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Citizens advice from all the family

On International Women’s Day, Katsume Stoneham talks to some of the women working and volunteering for a Barnet charity

Citizens Advice Barnet (Credit – Google Street View)

As expert benefits adviser Susan Deal explains, Citizens Advice Barnet “is a very safe port of call” for the most vulnerable – but the local charity is also an example to other organisations of how to recruit and retain female talent. More than three-quarters of all staff and volunteers at Citizens Advice Barnet are women. Over 83% of management positions are held by women. The Board of Trustees is also 80% women, including the chair.  

Susan Deal and her family are a great example. Susan’s mother, Barbara, is an employment lawyer and a longtime volunteer adviser at Citizens Advice Barnet. Growing up, Susan and her sister Caroline grew up hearing about employment cases around the dinner table. Only their dad got “a bit sick of it.”  Both Susan and Caroline later trained in law. 

Caroline began her 15-year relationship with Citizens Advice Barnet as a volunteer in 2000. She says: “[My mother’s] experience was one of the factors involved in my decision to work at [Citizens Advice Barnet], as was the hope of being able to use skills gained studying law, including research, to help people who, but for [Citizens Advice Barnet] would have little or no access to advice…On a practical level, at the time I started volunteering, I had childcare responsibilities, which I was able to fit in with the role due to the flexibility and understanding I was shown by all involved.”

That flexibility allowed her to move into paid work in 2003 as an Advice Session Supervisor. She went on to serve as a Service Manager, Head of Services, and finally, Acting CEO. 

After “a long break to have children,” Susan joined her mum and sister in 2014. “When I [started], the intention was to build my skills, but I quickly realised that I had found the job that was the reason I studied law in the first place. I was helping people survive financially and making a real difference.”

For a year, all three were employed or volunteering for Citizens Advice Barnet. Susan continues as a part-time benefits adviser and Barbara took a leave of absence only in 2022.

For many, the idea of a family all working at the same organisation, at least one that is not a family business, would be surprising. The idea that someone could volunteer for the same organisation as Barbara has, for over twenty years, is doubly so. 

But, it is commonplace for Citizens Advice Barnet. The high quality training offered on the volunteering side and the flexibility offered to both workers and volunteers means people stay for the long haul and recommend the work to their family and friends. Current CEO Daniel Bamford began as a volunteer in 2011 – and there are multiple generations from two families currently employed by the organisation.

According to Susan, there are three factors that have contributed to her remaining employed at Citizens Advice Barnet for so long: the motivation to help, the flexibility, and the constant learning. She says: “I have learned about listening to people, and understanding their fear and frustration. I have grown as a person massively, and I hope that I have given back in equal measure.”

It would seem, by numbers alone, that many are similarly motivated. Last year, for example, we helped 11,969 people with 40,103 problems and the phone keeps ringing off the hook. 

Citizens Advice Barnet is a local, independently registered charity and a member of the Citizens Advice Network. We are here for everyone who needs expert advice and for everyone who wants to play a part in helping the local community, especially those with childcare and other responsibilities. Find out more here.

Katsume Stoneham is Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Citizens Advice Barnet


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