I got my first job in 1998 working as a Welfare Benefits Caseworker based in Birmingham. I joined Citizens Advice Bolton in 2001, originally as a Projects Manager before becoming Business Development Manager, and eventually Chief Executive Officer in 2013.
In my two decades at CABB, I’ve seen a huge amount of change – not least the technology. When I first started, the information system for advisers to look up answers to client questions was kept in big paper files – enough to occupy a whole wall. The rule was, you weren’t allowed to ask a supervisor for help unless you had a blue file in your hand (meaning you’d already attempted to look up the answer first!).
Back then, it was a fairly typical Citizens Advice service, delivering some additional welfare benefit and debt work at a fairly basic level, helping people largely ‘in the system’. Now, in addition to being a typical Citizens Advice service, CABB has the ability and reputation nationally for helping the most vulnerable people – those who are locked outside of the system.
We are able to empower people to access the highest courts, allowing them to achieve social justice and enforce their rights. In doing this, we’ve been able to challenge local public policy and relationships in these areas, within the context of often challenging government policies and a tough financial environment, particularly considering the skills shortage.
If you are someone without settled status in the UK, exposed to domestic violence, you are virtually in the weakest possible position. Outside of London, there is only one door that you can walk through to access the legal advice and advocacy that you need to help you escape, support your immediate needs and stabilise your long-term future. That door is Citizens Advice Bury & Bolton – and I’m really proud of that.
I am proud to have led an organisation that has radically changed the access for the most vulnerable to advice services, for people in Bolton and, more recently, Bury. In doing so we have empowered the weakest in our communities to be able to hold the public authorities to account, supporting them with the best possible legal representation and access to counsel.
During 2022, CABB supported 14,000 clients with nearly 46,000 separate issues. The service supported clients to obtain an additional £8.5 million – monies they were entitled to, but had not been receiving.
Over the years at CABB, I have worked with an excellent set of volunteers and staff and developed many strong and positive relationships. I hope that some of those relationships continue when I move into my new role.
Richard Wilkinson, Citizens Advice Bury & Bolton Chief Executive Officer