Charity inspiration interview - Life Amid Debt

Life Amid Debt

Debt is something that can happen to us all. No-one knows this more so than Ann Fryer, the brainchild of Life Amid Debt (LAD).

She set up LAD back in 2009 after personal experience led her to create a support group. Here, people could come with their stresses and worries concerning debt; it gave them someone to talk to and somewhere to get help. In 2012, LAD really took off, becoming a registered charity after employing Steph Dennis as head of marketing, fundraising and PR. After much hard work, the charity has gone from strength to strength, making £30,000 between the years of 2012 and 2013. Here, we talk to Steph about LAD – its background, the hurdles they have faced and how they have overcome them. Hopefully other organisations will be able to take away some advice from their experiences.

What does LAD offer?

We know that some people will go to places like the Citizens' Advice Bureau, but we want to go a step further than that. We offer free, independent debt advice, assistance with making phone calls or filling in forms and helping you budget to make provisions for the future. On top of all this, we offer emotional support – both from our experienced volunteers and qualified counsellors who we can refer our clients to. We want to empower our clients to take control of both their debts and associated issues within the family unit.

What makes LAD unique?

We are different from other organisations in that we act as the in-betweener. We are also pushing for joint working initiatives whereby we contact housing associations directly who have connections with social workers etc. We have also started a debt advice training scheme, where volunteers can become workshop accredited.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

One of our main challenges is finding the right type of volunteer. It is a very specialist type of volunteer we are looking for as they have to be both emotionally strong, but also able to offer debt advice – either because they have been in debt themselves and come out the other side, or they are trained as an adviser. Some volunteers are hard to keep hold of as they either go on to get a job or they don't have the capacity to keep it going.

Our second main hurdle is to actually get people to come forward and ask for help. There is a lot of stigma attached to debt. Quite often, people will bury their heads in the sand, not seeking help until the bailiffs arrive at their door. In many cases there are other issues that go hand-in-hand with debt; depression, drugs and violence, for example.

In order for these people to get out of this viscous cycle, though, we need them to come to see us.

How have you overcome these issues?

We have a service coordinator who liaises with volunteers and is dedicated to looking after them. In order to get volunteers who have been involved in debt, we ask at the bottom of our emails whether you, or someone you know, would be interested in volunteering for LAD. We also conduct telephone surveys with our previous clients to see how their lives have changed, and make sure we ask them if they have ever thought about volunteering. It is important to have a large pool of volunteers. At the moment we have a total of ten people involved in LAD, with another three potentially lined up.In order to encourage people to come forward, we work with schools, colleges, social workers etc. to get to those people who are otherwise hard to reach. In some instances, clients will come to see us with their social worker.

Is there any advice you could give to other charities?

My main piece of advice would be to network. This is one of the main reasons our charity is continuing to grow. We make ourselves known to the media, we approach schools, hospitals and doctors' surgeries, and – on top of this – we attend "heavy duty" networking events such as 'Keep in Touch' meetings organised by Hunts Forum. This enables us to talk to like-minded people and network with people we otherwise would not have meant.

I would also advise other charities to put a solid business plan in place; forecast your incomings and outgoings and exactly how much it's going to cost to run your organisation. Reliable staff is also critical – ultimately, you want to cut costs wherever possible, so make sure you take on as many volunteers as you can. I'd also recommend checking the Charity Commission website on a regular basis – they offer some fantastic advice and guidance.

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