Elaine Bissell, CEO of Citizens Advice Esher and District, shares why she feels privileged to do her job and the range of support that’s available to everyone in and around the Court.
For as long as I can remember Citizens Advice has been the first port of call when there’s a life issue that requires knowledge and support beyond a quick chat with a knowledgeable friend or a google search. There’s something deeply reassuring about knowing there’s a free, non-judgemental organisation that anyone can turn to in times of trouble.
Elaine Bissell is the CEO of the Esher and District branch, part of the national Citizens Advice membership but a local charity within its own right. She’s quick to reassure anybody who is questioning whether they can contact the service with their own troubles.
“We’re a really good starting point if you’ve got an issue, and it can be absolutely anything that you are struggling with,” Elaine explains kindly. “We cover pretty much everything, apart from business advice, and if it’s not something we know about in depth then we’ll be able to signpost you to the best place.
“We can help with so much though,” she continues. “Benefits, employment rights, financial capability and debt, consumer issues, housing, relationships, healthcare, immigration and a lot more besides.”
I admit that I wasn’t aware that Citizens Advice could offer advice and support with difficult relationships.
“A lot of people will contact us for support when they’re thinking about separating and they need to talk through all considerations like housing and finances,” Elaine elaborates.
“There’s lots of different types of relationship breakdowns clients come to us about. It could be tensions with an ex-partner, poor communication with a neighbour and it could also involve domestic abuse. We’ve seen a big increase in the need for help around that during lockdown.”
We’re a really good starting point if you’ve got an issue, and it can be absolutely anything that you are struggling with.
Elaine began her time with Citizens Advice as a volunteer and became an employee in January 2020, at the beginning of one of the most tumultuous years in recent history.
Prior to the pandemic, her team operated out of their office opposite the Esher Civic Centre and had two outreach posts in West Molesey and Cobham. However, until restrictions ease further, there’s limited appointments available face to face but the service continues over the telephone and email, helping more people than ever, with over 35 volunteers delivering advice remotely.
Elaine is keen that people understand that everyone can access the support they offer. “I’d just like to get across the message that we’re here for everybody,” she says. “We take a really holistic approach too – of course we’ll talk about the challenge in hand, but we also ask questions about how that might be impacting the rest of our client’s lives and explore that further, because often you find that issues are interlinked.”
Speaking with Elaine, I get a real sense of her commitment to the work of Citizens Advice. “It’s challenging but it keeps you really interested in what’s happening in the world around you because you need to know the latest information about resources, housing and various support networks,” she says honestly. “I just really enjoy interacting with people and helping others. It’s a real privilege.”
And how can we, and others around the Court support the invaluable work of Esher and District Citizens Advice? “Spreading the word about what we offer, and how we can help people is great,” Elaine says. “And we’re always looking for volunteers, so please get in touch if you’re interested.”
If you need support visit eshercab.org.uk
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, then checkout eshercab.org.uk/become-a-volunteer