Citizens Advice Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford (SORT) have seen an increase in demand on their services throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, while at the same time being unable to deliver them in the usual way. The team at Citizens Advice SORT shares how staff and volunteers have adapted to continue offering their services to communities in Stockport.
Across Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford, our staff and volunteers have been working hard to support our clients and communities through the past few challenging months.
These are extraordinary times, but we’ve embraced the opportunity to find new ways of working, and solutions to challenges which ensure we can meet the needs of our diverse communities now and in the future.
Here are just a few of the ways we’ve adapted, and redesigned our service:
Developed Advice Videos
While unable to offer face to face appointments to clients, we’ve increased our use of video to provide one-to-many advice.
When we’ve seen an increase in queries around a particular issue, often as a response to government announcements, we’ve responded quickly, producing a short advice video around that issue and sharing it across our social media channels and within key community groups.
Invested in Social Media
We’ve invested more resources into building our social media presence, and using Instagram to engage with different client groups. We have been creative, sharing meet the team posts, adviser videos and client outcomes.
Our whole team is involved in creating content, making our social media more varied and engaging. We’ve seen an increase in followers and engagement as a result of this, and have developed a clear social media plan to help us reach new audiences and build on our success.
Embraced New Tech
We have embraced different technology, both to keep our staff and volunteers supported and connected, and to ensure we meet the needs of different client groups.
We have started offering advice appointments by video, and will continue to adapt and build this offer in response to user experience and client feedback. We’ve explored and trialled tech that will allow clients to securely and easily share and sign documents for a smoother service.
To offer more flexibility, we’re also planning to trial virtual drop-in’s, where clients will be able to speak to an adviser without pre-booking an appointment.
After working remotely since March, we have seen many benefits, and are keen to continue some level of flexible/remote working permanently.
Longer term this can save us money (building costs, travel expenses etc), and this money will be used to develop and improve our service, and invested in the training and development of our staff and volunteers.
Extending our hours and offering our staff more flexible work patterns would allow us to provide advice to clients outside of standard office hours, including evenings and weekends, and can provide a better work/life balance for our staff.
One to one meetings, pulse surveys and team meetings have allowed us to capture feedback from our staff and ensure that any decisions made around flexible working is in line with everyone’s needs and overall well being.
Increased Partnership Working
We’ve been proud to collaborate with and support a number of organisations and services across Greater Manchester, working together to increase our impact and reach those who need us the most, particularly those who may be digitally excluded.
Throughout the past few months we’ve been humbled to see how communities, charities, individuals and volunteers are coming together in a way that has never been seen before.
We’ve seen how much we can achieve when working together, and this increased partnership working is absolutely something we’ll continue in the future.
Having previously relied on face to face assessment and interviews, we’ve had to quickly adapt when we recently advertised for a Triage Assessor.
We produced a video to introduce the role and bring it to life, and for the first time we’ve created online tests and assessments for applicants to complete from home. This process has worked really well, and is something that we will take forward into our future recruitment, saving time and offering greater flexibility to candidates.
Mental Health Support
Having seen an increase in calls from clients who are experiencing mental health problems, we’ve undertaken further training through Mind to help us improve the way we help clients with mental health problems.
We have participated in a mental health livestream with Citizens Advice colleagues from across England and Wales, sharing experiences and ideas around delivering services for people with mental health problems.
We are conscious too, of the impact the coronavirus has had, and will continue to have on the mental health and wellbeing of our colleagues. Our mental health live stream also focused on how we talk to colleagues about theirs, and our mental health to ensure we have an open and safe culture.
We are really proud of how well our staff and volunteers have embraced and adapted to our service redesign, overcoming any obstacles to ensure we keep delivering an excellent service across Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford.
We are committed to continuing adapting and evolving our ways of working, to ensure we keep helping as many people as possible- whoever they are, whatever their problem.
Here’s what one client had to say:
You have been vital in keeping me level and safe.
“I will be eternally grateful for you listening to me, and for providing the help and support I need during this vulnerable period.”