CAB goes full-time and launches outreach clinics

THE Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Larne is ready to offer a full-time service in 2012.

With an increased grant from Larne Borough Council and a £60,000 Department for Social Development Innovation Fund donation, the bureau is in a position for the first time to open to the public Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm, and in addition to provide a regular outreach service in local estates and villages.

Things are really looking up for the bureau, which has increased its tally of volunteers and could receive a welcome boost if councillors approve a scheme that will see gas central heating and double glazing installed at the Park Lodge in Smiley Park.

Larne Council representative on the CAB, Drew Niblock, explained that the improvements have been recommended by a committee and will go before the full council for final decision early in January.

“It is all positive news for the bureau, but really the biggest issue they have is that space is restricted,” the DUP man explained.

“I am making inquiries to see if a feasibility study can be done on the possibility of extending upwards, or any other way of creating additional space,” Cllr Niblock added.

“The CAB is a charity and performing well ahead of its service agreement with the council. Its target was to bring unclaimed benefits amounting to £500,000 to the borough in two years, but they have managed that in the first year and I think that the council should be doing all that we can to facilitate the staff and volunteers to try and take the bureau froward.”

It is no secret Larne CAB struggled in the past to draw down the funding that would enable it to operate five days a week. The major difference has been the DSD Innovation Fund, which will resource a pilot scheme enabling the advisers to communicate with more younger people, as well as people living with a disability and older people by facebook, twitter, texts and email.

Manager Michele Campbell explained that the funding will help to resource a full-time service for one year, but it also enables the bureau to apply for new funding from other sources, which could be key to keeping the five-day operating going beyond 2012.

The need to generate more income and the requirement for more volunteers are perennial issues for the CAB. “We always need more volunteers,” said Michele. “The more people we have with us, the better the service we can deliver.”

With a complement of 11 volunteers and three staff, Larne CAB presently has four qualified advisers, a dedicated money adviser and another who has been trained specifically in tribunal work. Two advisers deal exclusively with Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance inquiries.

The expertise available will allow the bureau to go on the road on four Wednesdays every month in 2012. Clinics will be held morning (10am-Noon) and afternoon (1-3pm) at the following community centres:

First Wednesday - Ferris Park (morning) and Seacourt (afternoon).

Second Wednesday - Ballycarry and Islandmagee.

Third Wednesday - Carnlough community development office and Glenarm tourist information centre.

Fourth Wednesday - Millbrook and Linn Road.

“The Innovation Fund has enabled us to do this, but it was the council’s support initially that helped us to achieve all this,” said Michele.

“Double glazing and central heating will be very welcome, but if we have more space, like maybe a loft conversion, so that we could have a large room where advisers could work on giving telephone advice it would mean we could apply for further funding, which would create more jobs and there would be no reason why Larne could not have a full-time bureau for the foreseeable future.”