Citizens Advice Bureaux: coming to a church near you

Citizens Advice is working with churches and other places ofworship across the country to make advice services more accessible,particularly for those living in remote areas. This will provideface to face advice in the local community rather than users havingto travel significant distances.

Faithful Advice: A guide for advice services in places of worshipFaithful Advice: A guide for advice services in places of worshippublished at the Citizens Advice service's annual conference,provides practical examples and guidelines for churches to set upface to face advice sessions on their premises. The guidelinesacknowledge that as the public sector cuts bite, churches can playa vital role in offering premises for advice sessions, particularlywhere there are no alternative sites available locally. Theresulting services can save people having to travel up to 50 milesfor face to face advice.

Building on the knowledge and experience gained by pioneeringexamples of advice centres in churches, the Cathedral and ChurchBuildings Division of the Church of England and the National RuralOfficers for the Church of England, the Church Urban Fund and theMethodist and United Reformed Churches have been working inpartnership with national charity Citizens Advice to produce thisguidance specifically for places of worship.

The Rt Revd John Gladwin, former Bishop of Chelmsford and Chair ofCitizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said: "In an era when the demand foradvice services is increasing and funding cuts may result in adviceoutreach locations such as libraries facing closure, adviceagencies must find cost effective ways of ensuring people can getthe face to face advice they need. By working with faithorganisations, Citizens Advice Bureaux have already establishedpartnerships which enable them to reach out and provide adviceservices to some of the most vulnerable and disengaged sections ofour communities."

Graham Jones Rural Officer for the Methodist Church and the UnitedReformed Church based at the Arthur Rank Centre said: "There arealready some excellent examples of churches collaborating with CABto deliver face to face advice services to less accessiblecommunities. Our hope is that these guidelines will help developthis relationship and lead to a growing number of churches actingas partners and hosts in this way. Building on previous guidelinesencouraging churches to host post offices and community shops, hereis further evidence of the churches' commitment to playing theirpart in meeting the needs and challenges of rural and isolatedcommunities."

Case studies
Nottingham CAB runs a drop-in general advice service for two and ahalf hours every Monday morning at St Mark's CofE Church, Bestwoodvillage. The CAB report that "The fact that they provide volunteersto simply be in the building and provide backup in terms ofpersonal safety is very important to us".

North Somerset CAB run an outreach service in the community centreat Nailsea Methodist Church every Friday between 10am and 2pm. Thisenables individuals to get face to face advice without having totravel 20 miles to the main bureau, while Berwick CAB operated aservice in the URC in Wooler, a market town 25 miles from the mainbureau. The service was highly valued by clients and produced somegreat successes gaining benefits for older clients and wages formigrant workers.

East Lindsey CAB, working with Spilsby Methodist Church inLincolnshire, was successful in securing funding to develop part ofthe church as a community centre on the ground floor with interviewrooms, a community area, kitchen area and toilets and upper flooras a "Bunk Barn" offering basic overnight accommodation fortourists. This is run as a social enterprise to support "SpilsbyMeeting Point". This involved partnership work with MethodistChurch, CofE, Age UK and other community based organisations.

The guidance is available online here: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/aboutus/publications/faithful_advice.htm.