One of the Group's Financial Skills Officers, Julie Harrison, is the driving force behind ‘Our Place’ on the Isle of Wight, a free drop-in service for the local community to tackle isolation and get the support they need to achieve their goals.
Located in Freshwater in the west of the Island, Our Place is open to everyone from the local community.
Our Place is open to customers and non-customers and offers advice, guidance, information and signposting. We also give people the chance to socialise and feel less isolated. I try to encourage as many people as I can to visit us. Particularly for those who are more isolated or who suffer from mental ill health, the centre can be a good place for them to start.
What we do here helps people gain confidence, motivation and skills to achieve their goals and we want people to keep coming back so we can see how they’re progressing.
Our Place started as an idea by West Wight Churches who were looking to set up a drop-in service for the community, but knew that most would be discouraged by a church setting. Our Place was set up in the nearby West Wight Sports and Community Centre, with initial start-up costs funded by a large grant three years ago from Southern Housing Group.
Our Place has since grown, from Julie providing support and guidance to do with housing, money and benefits, to include multiple agencies working together to support those who attend.
Each week, Julie is on hand along with local church volunteers, a Local Area Coordinator to introduce people to different community groups, and a representative from Just Ask West Wight, who offers support and local information, signposting and referrals, and online assistance.
Other organisations who regularly provide support include the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the council-run No Barriers, which offers employment and training opportunities for people with learning disabilities, and Learning Links, which offers learning and employment support to those over 50.
Introducing a wide variety of external agencies to help people through Our Place has been in large part down to Julie’s hard work.
In October, Julie worked with Community Partnerships Officer Mark Meredith to host a ‘winter special’ to help people find ways to save on their winter fuel costs and better manage their finances. Those who took part had a chance to get help from The Footprint Trust, No Barriers, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, AGE UK, Barnardo’s, Learning Links, the local foodbank, Southern Water, Public Health, and West Wight Timebank.
As a Financial Skills Officer, it’s important to me that our customers are reminded to check what their entitlement is and what they can claim. We had a great turn out, and after the success of this day I’m looking to set up similar biannual events. We have Universal Credit live service coming to the Isle of Wight next year so it will be important to raise awareness of this.