Kevan Jones MP has raised the crucial issue of offering vital services face-to-face, even though many people today opt to use technology.
Mr Jones was speaking at the opening of a series of free advice days for local residents across County Durham, hosted by Karbon Homes alongside partners from across the public and voluntary sectors.
The event held at the Café at The Elms Extra Care scheme provided local residents with information on health, housing, benefits, debt, employment, fuel and Universal Credit.
It was one of a series of six advice days, which have been organised by Karbon Homes in partnership with Durham County Council, Monkey and Advice in County Durham, running across County Durham until 20th October — each one hosted by a different landlord.
Advisors including Karbon Homes’ money workers & debt specialist, rent officers, Housing Benefit assessors, Council Tax officers, and an employability officer were all available to provide their expertise.
The event was designed as an opportunity to address multiple issues in a ‘one stop shop’ with face-to-face support from experts.
Mr Jones said: “The biggest concern I’m hearing about currently from constituents is Universal Credit and the difficulties that people sometimes have accessing direct advice, because of the increasing reliance on IT.
“Many people find it difficult to use computers and the internet or even to access IT.
“Initiatives like this one mean people can access face-to-face advice, if they choose.
“It’s something I’ve raised in Parliament, because increasingly services are being provided online, but some people can’t access the web — or when they do have access, they don’t know how to use it.”
To help promote healthy living on a budget, and to take advantage of the unique venue of The Café @ The Elms, the scheme’s resident chef Paul Jeal put on two cooking demonstrations — showing people how to make some quick and easy, but also healthy and delicious meals.
The Elms Café is open to the public every weekday 9am-3.30pm. It has three computers for the public to use, and free wifi for anybody needing to get online via their phone or tablet.
Della Gisby, 51, from Pelton Fell, attended the advice day to sign up for an account with Prince Bishops Community Bank. She appreciated the chance to talk to someone in person to answer her questions.
She said: “I work in customer service, on check outs in a supermarket, and some people just don’t want to use the self-scan tills.
“In this age of technology, people really value some human interaction. I prefer talking to someone face to face too.”
Suzanne Jobson, Financial Inclusion Manager at Karbon Homes, said: “We all face circumstances from time to time where we need advice, whether it’s an unexpected crisis, a change in circumstances, or planning how to achieve our goals. We’re organising these events across the County to make advice more accessible to residents.”
The next five advice days will be:
Tues 19th Sept East Durham Trust, Community House, Peterlee
Mon 25th Sept Youth & Community Centre, Newton Aycliffe (Jobs fair)
Thurs 5th Oct Pelaw Centre, Sherburn Road, Durham
Thurs 12th Oct Armstrong Centre, Stanley
Fri 20th Oct Youth & Community Centre, Woodhouse Close, Bishop Auckland
Beyond the ‘one stop shop’ advice days Karbon is running with DCC, Monkey and AICD, we are also running regular advice drop in sessions for residents in the Chester-le-Street area – at The Elms and at The Hub on Front Street.
To find out more about the work of the financial inclusion team at Karbon Homes in Chester-le-Street, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 571 0001.