As a local charity providing free, independent advice to Bury & Bolton residents, we wouldn’t be able to deliver our service without the help of our dedicated and hardworking team of volunteers.
This year for Volunteers Week we’ve been celebrating the impact of two of our longest-standing volunteers, Keith Burrows and Doug Summers, who between them have dedicated over five decades of their lives and approximately 17,000 hours of their time helping local residents find ways forward with their issues.
We spoke to them to find out how the service has changed over the last 30 years and what drives them to keep volunteering after all this time.
How did you both first get involved with Citizens Advice?
Keith – Originally I was in the fire service but retired in 1992, after 30 years of service. I saw an advert on Granada Action for Citizens Advice, who were looking for volunteers at the time. I thought it seemed like something that could make a real difference to people’s lives and the chance to help people less fortunate than me was really appealing. It was also a chance for myself to gain some new skills, knowledge and experience in a very different setting to my previous occupation, so I rang up, eventually got offered an interview and I’ve been here ever since!
Doug – After I retired, I was looking for something new to do with my time. In 1995 I watched an episode of Carry On where the characters were working in the ‘Citizens Vice Borough’, a parody of Citizens Advice showing how not to help people with their problems. That got my interest so I headed down to the local Bureau in Bolton. I got drawn in and since then I’ve never looked back.
Keith – Yes definitely. While we still give the same sort of advice, the way we provide advice to clients has changed completely. When I first started everything was paper-based, so we had to rely on huge heavy files and books to get the information for clients – now of course everything’s online which makes our job a lot easier!
Have you seen the service change a lot over the years?
Doug – It’s changed a lot over the years, especially the type of issues we’ve seen. In the late 1990s we started dealing with more immigration inquiries, we’ve seen more debt issues over time as well as house prices have risen. Originally, advisers would help with all types of queries but now we have teams who specialise in specific areas.
What was it like when you first started?
Keith – When I first arrived at the Bureau almost everyone was a volunteer. I found them all to be lovely and very helpful when I was starting out. I was very nervous before I helped my first client but with experience you become more confident. I always tell all the new staff starting out ‘just ask if you’re not sure’, because somebody will always be happy to help out.
Doug – When I first started we did everything, you’d be sat in the waiting room and you’d deal with whoever came through the door. I found all my colleagues to be very supportive and helpful and it didn’t take me long to get into the swing of dealing with clients. Now when we get new volunteers, the established ones like me are there to help them in the early stages.
What’s your favourite thing about working for Citizens Advice?
Keith – When somebody comes to us for help and walks out in a better position than they walked in, that makes me happy. When the client has been helped and they leave feeling a lot better – that’s what makes me want to keep volunteering after all this time.
By volunteering at Citizens Advice you meet new people and often make a lot of new friends as well. It’s a great way to socialise, learn more about the local community and gain an awful lot of skills through helping people as well.
Doug – I get a lot of gratification from solving people’s problems. It’s a great way to keep you thinking and exercising your brain and no two days are ever the same as the enquiries we deal with are so unpredictable! You’ve got several generations of people within the same working environment, which tends to benefit everyone as you share very different life experiences.
Are you interested in volunteering with Citizens Advice Bury & Bolton? You can find out more by visiting cabb.org.uk/volunteer-with-us