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The Citizens Advice Bureau Has Helped People Navigate Through A Period Of Uncertainty – A Tale Of Two Volunteers.

(Left to right; Callum and Louise, Citizens Advice Bureau volunteers, sharing a moment at an event)

The town of Wellsford | Whakapirau is the northern-most town in the Auckland region and sits midway between Auckland and Whangarei. Among its friendly residents are Callum and Louise, volunteers with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Louise began volunteering for the CAB in 1986 and celebrated her 35th year as a volunteer.

“I was one of the originals, when the bureau opened. It was an opportunity for me after years of being a nurse, and it was one way of serving my community”, says Louise.

The Citizens Advice Bureau is also celebrating its 50th year serving the community and is recognising the thousands of people who have generously given their time and skills, tirelessly serving the public through the decades. The first CAB branch opened in Auckland in 1970 and has now grown to 85 sites around the country.

Things have changed a fair bit over the past 50 years of the CAB service. Louise remembers the days when there were no computers and researching information was a very different task. She reflects that, as volunteers, they learnt so much on the job as they helped clients. “There have been many changes over the years, and workers have had to keep up with these changes when it comes to giving advice to clients”. “When we started back in 1986 it was a challenge then with 13 volunteers but for the community as a whole, it has been such an asset with people having come to trust the bureau”, she says.

Louise also noted that some people would come to the CAB and they didn’t feel entitled to their rights or know how to access these. “The CAB provided a safe place for people to ask their questions, everybody has a right to be treated properly and fairly” she says.

Callum, a much newer volunteer with the CAB, recalls his first experience with the CAB at the Auckland Central Library as a ‘poor student’ asking for help with tenancy and employment issues. “Ten years after when I went back to university, I decided to become the person to give advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau”. “We are a family unit here, and it makes the work so much more enjoyable, with a support network of 2,500 volunteers around New Zealand”.

Louise spoke about a time when the bureau had mostly female volunteers who were full time mothers and had no other work experience. “Once they started working at the CAB, we empowered them and often many would go on to find other jobs”.

Callum has been involved with the CAB during the more recent challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The Citizens Advice Bureau was founded in the UK following World War II, at a time of uncertainty. Similarly, the CAB has stepped up for the public during a time of uncertainty with the Covid-19 pandemic” says Callum. He notes how the enquiries from clients changed with Covid-19, with people wanting to know about things like the wage subsidy, border controls and various employment issues. Lou having been a nurse for 20 years supports the lockdown and believes people are trying their best to follow the rules, but notes that this hasn’t stopped the hard work of the bureau with volunteers adapting to the situation and taking phone enquiries while they are at home.

Louise and Callum are both passionate advocates for social justice in the community and people having access to their rights. “We live in an ever increasingly complex world, and some people are left behind with the CAB playing an important role informing those people of their rights in the society”, says Callum. Louise notes that people have a lot more access to their rights now than they did ‘way back then’ and felt that it was important to continue to empower people with knowledge and information.

Louise says “The Citizens Advice Bureau is so established now and it is just part of the community and it is always progressing with all CABs learning around the country”. Callum and Louise want people to know that the CAB is always the best place to start when you need access to information or have a problem, remaining a free and confidential service.

Louise and Callum can be found at the Wellsford Citizens Advice Bureau from Monday to Friday serving their community, and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

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