town Crier, Neil Batsford, also gave a lively cry to begin proceedings.
Guest speakers in the afternoon, Polly Billington and Kierra Box from the national Campaigns Team at Citizens Advice, spoke passionately about the campaigning undertaken by CAB teams.
They highlighted the huge difference that research and evidence, gathered from CAB clients’ stories on unfair practices, can make both locally and nationally – for example the recent successful Citizens Advice campaign on payday loans.
Central and South Sussex CAB (with advice centres in Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill, East Grinstead, Horsham, Worthing, Crawley, Shoreham and Lancing), helped almost 25,000 local people in the year up to April 2014, and advised them on more than 42,000 problems.
Benefits and tax credits were by far the biggest issue clients needed advice on over a 12 month period, with debt, housing and employment also featuring heavily.
As across the whole country, particular confusion and distress has arisen from changes to the Welfare Benefits system, including disability benefits Personal independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), as well as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). In the Central and South Sussex area alone, from April 2013 to March 2014, ESA problems reported to the CAB more than doubled from the previous year, accounting for nearly 2,500 enquiries.
John Rutherford, Chairman of Central and South Sussex CAB, said: “Citizens Advice services in West Sussex are just as vital today as they were 75 years ago. We’re enormously proud of our heritage, and it’s clear from the problems our clients tell us about on a daily basis that we will continue to be needed far into the future.
“This conference has been an opportunity to say a huge thank you to our fantastic volunteers and staff, to emphasise the importance of what they do for local people, and to demonstrate to our funders how necessary it will be to continue supporting us into the future.”
The day ended with an awards presentation to volunteers and staff across the organisation.
To find out where your local CAB advice centre is located, as well as opening times and other ways to contact the team, please visit www.centralandsouthsussexcab.org.uk. You can talk to a local adviser by calling Adviceline on 0344 477 1171.
Report and picture contributed by Central and South Sussex CAB.