CANH (Citizens Advice North Herts), is an independent local charity that offers free, flexible advice with offices in Hitchin, Letchworth and Royston, plus outreach locations.
They offer advice face to face and via telephone, webchat, video and email, and provide a hub of information on their website. In addition to their general community advice work; CANH delivers specialist advice on benefits, debt, housing, energy and managing money, through a wide variety of projects.
The creation, aims and plans for the project
Prior partnership working between Citizens Advice North Herts and the Heritage Foundation meant they had developed a shared understanding of the wide-ranging socio-economic issues within Letchworth. This information created a mutual desire to make an enduring intervention to address issues of inequality and poor living standards. To add further local insight and context, the Head of Charitable Projects and Partnerships at the Foundation, Alastair Stewart, brought in Research & Evaluation manager Fiona Grant to add to the rich data supplied by Citizens Advice (CANH).
The exchange of information and findings between the two organizations resulted in the start of the Letchworth Financial Health Project in 2021. This project aims to improve people’s standard of living and well-being. The work is also aimed at helping residents increase their financial awareness and understanding and enabling people to deal with crises as they arise.
The strong partnership approach adopted by CANH (Citizens Advice North Herts) and the Foundation has opened the door to opportunities to work with a wide range of local partners, facilitate meetings and, through a series of scheduled meetings, analyse the information coming through the project to inform decision-making and future planning. To execute the project strategies effectively, the Foundation committed to granting CANH £100,000 every year for three years, with the first round awarded in 2020.
Using an evidence-led approach to each strand of the project to develop the most effective solution, accepting that some trial and error might be needed, has meant that Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire has been able to work creatively, trialling different approaches and using this learning to build ways of working.
The project was launched to create effective, lasting benefits for people who need money advice. To properly address the multi-faceted financial issues that we all face, different project strands were identified to provide a holistic and integrated programme. The project is delivered in six strands to ensure that the whole community can access information and support and more vulnerable residents are proactively identified.
The six strands are:
- Individual advice - Delivering one-to-one advice and support from qualified specialist debt and benefit advisers.
- Community support - Delivering Financial Capability workshops in the community. These workshops cover a range of helpful topics such as budgeting, maximising income and banking and will be accessible for all.
- Identifying & reaching residents - Building and strengthening partnerships in the town with groups and charities and developing community financial capability champions.
- Raising awareness - Through social media and traditional channels, raising awareness of money issues and the impact of money on living standards and well-being.
- Innovation in delivery - Holding video appointments, helping people install apps that track budgets and expenditure.
- Research & campaigns - Using local research to support national campaigns lobbying on socio-economic issues.
Focus for the Future
In year two, CANH will be able to expand their community-based activity and the delivery of their Financial Capability workshops. They will continue to gather feedback throughout the year and use this to tailor future delivery where demand and need is greatest.
CANH will expand the project in 2022 to:
- Promote financial literacy in schools for students and parents across the town.
- Develop partnership work to ensure they reach the most vulnerable residents who have the most to gain from the project.
- Train and support Community Champions to ensure a positive legacy for the project
- Advocate for clients, give them a voice in the community and fight injustices that affect them most whilst continuing individual support with debt & benefit issues.
- Measure the impact of each strand and use this to inform and focus the approach for the third year of the project. Those who accessed the project will be surveyed so CANH can learn about individual experiences and what improvements could be made.
- Raise awareness of the issues derived from living on low income and work together with the Foundation to explore wider partners and future strategies to address or reduce these in the town.
Individual advice survey results show beneficiaries registered a genuine improvement in their well-being due to taking control of their finances and increasing their financial capability.