Local volunteers recognised for debt advice support at Cheering Volunteers Awards

published on 7 Jun 2019

Church and charity thanks volunteers transforming lives across Bedfordshire and surrounding areas during Volunteers Week.

Helpers at a Salvation Army-run debt advice service have been highly commended at a Central Bedfordshire Council awards ceremony to honour local volunteers. The debt advice support team, made up of six local volunteers, received the honour at the Cheering Volunteering Awards on 4 June. 

The Awards coincide with Volunteer’s Week (1 – 7 June), a national initiative to celebrate volunteers and to encourage people from all walks of life to consider offering a few hours of their time to volunteer in their community.

Around the UK and Ireland, volunteers play an important role in The Salvation Army’s community and outreach work, covering a diverse range of issues from anti-trafficking and modern slavery, to homelessness and addiction support, care for older people, and loneliness and isolation.

This includes Jim, 70, who lives in Dunstable and volunteers for The Salvation Army debt advice service two mornings a week in the town. Now retired, Jim started volunteering more than 10 years ago while he was working full-time. 

He said: “I volunteered for the role of ‘debt advisor’, working in the evening to start with, as I have background experience in administration and helping people. I’m a member of The Salvation Army which has always responded to the needs of the day, throughout its 150-year history. There was clear growing need in our community for help with debt, which I felt I needed to respond to.”

Jim, who has 13 years’ experience helping people with debt, continues: “We see women come to us, where their partners have taken out credit such as credit cards, catalogues in their name. In effect, these women become responsible for another person’s debt. 

“Some people who come to us have built up debt in unpaid utility bills which may span several years. Others fall into debt as a result of relationships breaking down – and there simply isn’t the same income available to pay for everything.”

Jim chooses to volunteer, as he can see the positive changes in people: “Debt relief changes the atmosphere in those individuals and families affected, from feelings of despair to hope and excitement for new beginnings.

“We have taken people from a situation where they have a bag of unopened mail and can’t face opening it. There is no eye contact. Even after the first session with us, people feel better. They are different people within three to six months, because the burden is easing.

“For me it’s about knowing that you are making a difference in someone’s life. We do this because as Christians we are here to serve others.”

Dunstable Salvation Army Church Minister, Major Lindsay Brevitt, says: “We are very grateful to all those who give up their time and abilities freely to the mission of The Salvation Army here in Dunstable. We would find it very difficult to function without them! Everyone has something different to contribute and together their efforts really do help to transform people’s lives in our community.”

The Salvation Army is supporting families, individuals and those in need across the UK and Republic of Ireland and their volunteers are the backbone of the outreach and community work taking place. 

Claire Bonham is Volunteer Development Manager at The Salvation Army, and says that Jim’s personal experiences and ability to provide a listening ear are so valuable to the people The Salvation Army works with. She says volunteering can be great for gaining valuable experience and skills, meeting new people and providing a sense of purpose. All of these benefits can be linked to improving general wellbeing and mental health. 

Claire explains: “The benefits Jim has gained from volunteering are extremely common and we see every day how much our 12,000 volunteers are gaining from giving their time to help others. Often people are looking for a way to give back to the community they live in but we would encourage everyone to consider volunteering to see how it might improve their own wellbeing and positivity.

“Every volunteer comes with skills, talents and experiences that contribute to the work of The Salvation Army, whatever their background. 

“When people come to us in desperate need we help them overcome their problems and get their lives heading in the right direction. We do this by giving them unconditional love and support and by offering a range of specialist services run by trained officers, staff and volunteers.

“It’s when they are at their lowest ebb that people turn to The Salvation Army and very often we can help them when no one else can. We are a 'safety net' for people who fall through the gaps in society and our volunteers are absolutely vital to help us in this work.”

The Salvation Army run a host of volunteering opportunities from one off events to more long term commitments. To find out more about please check our volunteering opportunities or contact your local Salvation Army church or centre.

For more information about volunteering with the debt advice service in Dunstable, please contact Fiona Simpson via dunstabledas@salvationarmy.org.uk.