History of North East Suffolk CAB
The North East Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau recently celebrated its 50th year of continuous service, with plans to look for new premises so it can continue for another half century. Journal editor ANDREW PAPWORTH looks at the organisation’s long history.
Wartime bureau - 1941-45
The CAB actually began its life in January 1941 as The Wartime Bureau in London Road North, Lowestoft to help people with concerns about managing their finances, supporting their family and paying for the home during the Second World War.
It was run by the Red Cross message service and was funded with a grant of £5 per month by Lowestoft Town Council.
But when the war ended in 1945, there was a reduction in enquiries and other services people could rely on, including an information centre at Lowestoft Town Hall and an old people’s welfare committee.
“The need for a CAB had diminished and the bureau helpers did not feel justified in giving their time,” said Claire Smallman in her history of the East Suffolk CAB. “On June 30, 1947, the bureau closed.”
Getting started 1964-65
In 1964, minutes from the watch and general purposes committee of Lowestoft Town Council show it “recommended that the council do favourably consider setting up a Citizens’ Advice Bureau in the borough to serve the areas of Lowestoft and Lothingland”.
The town clerk had been approached by a number of people about setting up the organisation.
After a public meeting it started in 1965, with Lily Gomberg as organiser and Carol Bunker as secretary.
Its immediate priorities were to find funding, premises and advisers, who would need to be fully trained.
The East Anglian Water Company provided a room in its High Street offices for a peppercorn rent of just 10 shillings per week, while lectures and training was organised for CAB workers at Newnham College, Cambridge to build their listening skills and help them develop a rapport with clients.
A team of 13 advisers worked on a rota basis, dealing with 22 enquiries in their first week - but it would have plenty of changes to adapt to in the years ahead.
Growing pains - 1974-1992
The local government reorganisation of 1974 meant the CAB now had to consider rural areas which now fell under the newly-created Waveney District Council.
Branch offices were set up in Beccles, Halesworth, and Southwold by the end of 1975, with a Bungay branch office following in May 1977.
The sudden death of the CAB’s creator, Mrs Gomberg, in 1976 meant a new organiser had to be foud, with Ted Peacock serving in the role on an interim basis until Marie Bracey took over full time.
The number of enquiries was also growing rapidly - from 3,400 in 1974/75, to 10,500 in 1984/85.
The CAB moved to premises in Grove Road in 1984 to help cope with the increased demand, with concern expressed that the CAB’s previous High Street location gave the incorrect impression that it was part of the council, instead of being independent.
However by 1989 a further increase in the number of people using the service and a lack of adequate interview rooms and office space meant the organisation was once again looking for new premises.
It also found that managing a paper-based system across Waveney was too much, with a separate Beccles, Bungay and Halesworth Bureau set up in 1989 after a successful grant applicatio n to the district council.
It eventually moved to a new location in Gordon Road in 1992, where it remains to this day.
Tough challenges - 2008-present
Today, the CAB has once again come up with its historic problem of a lack of space - a problem which was particularly acute during the 2008 recession, when East Suffolk CAB chief executive Janet John said its calls for help went “sky high”.
The growth of the internet also means the type of work the CAB deals with has changed dramatically.
Whereas people would once visit with small queries, such as who might help with a housing benefit claim, nowadays people find that information online.
Instead, Mrs John said: “There has been a shift in the balance of the work we do to less on the little queries and more on the complex.”
Chief executive Janet John said: “The growth of the internet makes life easier in many senses in terms of working. It means there’s another channel to contact us for advice and it means there’s a lot of information out there.”
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