'Addressing Local Needs', by the North Belfast Advice Consortium (1999)
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The following document has been contributed by permission of the North Belfast Advice Consortium. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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A new North Belfast community initiative developed to create a mote cohesive, proactive and effective independent advice sector in North Belfast.
Ballysillan Community Forum
Benview Community Centre
Community Development Centre
Early Years Project Shankill
Ligoniel Improvement Association
Lower North Belfast Community Council
Vine Community & Advice Centre
North Belfast Advice Services Consortium has been developed by the Community Development Centre North Belfast in conjunction with the above community based organisations. The Consortium is currently funded by the Belfast European Partnership Board with funding from the European Economic Special Support Programme for Peace & Reconciliation.
The North Belfast Advice Consortium is an initiative designed to maximise the impact of the independent advice sector in meeting local need in North Belfast.
All of the participating advice centres adhere to quality standards established by the Association of Independent Advice Centres (AIAC) and all are involved in formal advice provision.
The Consortium is a working example of partnership arrangements. A close working relationship was forged at the outset with AJAC who in turn have assisted local participants to introduce a range of standardised procedures aimed at improving quality of service.
Also the Consortium straddles the North Belfast area and demonstrates the willingness of local advice centres to work together for the good of the entire community.
Currently there are eight centres involved in the work of the Consortium, Ardoyne Association, Ballysillan Community Forum, Benview Community Centre, Community Development Centre North Belfast, Early Years Project, Ligoniel Improvement Association, Lower North Belfast Community Council and Vine Community & Advice Centre. We anticipate that membership will grow as the Consortium begins to develop its programme of work over the next year.
We are delighted that the Minister for Health & Education, John MeFall MP will launch the Consortium today and consider this a strong recognition of the work of local advice giving groups and an endorsement of the new approach to be taken by the Consortium.
Advice Centres are concerned with helping people to he/p themselves and participate fully in society. They exist to he/p the uninformed and disadvantaged members of society They tend to be located in areas of deprivation and social need. The most vulnerable and those with least human resources are unfortunately those most in need of advice services.
(Advice Services in Belfast, BCC 1992)
The Northern segment of the City of Belfast is an area which has endured much over the past three decades. The area contains 12 electoral ward areas with a population of some 70,000. Using the Robson Index some 44,000 of the citizens are reported to be living in deprived circumstances. Some of the most recent information compiled by the Urban Institute and others highlights the multi dimensional nature of poverty and deprivation experienced in the area.
Some of the key points to note are:
The above information shows clearly the multi dimensional nature of poverty experienced in North Belfast. Lack of investment, difficulties in travelling to work, poor health standards and low levels of educational achievement make it extremely difficult for people to break out of the cycle of poverty. Many people have become increasingly marginalised from mainstream social and economic activity and find it difficult to get by on a day to day basis.
The North Belfast Advice Consortium has been developed as a practical working model to address local needs. It also represents a unique inter community approach to tackling poverty and disadvantage in a segregated community.
North Belfast is an area of acute social and economic disadvantage. It is characterised by numerous peacelines and interface areas and has been dogged by high levels of conflict and violence throughout the years.
However, North Belfast in spire of all its problems, can boast of some very high quality advice services. The vast majority of these are committed to cross community work, therefore bridging the community divisions within North Belfast.
The work carried our by the Independent Advice Sector is invaluable. One of its main strengths is that all the organisations within the sector apply a community development approach to their work. All are on the front line, confronting poverty and social deprivation and all are committed to ensuring that the rights and entitlements of individuals are upheld.
It is widely accepted that locally based independent advice makes a unique contribution to community development.
In areas of high social and economic deprivation such as North Belfast high quality, locally based, independent advice is imperative. It gives those in need access to advice and information to ensure they are getting their proper entitlements.
Furthermore the complexities of the benefits system mean that people become alienated and may nor be able to identify entitlement to benefit, therefore they need access to high quality advice, advocacy and representation services.
All of the advice providers mentioned in this report are members of the North Belfast Advice Consortium and most are members of the Association of Independent Advice Centres (AIAC) which means that they are all adhering to very high standards.
These advice services are under tremendous pressure due to the level of demand placed on them and the communities in which they work. Statistics produced by AIAC reflect this demand. For the period March 1997-1998 the average number of clients dealt with was 6,350 and help was given to complete 1,752 forms. The bulk of the work carried our is social security related. During the same period 74% of queries were benefit related and over 50% of these were specifically about Disability and Incapacity Benefits. (Figures taken from monthly statistical returns from 6 centres). These statistics highlight the high level of benefit dependency and ill health in North Belfast which invariably means that low income and poverty are also common place.
It is important to remember however that the Independent Advice Sector fulfils another crucial role in irs continuous attempts to proacrively nfluence the future direction of social policy, thereby making fundamental changes and mprovemenrs to individuals throughout Northern Ireland.
A large proportion of these services have developed in the absence of appropriate funding which is still a major problem for the independent advice sector as a whole. This lack of long term adequate funding has resulted in a situation were there are no permanent advice posts within the sector which invariably means most organisations are facing an insecure future, relying heavily on volunteers, ACE and increasingly obtaining workers under the New Deal. This sort of environment means that it is difficult to maintain continuity within the sector and any sort of forward planning is hampered. Furthermore these chaotic funding arrangements have resulted in an uneven geographical distribution of services with some communities having access to an advice service and others having none at all.
In 1986 the NCC prepared a set of guidelines on desirable standards for the provision of advice. Obviously it is unlikely that these standards will be achieved immediately but they should be used as an ultimate goal and to illustrate to funders the need for co-ordinared, long term funding policies for the independent advice sector.
Some of the main recommendations from the NCC report ‘Good Advice For All’ are summarised below.
There should be one generalist advice worker per 4,000 population, one law centre worker for 2,500 population and one consumer adviser for 30,000 population. Each centre should have a minimum of 3 workers. It is recommended that these figures should in fact be increased in areas of multiple deprivation or low average income.
Each resident should have a generalist advice centre within 1 mile in urban areas, within 2 miles in other areas (except sparsely populated areas).
The report recommends that, in order to enable centres to offer a free service, they need stable and continuous funding which should cover staffing requirements, provision of adequate information and training support, obtaining and maintaining suitable premises and publicising and promoting their services.
According to these guidelines ideally North Belfast, with an estimated population of 70,000 should have 17-18 permanent generalist advice workers. In reality within the Independent Advice Sector we have 11 full time advice workers and 3 part time advice workers. The only other source of formal generalist advice in North Belfast is Citizens Advice Bureau who have one office in the area.
Moreover, the NCC guidelines are based on full rime advice centres with at least 3 permanent staff, none of the centres in North Belfast have permanent staff and only one has the recommended 3 advice workers.
In light of the NCC’s guidelines it becomes abundantly cleat that in North Belfast there is inadequate provision of generalist advice services. None of the advice centres satisfies the standards set down by the NCC, the overriding difficulty is the absence of secure, long term funding.
With AIAC lobbying and campaigning alongside and on behalf of the independent advice sector we are hoping that there will be an improvement in funding arrangements. Indeed, as AIAC point out, underpinning the government changes for social welfare reforms is an acceptance of the value and role of independent advice agencies. We therefore have to remain united and continue pushing for government recognition of the invaluable work that we carry our in our communities and hope that this is reflected in a comprehensive long term funding policy.
Despite the ‘Troubles’, lack of funds and suitable premises the independent advice sector in North Belfast has consistently demonstrated its capacity to provide a qualitative response to the many complex and difficult problems experienced by residents.
The above are only some examples of the type of work undertaken by the local advice sector in North Belfast and they demonstrate the importance of such work in bringing about tangible benefits across the community.
The idea for an Advice Services Consortium in North Belfast grew from the outreach advice work which CDC, North Belfast began in the surrounding communities in 1991. This began with a request for advice provision in York Road/Shore Road area, for the first time an advice session was started in Lower North Belfast Community Council.
In 1993 with financial support from John Moores Foundation; Ardoyne/Oldpark; New Lodge/Duncairn and Upper Shankill Action Teams the outreach project was extended to cover other areas with no access to advice, these were Alliance, Ballysillan and York Road/Shore Road.
A steering group was established to give direction to the project, this was made up of representatives from the various groups who were facilitating the services in their premises.
In response to the success of the pilot project the North Belfast Advice Services Consortium was established in 1996, basically with the idea of improving the availability and quality of advice giving in North Belfast.
The Consortium as a group applied for funding to consolidate some of the existing advice which was being provided on a part time outreach basis by CDC, North Belfast. As a result funding was secured from BEPB for full time advice services in Ballysillan Community Forum and Lower North Belfast Community Council and for the post of a Co-ordinaror for the Consortium. Elaine Neill was appointed as Co-ordinator and rook up her post for the Consortium in July 1998.
The Consortium now consists of 8 member organisations all existing to help the uninformed and disadvantaged members of their communities. They are all characterised by being located in areas of high deprivation and social need because it is the communities here that are most in need of advice services.
The establishment of the North Belfast Advice Consortium is a very important initiative, similar projects are now underway in other parts of Belfast. One of the main advantages of working together in this way is that it overcomes the isolation which is experienced by most independent advice centre workers due mainly to uneven geographical distribution of centres and the fact that most are situated right in the heart of the communities in which they work therefore they are often cut off from outside contact.
As part of the Consortium these organisations meet regularly and communicate much more frequently by telephone. This overcomes the isolation, facilitates networking and enables the sharing of ideas, knowledge and skills.
By undertaking to work in a more cohesive and inclusive manner it will be possible to consolidate locally based advice services which will lead to a strong, more unified independent advice sector within North Belfast.
It is envisaged that this model undertaken in North Belfast and other similar networking initiatives in Greater Belfast will provide an overall model for developing a Northern Ireland wide advice services strategy.
North Belfast Consortium: Principles & Values
The following values will underpin the work of the Consortium:
The Consortium’s functions shall be to:
The Association of Independent Advice Centres
The Association of Independent Advice Centres (AIAC) is a regional voluntary organisation, which exists to promote, support and develop the work of independent advice centres throughout Northern Ireland.
We currently have a membership of 55 such centres some of which provide generalist advice and others which specialise in particular areas of advice e.g. disability, housing, money, immigration.
AIAC provides a wide range of membership services which include: membership support services (e.g. information on standards and recording systems, assistance with procedures and policies, NVQ training); insurance services; information technology (e.g. access to our newly developed website (www.aiac.net) advice on health and safety issues and assistance with strategic and financial planning.
AIAC believes in:
AIAC’s role within the North Belfast Advice Services Consortium
AIAC is involved in co-ordinaring, developing and implementing the Greater Belfast Advice Services Strategy funded by MBW The overall aim of the strategy is to draw independent advice centres together to develop a more cohesive, proactive and effective independent advice sector for Belfast. The North Belfast Advice Services Consortium although funded by the BEPB forms part of this strategy along with 6 other AIAC members. AIAC has been involved with the development of the consortium from the outset and are committed to assisting and supporting the development and implementation of quality advice services in North Belfast through this partnership approach.
VINE ADVICE SHOP
The Vine was established by the Presbyterian Church as an Advice Centre in 1970 and has been continually operational since that dare. It offers the full remit of advice including tribunal representation. It has recently become computerised as part of a pilot project organised by AIAC and supported by NIL.
The present manager is Judith Jamison who can call upon the assistance of 3 volunteers when required. The Advice Shop is open 4 mornings a week and we offer a limited home visitation service, which we hope to develop. Training is provided principally by the Law Centre, however, we also utilise other organisations such as Housing Rights.
We are presently producing two booklets for distribution on advice related matters: one for hospital patients the other for senior citizens.
We aim to provide a quality, caring service in a friendly environment.
LOWER NORTH BELFAST
Funded by the Belfast European Partnership Board, Lower North Belfast Community Council Advice Service, has bad an extremely beneficial impact within the "Lower North Belfast Community". Operating under the procedures and guidelines associated with being affiliated to AJAC the advice service has gone from strength to strength and continues to be developed by way of constant self review and evaluation.
We offer a wide range of services which includes representation and advice on benefits, disability, tribunals, housing, employment, environment, debt and consumer problems. All these services are delivered through our modern well equipped advice centre at 21 York Road or alternatively through one of our outreach centres at Mount Vernon Community Flat, Shore Crescent Community House or Duncairn Community Centre. Home visits are also carried to people who are elderly/disabled. Six members of staff under the direction of Harry Smith (Advice Team Leader) ensure our heavy workload is well catered for. The Advice Service also forms part of Lower North Belfast Community Council’s Resource Centre and as such, is an important link into many aspects of community and economic development issues associated with the work of the entire organisation. Being affiliated to the North Belfast Advice Consortium has many advantages including initiating a strategic approach to advice provision in the greater North Belfast area. A valuable opportunity has risen whereby advice centres can now share experiences and information amongst each other which can only be of benefit to the community to which we serve. This is a welcome development in terms of providing support to the independent advice sector.
EARLY YEARS PROJECT, SHANKILL
The Early Years Project is an innovative scheme unique to the Greater Shankill area of Belfast.
Our vision is to create a new generation of opportunity for children and their parents in the Greater Shankill area.
Our aim is to achieve the actualisarion of the potential inherent in each child and his family.
The project is made up of several elements which enable this ethos to penetrate into the heart of the community and in doing so make a ‘real’ difference to peoples lives.
1. Home Visiting Service
2. Childminding Centre
3. Community Development Links
4. Parents into Further Education
The project also operates an Outreach Advice Service, this covers:
a) All Housing Issues
b) Benefits i.e. DLA; Family Credit; Income Support; CSA; Incapacity etc.
c) Representation at Tribunals
d) Legal Issues i.e. Separation or Maintenance Issues
e) Debt Counselling
…. or any other general advice
BALLYSILLAN COMMUNITY FORUM
Ballysillan Community Forum (BCF) was established in May 1994 to work towards improved standards of living for everyone in Ballysillan. A formal constitution was adopted on 25th October 1994.
BCF is an umbrella organisation headed by a steering group with some twenty representatives drawn from most of the community groups and organisations in the Ballysillan area.
BCF employs a Community Development Worker, funded by NIVT, an Advice Worker, funded by Belfast European Partnership Board and shares an Adult Guidance Officer with Ligoniel Improvement Association which has two Administration Workers job sharing for the Steps to Work project, funded by EGSA.
Due to Ballysillan’s strong partnership with LIA we are able to have the services of ACE workers.
BCF has recently received funding from Special Support Programme Peace Reconciliation/Making Belfast Work £391,300 and International Fund for Ireland £210,004 to build a coffee shop, community facilities (offices) and retail units on 917-921 Crumlin Road. This should be up and running by this time next year bringing inward investment, jobs and community facilities into the area.
Ballysillan Community Forum Advice Service
The Ballysillan Community Forum Advice Service was set up in April 1998 with funding for a 2 year period from Belfast European Partnership Board.
The application was made for funding for a full rime advice service when statistics from the part rime outreach service, provided by the North Belfast Community Development Centre, showed the large number of families and individuals in the area struggling to survive on welfare benefits/low incomes while being unaware of their rights and entitlement.
Since its commencement in April 1998 the advice service has generated a substantial amount of money by assisting people to claim benefit they are entitled to but were previously unaware of.
Benview Community Centre
Benview/Ballysillan Tenants Association was established in the 1970’s. The committee of twelve is elected by the community from the community. It is a non profit making group who run a large community centre. The users of the centre are as follows: Pre-School and After Schools Clubs (with assistance from Belfast City Council); Mothers and Toddlers; Educational Courses; Social Activities and Youth Activities. In March ‘99 work will begin on a Purpose Built Community Park surrounding the centre. This has been made possible from funding by National Lotteries, Belfast European Partnership Board and Making Belfast Work. The Tenants Association strive to support the infrastructure of Ballysillan/Benview through overcoming poverty.
The Ligoniel Improvement Association is a charitable, community based organisation established in 1974 to improve the quality of life for all its residents. The Association is based in the Wolfhill Centre in which projects such as ACE, Community Development and Community Economic Development, as well as the Advice Service are also offered.
The advice service within Ligoniel has been ongoing for a number of years beginning with ACE and then in 1996 the LIA received funding from the National Lotteries Board for a full time co-ordinaror. ACE workers since this time have continually played a support role for the coordinator and an important role for the community.
The advice service has continually grown in the past 3 years. It is now an essential part of the community and is a crucial resource in tackling the high level of social and economic deprivation in Ligoniel.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CENTRE
The Community Development Centre, North Belfast was established in 1974 originally to provide resources and support to community organisations throughout North Belfast. From 1989-1994 the Centre received funding from Belfast Action teams (DOE) allowing it to expand its resources and support services. This funding was taken over by MBW and an amount of core funding from Belfast City Council.
CDC acts as an umbrella group for the community sector in North Belfast, covering all 12 Belfast City Council Wards. The advice service has been one of CDC’s key areas of work for many years, offering confidential, impartial advice on a wide variety of issues including Social Security Benefits; Housing; Employment; Debt; Consumer etc. The advice team currently consists of a full time Co-ordinator funded by the BEPB, a full time advice worker funded by MBW and a full time outreach advice worker funded by the National Lotteries Charities Board.
As well as an effective advice service CDC also offers several other programmes of work, these include:
Ardoyne Association was set up at the start of the 'Troubles' in response to the level of need in the area. It offers a wide range of services and is involved in numerous community initiatives including, environmental improvements, housing, play facilities for children, creation of employment and leisure opportunities as well as an advice service.
Since its inception an advice service has been one of the key services offered by the association. Until recently the organisation was dependent on the ACE scheme, however it now employs 3 full-time and 1 part-time advice worker under the new Fast Track scheme.
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