Peterborough Salvation Army’s debt advice service is appealing for more volunteers as the current team of four is pushed to the maximum, managing more than half a million pounds worth of debt on behalf of 32 clients.
The free, impartial and confidential service, based at the church and community centre in Bourges Boulevard, is funded for 15 hours each week through donations from the public and organisations.
The 32 live client cases have an average debt of £16,000 each, but in the past year the team, which includes one paid employee and three volunteers, has seen individual client debts of up to £80,000.
David Craik, who heads up the service, says debt can happen to anyone and everyone through job loss, illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown and other unforeseen changes in circumstance.
He explained: “We see a variety of people come into our service. Nearly a third of our clients are in work but simply can’t keep up with the cost of living and therefore struggle to meet essential costs such as rent or council tax.
“Debt can affect a person’s ability to make choices, impact their relationships, as well as their physical and mental wellbeing.”
Asked why the demand had increased for the service, he said word had spread of the good work it was doing.
A national survey commissioned by The Salvation Army has found that one in three people in the East of England say they are currently living with debt and one in four people admit to feeling more worried about their finances this year than last year.
While debt is playing an increasing role in the lives of Brits, nearly one in three people living in the East of England said they wouldn’t tell their loved ones about being in debt, showing a concerning tendency for people to keep their financial struggles to themselves.
Gill Gibbons, a volunteer at Peterborough Salvation Army, knows how important talking can be for people who are struggling with debt.
She said: “Not everyone has a family they can fall back on. Sometimes people just need to talk because they don’t have a support network. We can provide a safe place for them to come and unburden themselves.”
Gill, 53, volunteers a couple of days each week. She does photocopying, printing, looks after the post and maintains the client database.
She added: “Even though I’m not an adviser, people talk to me. I know what it’s like to be in debt and when I was a child I knew what it was like to live in poverty. I’ve been there and I’ve come out of it.”
Gill recognises more debt advisers are needed to help The Salvation Army meet demand. She is hoping to train to become one.
Volunteering has helped Gill in a number of ways. She has fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body. In addition to pain, Gill experiences problems with mental processes (known as “fibro-fog”) that affect her memory and concentration.
She said: “I’ve been off sick for three years. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to go back to work. Because I can’t work, I only see people when I come here. Some days it gives me a reason to get out of bed - it gives me a purpose and a great sense of self-worth.
“And I don’t just get looked after because I help with the admin, I get looked after because I am Gill. The team here, they see the whole person.
“Because of my condition, it takes me a long time to do things. I’ll ask David how to do something and we’ll have covered it before – he’s very patient with me. I can come in here and do things at my own speed.”
David added: “We need more people like Gill, volunteers who can help us support more people who are struggling with debt. No one should feel like they have to struggle alone or turn to further credit.
“We often find that we are inundated with volunteers to help The Salvation Army at Christmas – which is a lovely problem to have – but services like debt advice need support all year round. If you have some time you can offer, we would love to hear from you.”
Peterborough Salvation Army’s debt advice service is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and all staff and volunteers are trained to meet regulatory requirements.
Alongside a debt advice service and in addition to Sunday worship, Peterborough Citadel Salvation Army runs a day centre for older people, a befriending scheme and a Trussell Trust food bank. It is also a host venue for the town’s winter night shelter and runs a charity shop on Broadway with all profits supporting the local work of The Salvation Army.
For more information about volunteering with the debt advice service, phone David on 01733 307747.