Connected Communities Fund Stories: Banburyshire Advice Centre

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Connected Communities Fund Stories: Banburyshire Advice Centre

The Banburyshire Advice Centre is a vital local charity providing invaluable advice and support services to residents across Oxfordshire and beyond. Founded in 2015 by Andy Willis, the Centre operates out of an office in Banbury town centre while also running clinics at three other locations in the area.

With a team of 8 dedicated volunteers and a receptionist, the Centre assists individuals with a wide range of issues, from filling out benefit forms like Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance applications, to issuing foodbank vouchers and advising on matters related to health, wellbeing, care home choices, work, learning, travel and hobbies. While they do not provide legal, debt or tax advice directly, they can signpost people to organisations specialising in those areas.

The top areas of support provided by the Centre include Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Blue Badges for disabled parking, and conducting face-to-face assessments for foodbank vouchers. In recent times, they have seen a surge in demand due to the cost-of-living crisis, with many struggling to keep up with rising utility bills.

The Centre’s services are particularly invaluable for people in the area, aged between 41-83 years old, as well as those from deprived backgrounds, people with a disability, and individuals facing mental health challenges. Their approach is to provide intensive, holistic support – appointments can last up to 2-3 hours as advisers take the time to understand each client’s intersecting issues impacting their life.

As Andy Willis explains, “It’s important to work holistically and give people time. Don’t rush them and allow them to tell their story.” He emphasises the Centre’s non-judgemental philosophy, recognising that most do not want to claim benefits but are forced to do so by circumstances beyond their control. “We help as much as possible,” he states.

The ability to provide this level of care would not be possible without the Centre’s dedicated volunteers. Each one receives comprehensive training and many stay for years, playing to their individual strengths – be it providing that empathetic listening ear during a stressful period or helping to navigate the sometimes bewildering benefits system.

Funding from the Connected Communities Fund has been vital, according to Andy. “It’s allowed us to survive. So, it’s helping the community basically,” he said, noting that the activity likely couldn’t have run without it. However, the impacts will be lasting, supporting the Centre’s work well beyond the funding period.

On average, the Banburyshire Advice Centre helps the people it supports receive around £200 per week in benefits and support they would not have accessed otherwise. But beyond the financial assistance, the Centre provides a caring space where anyone can turn for advice, guidance and solidarity when facing tough times.

To learn more please visit:

https://www.banburyshirecitizenproject.org.uk/

Written by Jaime Hewett, Development officer OCVA and Lisa Stead, Project Development Manager, Community First Oxfordshire.

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