I joined Shelter Scotland in July last year as the Advice+ Worker in Dundee, and since then it has been a nonstop learning curve, full of great (and eye opening) experiences! As Advice+ is a new approach, the first thing we did was to develop aims and objectives for what we wanted the service to deliver.

It soon became apparent that in order for the project to be really successful, we needed to build and maintain links with other agencies within the Dundee community. Having come from working at Dundee City Council, I thought I had a pretty reasonable knowledge of the organisations that provide help and support in the area, but boy was I in for a shock!

I wanted to cultivate good working relationships with the agencies that were already doing great work in the city. In the current climate of Welfare Reform changes, increased cost of living and reduced household income, the aim of Advice+ is to complement rather than duplicate the other advice & support services that are out there.

On my initial visits out to organisations in the community, I explained that the aim of Advice+ is to reach those who may have several problematic issues in their life and need additional support as well as advice. Our aim is to look at their overall problems and work with other agencies to reach successful outcomes through a person centric, holistic approach.

As the clients may need specialist support, part of my role is helping them to engage with other agencies, where signposting would not be effective. I’ll also try to help with social inclusion, guiding clients into meaningful activities and building positive social networks, which will hopefully lead to increased confidence and improved coping mechanisms. Advice+ uses volunteers to help with this and other low level support, such as accompanying clients to appointments, and offering a friendly face such as having a cup of tea after an appointment.

The agencies I have met with have all been very positive about Advice+ and think there is a real need for such a project. I’ve also been amazed at the help that is available in Dundee, when you know how to access it.

I’ve met with numerous organisations, such as:

  • Homefinders, who help with rent deposit schemes and Housing Options
  • Dundee Carers Association, who support carers of all age with access to counselling and social activities
  • Positive Steps, who provide Housing Support and Supported Accommodation
  • Craigowl Communities, who offer courses on budgeting and money advice
  • StarterPacks, who provide people with the basic necessities for their homes such as kettles, bedding, pots and pans and other essential items

…and many, many more!

I’ve been astounded by how much positivity exists on our doorstep, which people might never know about, even if they need help. The food banks in Dundee also provide an invaluable network point and service to those in need, literally enabling them to have food on the table. Although it is a travesty that there is a need for such a service in this day and age, I dread to imagine what people would do without them.

I came across a new food bank in Dundee called ‘Taught By Muhammad’. It is a Muslim run service that wants to foster positive relations in the city. As well as the food bank they also run Curry Kitchens – the first Friday of each month based at the Salvation Army where people can drop in for a hot meal. They also deliver curries to unemployed single parents, as a bit of a treat when they can’t afford a takeaway!

I’ve received lots of practical support from the Council’s Welfare Rights team who set me up on their ‘Knowledge Hub’ to share information with other advice agencies throughout Dundee. They’ve added Advice+ to the Dundee Coordinated Advice Tracking System – a database of all the advice agencies within Dundee, where we can cross-refer clients to the appropriate services.

I’ve also presented an awareness session for frontline staff in the Council’s Customer Service Team and Homeless Prevention / Temporary Accommodation Team, so they are aware of the services we offer and how we fit in with the other agencies.

On my travels, I heard about a new project being delivered by Dundee City Council called Digital Pop-up Hubs. These are to help the most vulnerable in society have access to IT systems, so they can apply for benefits, meet their claimant commitments and avoid sanctions. Having worked in benefit delivery, I know that this “channel shift” is not going away and so we can’t let the most vulnerable people fall through the net and become more excluded than ever. I’ve been engaging with the project coordinator, and hope to get our Dundee Hub involved in running a pop-up, using our specially recruited Advice+ Digital Volunteers to help run the groups.

Now the ground work has been done, I have an Advice+ caseload and although it will undoubtedly be challenging, guiding clients through their sometimes complex issues, I have no doubt it will also be the most rewarding and positive work I have undertaken.

To know you can make a real difference to someone’s life and future just by helping them access the right advice, information and support is an amazing privilege.

Read more about our services and projects in Dundee.

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