Nishkam Centre’s Birmingham Community Advice Services Event challenges current provision and paves the way forward

An opportunity for attendees to share experiences during the workshop

An opportunity for attendees to share experiences during the workshop

As the Birmingham Community Advice (BCA) project continues to offer much needed advice and guidance across the City, the consortia held a consultation event with strategic partners and opinion formers. The event attracted interest from across the City and was well attended by service providers and those with an affinity to such services.  

The aim of the day was to understand the current landscape of IAG services and looking at future planning to sustain provision. All fifteen partners where asked to look at the past year with the austerity measures and cutbacks that effect the clients served and to explore any gaps in the services. The partners were also asked to think about services that were being delivered and where there was duplication and scope for further provision. The event provided an opportunity to mark the achievements of the BCA project with the support of all the partners to highlight what had been achieved in a short period. Mrs Abrol from UKAWC one of the strategic partners on the BCA Project said, “This project and event has brought so many organisations together under one roof to have a collective input on service delivery, really useful project”.The consultation event was held to map Information Advice & Guidance (IAG) services in Birmingham, to see what was working well and what more needed to be done. Birmingham Community Advice (BCA) led by the Nishkam Centre and funded by Big Lottery’s Advice Services Transition Fund, is an outreach programme with a difference. BCA works with partners to provide Debt, Housing, Employment Rights and Welfare advice and advocacy services, and capacity build service providers and

All the attendees work on a group exercise

All the attendees work on a group exercise

volunteers. Trevor Allsopp from the Birmingham Peoples Centre reiterated how employment specialist advice was a niche and how privileged he felt to work with a handful of organisations and the contributions BCA had made in its first year.

The event saw some of the partners do presentations on the day and give a flavour of partnership working with the BCA team and how working together had seen a change to their service delivery within community settings. All of the partners who spoke informed the listeners of the value added services received and how the partnership to support and advise their clients had been so positive and fruitful. Anita Duggal from Soho and Rookery Children Centre spoke passionately about the ease of accessibility to the BCA team to refer clients who needed an array of support that her team were unable to offer.The BCA project team has helped / supported about 721 people. They also outlined how the project, with the team’s expertise, has secured benefits through appeals and benefit applications in the region of £400,000. It was shown how the project has reached out to different communities and how people have been encouraged to learn about their rights in five different community languages. The BCA Project Coordinator, Gulbag Singh said, “The fact that over £40,000 had been secured through our employment specialist who negotiated at tribunals and through ACAS mediation is an accolade to the great work being undertaken. The work with welfare benefits is a substantial amount of money that has been secured for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.” Yousef, a debt specialist with Free at Last expressed his gratitude to the BCA project for the support offered to take on clients for advice and the ongoing support provided.

There are partners who refer into to the BCA team on a regular basis and they highlighted how beneficial it had been for their current remit to have an additional arm to support people in times of crises and need.

The consultation had no surprises other than a consensus of how little there was in Birmingham for people in terms of free advice and guidance and the lack of awareness of services.  A discussion took place about how everyone needed to be aware of what was available when supporting clients who may need a service that they did not provide. The buzzwords for the day were seamless working; transparency; commitment; partnerships and sustainability. All the attendees agreed and committed to the fact that what had been started at the event required their long-term commitment to ensure that the City had a collective and uniform approach for IAG services. Ajmal Khan from BARC said, “We are grateful this event took place, we got to meet similar organisations to share ideas and see how to progress in the future.”

Colleagues from Refugee Action were also present and work with the Nishkam team where opportunities present themselves for partnership working. Dawn Murray from Refugee Action reflected on the year since the launch of the project that she attended and noted that the BCA Project had flourished to become a great success.  Recognition of how the third sector is raising its game to support the ever-increasing IAG needs is evident and this is with little or no support from national and local government. The lack of funding was recognised as a major a concern on the day and all present were asked to provide tangible outcomes that could be shared to support future funding bids. With Birmingham City Council facing huge cuts, it was imperative to identify a new way of working to enable the provision of services in the future.

The diverse communities the BCA project has served to date was visible for all to see and acknowledged thanks to the concise data captured on age gender, ethnicity and religion. The BCA team shared with all the partners the key achievements and milestones, whilst crediting all present for making it all possible with their commitment and trust in the project and genuine partnership working.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

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