Jubilee Money Advice Service (JMAS) is a free debt advice service in Oswestry and District. The project began three years ago when the recession was beginning to strike hard and the television was full of news of the effect of growing debt on different aspects of lives. Then a man from the area killed his wife and child because of an extravagant lifestyle and insurmountable debts. Confirmation for me that I had to try and do something came when I was out on the street giving drinks and biscuits to people who were homeless and others who were just wanting to chat. A gentleman who stopped for a drink was talking about ‘how bad things were getting’ and said that the majority of people living in the same road where he was a resident, were in debt. This affirmed to me that my increasing thoughts of doing something about this problem were not stupid or pie in the sky, but somehow a possibility.
In certain circumstances, we will help the client in their own home. This was not planned, but came about because the council referred a client who has agoraphobia to us. We have now introduced a risk assessment and form for advisers to fill in prior to doing home visits.
JMAS is evolving slowly. I like it that way. I want to see changes for the better and more clients coming along, but I don’t look for numbers. My initial plans and expectations for the organisation have already changed. We have trained advisers. They have brought ideas and suggestions that I would have never thought of which have already changed many of our working practices. As we are gaining experience, we are making JMAS much better. I really wonder just how much more we will evolve in the next year. The principle of helping people to become debt free, to educate and advise will always be there, but it will be good if we can introduce changes to make what we do for the clients even better.
Community Money Advice (CMA) and Advice UK. We have registered with the Office of Fair Trading as required by CMA, drawn up our constitution, obtained charitable status and got trustees on board, taken out Professional Indemnity and put the necessary policies and procedures in place, including CRB checks.
I am Manager, a trustee, the treasurer and also an adviser. Having so many hats has been necessary up until now, but I am praying that people will come along with different gifts and that one day I can let go of some work and pass it to others. Making a firm foundation for the future is my drive at the moment. It can be difficult to find suitable advisers but I continue to interview and enrol more people, and I hope for someone to come along that can help release me from some duties so that I can network and deal with funding and other things which are very important if we are going to find our own premises in the near future.
The main leadership has been myself so far. I am thankful now to have the trustees so that decisions do not have to be just mine anymore. One has started to work with me on funding. I have asked two of the advisers to be supervisors, but neither wants the responsibility. So I will wait for newly trained advisers to arrive and hope in time I can find my supervisors. I am aware that enlarging the team is good and this will happen as soon as possible. Although it is hard, I think we are doing well because we are only nine months down the road.
CUF. Without the generosity of this gift, we could not have opened last November. One of the vicars who is a trustee knew about the CUF and it was through his approach to them that we were successful. I thank God for them and their belief in something that was not yet up and running and in people they did not know. This was definitely of God, because they put their trust in us. As far as premises were concerned, the URC Minister who is also a trustee allowed us a very small space in their vestry for the computer at a cost of £60 per month for one morning and one afternoon per week. Next door to the vestry is a building called The Kingswell Centre, we hired a room for one morning and one afternoon per week at a cost of £160 per month.
With the increase in client numbers and additional advisers, the time has come to look for our own premises with office space. Advisers can no longer work in peace to input data and write to creditors, files have to be put on chairs beside us and when more than two advisors are in the office at the same time, concentration is difficult. Also The Kingswell Centre is under threat so we might be forced to move. For the sake of the our clients and advisers, and for JMAS to grow and move forward, funding must be our next priority.
When setting up JMAS, I felt we should not use a Church environment to advise clients. I still believe this. Many may not want to come to a Church building for help. We can take God to the clients just the same. I have used the vestry to interview clients and have brought a trainer from CMA to another Church on other occasions to train advisers. We do not hide the fact that we are a Christian organisation, but we want to ensure all clients are comfortable with the environment.
In addition to the initial grant from CUF, we have three regular monthly donations and a number of small organisations have also given gifts of money. Two new grant applications have recently been sent off, but we have not heard back from either one to date. The local churches still don’t contribute financially, but part of this is my fault for not pushing this avenue of provision as yet. I still have to learn how to approach Churches for help financially. Writing to the leaders has not brought forth the skills and resources needed. We have had some secular donations since opening and I hope to approach other organisations in the coming months.
I think we probably have more chance of grants from local funding committees than from national bodies. The support or help we need is for premises. If we could find someone who would offer us somewhere to rent at a reasonable cost, this would be a huge answer to JMAS future. The work load, the clients, everything is going well – to have finance stand in the way of helping people would be unthinkable, but the worry is still there.
CMA gives us amazing support via emails, a free telephone help line, visits from the area manager, the online web site, training and much more. We are also linked with Advice UK, a membership network for organisations that give debt advice.
· Having a group of trustees that are supportive – we have prayer breakfasts and all believe in the power of prayer.
· Having like-minded Christian advisers who go the extra mile for the clients, and work together as a team and believe that God is the instigator and guide in this project.
· Being accepted by the Council and other agencies.
Finances are our main problem at this time because of our desperate need for premises and a working environment that is in one place. The amount of time that advisers can give is also difficult when there is a lot to do. That barrier would be lifted if we found our own premises. Then we would allocate different days for different advisers. We could see more people if we were open 4 or 5 days a week, and then it would actually give the advisors a rota so they would not feel they had to work too much.
One difficulty is that most trustees are all priests and so they are extremely busy. When things need doing quickly, I guess my idea of ‘quickly’ is a little different from theirs.
· reach more people with debt issues.
· increase our finances to enable us to grow.
· afford more training for advisers.
· form more links with other agencies and to work together to help our community.
· find more members as required under our constitution.
· find regular monthly donors so that we could have some additional financial stability.
I believe that, when the time is right, God will provide the opportunities. I don’t know what those will be until they come about but, because I have seen miracles already, I am really excited about those future opportunities.
 CMA is a Christian charity that is driven by the desire to help people whose lives are being blighted by debt and money problems. It helps churches and other locally based organisations establish high quality, free, face-to-face money advice services.