Here's a fact that surprises most people: Citizens Advice offers more places to get help than Tesco and Sainsbury's have shops put together. Whatever size community you're in we're likely to be there - from your local parish to your county and up to the national level.
It all started in the early days of the Second World War, when a group of intrepid volunteers commandeered public buildings and private homes across the country and opened the first Citizens Advice Bureaux. They moved with remarkable speed and the day after war was declared there were 200 bureaux ready and waiting to help people with the daily problems that war would throw up.
Their speed was possible because in 1938 the National Council of Social Services (the forerunner of today's National Council of Voluntary Organisations) established a group to look at how to meet the needs of the civilian population in war time - we were their recommendation. I like to think they knew even then that we'd still be going strong today.
The number of bureaux peaked in 1942 at 1,074 and one even operated out of a converted horse box that parked near bombed areas. Then, as now, debt was a major issue. But the similarities don't end there: we still rely on volunteers and just as the horse box example shows we took our advice to the places people needed it, so does our recent foursquare campaign[insert link: https://foursquare.com/citizensadvice].
The success of these fledgling bureaux didn't save them from budget cuts and by 1953 the number of bureaux was half of its peak. Those who remained open were able to survive thanks to the support of charitable trusts such as the Nuffield Foundation, Carnegie Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Life didn't get any easier for our staff and volunteers over the next 60 years and while funding fluctuated, enquiries steadily rose. That ultimately culminated in the recent recession where we helped people with 10 million problems.
Perhaps because of our origins - and their mix of 1930's civil service bureaucracy with the immediacy imposed by war - the structure of our service has a certain practicality about it. I work for Citizens Advice, the national charity and membership body for the local advice giving offices. These local sites are the 393 independent Citizens Advice Bureaux and they work out of over 3,500 community locations. Together we make the Citizens Advice service.
Nationally we are funded from various places, including corporate sponsors and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but local bureaux funding comes from a wide range of local funders with local authorities usually as the main local funder, supplemented by imaginative fundraising efforts, like a bureaux manager from Derbyshire being paid to jump out of a plane (with a parachute).
The patchwork and varied picture of each local funding situation has meant that with the most recent round of funding cuts we've seen as many different settlements as there are bureaux.
The biggest funder of local bureaux is local government and we know they mostly all appreciate the superb work bureaux do within their shared local community - it's because of this that a minority of councils even increased their local bureau's budget. Unfortunately we also know that local authority budget cuts are combining with the upcoming legal aid cuts to make the current funding environment one of the most hostile ever faced by our service.
Last year we celebrated our 70th year and while I wish our service wasn't needed quite so much as it is, the biggest threat to our celebrating our 80th year is not a lack of clients but a lack of money. If you'd like to get involved, we offer lots of ways to contribute, whether with your time, backing, following our twitter feed, or financially. Every one of them helps us change people's lives for the better.
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