NCAN is led by a Steering Group comprised of the following organisations:

Age UK Norfolk .

Age UK Norwich .

Citizens Advice Diss, Thetford and District .

Norfolk Citizens Advice .

Equal Lives .

Mancroft Advice Project (MAP) .

Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS) .

Shelter Eastern Counties .

The Bridge Plus+


A Day in the Life

Emily Balsdon, NCAN Director

My role

The purpose of my role is to build partnerships between NCAN’s advice organisations and other professionals who support clients, such as workers in the NHS or in local authorities. Mine is quite an outward facing role because it’s about making as many links as possible with other organisations. But it’s also about strengthening the alliance between all advice charities across Norfolk so we have even stronger relationships and work effectively together.

My role involves a lot of sharing information and delivering training, plus supporting advice organisations with other projects such as joint funding bids, measuring impact or outcomes with their clients.

I’m completely office-based right now because all my meetings and training are happening online, but before coronavirus Iockdown I was out and about a lot at meetings or delivering training in different places around the county.

In one way currently being office-based is quite good because it saves me a lot of time not travelling around. But I do prefer the improved communication I get when I am face to face with people and it is a lot easier to have casual conversations with people before or after a meeting when you are together in the same place. It’s those informal chats that can build better relationships. When I deliver training face to face I pick up helpful signals too, such as seeing from their full body language when someone is fully engaged or when they perhaps don’t understand something. I do miss all that.

A typical day

On a typical day I could be attending some meetings, delivering some training and catching up with NCAN volunteers. Then I’m busy getting on with projects of my own, such as the e-learning training that I’m writing about our NCAN Referral System, which is used by lots of professionals to connect their service users or clients with the right advice.

Often the professionals making referrals are statutory or public sector workers across the county, such as healthcare or hospital staff, social care workers or housing officers. NCAN offers those people training so they can feel confident that their referrals will be of good quality. It covers topics such as what is social welfare advice and how professionals can identify what is a debt issue or when a person needs employment advice. It also covers what each advice agency in NCAN does, and what information our advisors will need them to gather from their clients and service users. For example, to receive debt advice it helps us to know what kind of debts their client had mentioned (Council Tax, rent arrears, credit cards etc) but also anything that will help them to access our support easily (such as needing a translator or, if they have anxiety, letting us know the best way to contact them to make it as stress-free as possible for the person to get the right help).

The issues affecting my work at the moment

The tension around technology, and how it helps or limits the quality of advice, is on my mind.

I believe this is going to become more of an issue because lots of the advice giving organisations have realised they can deliver some of their services digitally and have found some real benefits of that (in terms of it being time efficient and clients not having to travel to appointments). The “tension” part is that in the future I fear funders may be more amenable towards services that are completely digital, simply because they may be cheaper.

We in the advice sector all know about limitations with telephone-only or online-only advice. There is a risk that vital information or contextual references may get missed or overlooked. To give you an example, quite recently one of our member advice agencies tentatively restarted some carefully socially distanced face to face advice for their clients. A young mum sought their help and after the main advice was given, the advisor was able to chat casually, asking how the client was and how they’d had managed at home with their child through lockdown. It was only then that the client revealed childcare issues and wellbeing concerns. Those kind of support needs probably would not have been covered in most brief telephone advice sessions.

Lots of vulnerable people are not able to access digital advice or just don’t have the technology at home, and my concern is that they may miss out on getting what they need at the right time. Colleagues are already hearing some older people say they will wait until face to face is possible again before taking up an offer of help, yet we know that every delay is a risk for the client in terms of affecting their stress levels, and for us in terms of being able to give advice early enough to help them get the best outcomes.

The moment I’ll always remember

I recall being very moved and surprised early on in this role, when a very skilled and senior professional told me about their own experience of being a domestic abuse survivor, telling me about the lengths they had gone to protect themselves until they escaped. Until that point, I realised I must have had naively stereotypical ideas in my head about who experiences domestic abuse and who could be a perpetrator. It was a major learning point for me. I also hadn’t realised the solutions in law that could help to protect people (e.g. Non-molestation Orders). I knew about refuges but didn’t know about the legal routes to move on with your life in safety.

What I love about what I do

I’m doing something really useful and that’s what I like, raising awareness of advice and being able to refer professionals so their service users or clients can get the right answers. That feels good. For example, today I’m doing some training for the 101 (non-emergency police) telephone call handlers. Being able to advocate for the advice sector and sharing with other professionals how NCAN helps them can be very rewarding.

It’s quite a unique role and I feel very grateful to have that opportunity to make a difference.

One thing I wish I’d known when I started out

I didn’t realise until I did this role just how busy all advisors are all the time and how much effort and energy they put into their work. Now I am very aware and mindful of that.

If there was an extra hour in the day...

So many things! I would love to have more time to read research papers and report findings, because it would help me with anticipating the emerging trends in society. If I had one more hour I’d read the latest policy papers and evaluation reports on the NHS reorganisation and how it’s changing. I need to know how those changes will have an impact on who will need what advice in the future.

You can follow NCAN on Twitter @norfolk_advice