Photo of Chris F infront of photo of Ipswich in early 20th century

From Adviser to Tour Guide

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From Adviser to Tour Guide

After sixteen years as a volunteer with us, Chris F is moving on to pastures new.

We asked him a few questions about his time at Citizens Advice Ipswich.

In your time with us here, Chris, you have supported so many people. Our records only go back to the end of 2017 and in that time you have written up around 2000 client cases. Based on this, my back of a biscuit packet calculation shows that in your sixteen years with us you have supported over 5300 cases. Not bad for a volunteer one day a week!

What sparked your interest in volunteering with us?

My interest in volunteering with Citizens Advice was sparked when my wife struck up a conversation with a neighbour on the early bus into Ipswich. He told her about his wide ranging volunteering role with Citizens Advice and it grew from there.

I joined the team sometime in 2008, when I decided to dispense with the commute to my former role at a friend’s financial practice.

Tell us a bit about your time here

I trained to be a generalist adviser, offering help on a wide range of advice issues. What I have enjoyed about this role has been never knowing from one week to the next, what we will be faced with!

In the early days, the door would open and the ground swell of hopeful clients would take their allocated number and fill reception like a GP’s waiting room in the olden days. Now the way clients contact varies but the way we advise remains the same.

On one occasion, a delightful East European lady with a good grasp of the language, but an understandably vague grasp of our tax system was very stressed about a number of penalty charges from the Revenue.

A phone call was able to achieve a clarification for her, and I managed to get the penalties waived. As I explained the outcome she sat in stunned silence for a full minute – then stood up, opened her arms wide, and asked if she could hug me! I told you one never knew what was going to happen next!

You also joined our generalist money advice team – helping clients with issues around finance and debt. What stands out for you about this work?

Our money advice team are truly fantastic and deserve great credit for what they achieve.

It is of critical importance that people have a chance to learn basic financial life skills from an early age.

There is a need for parents to share budgeting and saving habits with the next generation and for schools to find a space within the curriculum to extend this knowledge. Life is a big enough struggle without the added minefield of dealing with debt.

In your time with us at Citizens Advice Ipswich you will have seen life change for our clients. What has changed in your time here and what has stayed the same?

One big change is the ever expanding range of demand on our services due to pressures on local authorities and budget cuts. Basic emergencies involving food banks, fuel vouchers and domestic replacement goods have escalated hugely.

One thing that has stayed the same is the tremendous enthusiasm and desire to make a difference to people’s lives, which I noticed at the start and has never seemed to waver.

At our Away-Days, when the various statistics reflecting our outcomes for clients over the year were flashed up on screen, I used to say to myself, I was a small part of that!

I can’t imagine you putting your feet up, Chris. What is going to be your next project?

It’s a complete change of direction for me now. I have always had an interest in historic houses and gardens and the stories behind them and so I am about to learn the art of tour guiding for the National Trust at one of our beautiful properties, Melford Hall.

You have mentored and supported scores of trainee advisers in your time here. What advice would you give someone considering an advice role with Citizens Advice Ipswich?

I would say grab the opportunity with both hands. You will encounter a wealth of first class mentoring, training, material courses and technical online resource. And that is without taking into account the pleasure you will feel when a client has their life improved by something you have done for them.

It just remains for me to extend a massive vote of thanks to you. We will all miss you, Chris.

Do keep in touch and I hope to see you at our Fiftieth Birthday celebrations.