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Becoming a ‘virtual’ volunteer

Sue Hillman, Policy and Campaigns volunteer, has had to work from home since the start of lockdown. She describes what it has been like to work as a virtual volunteer.

“I started volunteering with Citizens Advice Westminster back in 2012 and generally I work with them around 8 months a year as I head to Africa for the winter to volunteer there. I applied to the Social Policy team (now called Policy and Campaigns) rather than become an adviser and have not regretted that choice.  There were a number of reasons, one being that I could offer 1 day a week and felt advising needed more. A second reason (and the key one) being that I really enjoy looking at the big picture, at the issues highlighted by individual problems but that go much wider. I also enjoy writing and love researching. I have particularly enjoyed working with my Policy and Campaigns team mates and colleagues across the whole office and have learned a lot from them.

“One of the roles I have taken on, and which has been great fun, is running our Twitter account (@westminstercab).  We have built up from a few hundred followers when I started, to over 1650 now.  This is an important social media channel to get information and advice out to people who do not, or cannot, come to our offices. It can reach new groups of residents  who perhaps have had no previous contact or knowledge of our services.  It’s a two way benefit, as our news feed helps us keep up to the minute with what’s happening with a wide range of relevant topics and we can see what our MPs and Westminster Council are saying,

“I tweet and schedule tweets so we have at least one going out per weekday and, since early March, these have focussed heavily on Covid-19 issues.  I have aimed to send out a mix of  government health messages, pointers on how to access our services when our offices are shut, messages about how benefits have been impacted, and on employment issues for employers and employees.  I refer followers to our website, to the national Citizens Advice website ,and to a range of reliable sources of information from government sites, other charities, and financial sites such as Martin Lewis who has funded Citizens Advice projects.

“The Citizens Advice nationwide annual scams campaign fell during lockdown so we used twitter to push a virtual campaign.  There was a lot of work to do highlighting pandemic related scams which have grown to be a major problem, as scammers are always quick to spot a new horrible opportunity.  It was really important for us to have this effective way to get these important messages out to a wide range of followers. So we launched a new way of getting our messages across with a “Top tips in two minute or less” video, emphasising the key things to look out for to avoid being scammed. This was our top tweet this year with over 1000 views:

“As lockdown eases,  rules and guidance are constantly changing so I have been trying to keep people up to date with these.  Tweets on this have varied from emphasising the need to wear masks on public transport, to the more worrying ending of the ban on bailiffs recovering funds, the end of postponed evictions, and the return of conditionality for universal credit recipients.

“One of the big challenges for our twitter feed is to find enough images or graphics to attract people to our messages. Some come from Citizens Advice and others I have to search for, but that’s half the fun and hopefully will help grow our readership.

“Looking ahead, I’m sure social media will grow as a way of getting our advice out to people especially as working online has become the norm for so many people now working from home. I aim to keep the feed relevant and attractive to our followers and bring in new followers so please do spread the word, we’re at @westminstercab –  come and have a look and let us know what you think.“


Sue Hillman
Policy and Campaigns Volunteer

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