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Ashley’s accidental career

The chief executive of a charity supporting thousands of people in one of the country’s most disadvantaged regions says his ‘accidental’ career is the most rewarding job he could ever imagine.

Ashley Comley, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice in Rhondda Cynon Taff, is now in his eighteenth year with Citizens Advice after initially pursuing a job as a solicitor.

And he puts it down to an opportunistic glance at a university noticeboard.

Ashley, 36, was raised in Mountain Ash – s small town in the Welsh valleys – and has always been a passionate believer in trying to make the world a better place.

He said: “When I was about 12, I can remember being stood outside a car garage with my mother. We were randomly talking about buying a house and she said that I’d need a solicitor and they cost a fair amount. So, I said I’d save a few quid by becoming a solicitor myself. Little did I know that an abstract conversation like that had a profound direction on my career.

“When I was at university, I used to pass a noticeboard with all kinds of events and jobs on it. It was full of all kinds of bright colours, but it was one very small black and white notice that caught my eye – I don’t even know why. It was for the local Citizens Advice Bureau which was looking for volunteers and said any volunteers would get three months off their training contract.

“Always looking for a good deal, I took the chance – it was the best decision I ever made.

“I fell in love with it. I saw a side to the place I had lived all my life. It opened my eyes to the issues people were facing and it shook me to my core.

“And I loved the difference I could make to people’s lives.”

After volunteering and finishing his university studies, Ashley continued his work with Citizens Advice, working across a variety of different community setting and even the local prison.

Having been with the organisation since 2005, he stepped up to be chief executive in 2015.

“After my post-graduate, and after doing more work for the Citizens Advice, I decided I didn’t want to be a solicitor and jumped at the opportunity to join the team permanently,” Ashley said.

“When you’re a solicitor, you sit one side of the desk and the person you’re there to support sits the other side. And at the end of it, they pay you. It just didn’t sit right. Doing what we do, there’s no barrier. This accidental career is the most rewarding job I could ever imagine.”

And after a challenging few years through the coronavirus pandemic, Ashley now believes the organisation is much better placed to provide the help and support his community needs.

He added: “We’ve changed so much over the last few years – not just down to me, I have a very supportive board in place. We can go with the ebb and flow of the needs of the community. We aren’t as process driven, we’re able to take risks, try new things and be flexible.

“But by far the biggest change came from the Covid-19 pandemic. The summer before, a colleague had asked whether they could work from home two days a week and I said ‘no’ – we just weren’t set up to deal with things that way. But after the pandemic hit, I immediately said ‘sorry’ to that person because we ended up changing our whole way of working in two days – now we’re able to support people in different ways and flex to the needs of our clients. We do a lot more over the phone, we can do video chats and all sorts.

“We’re now much more efficient and delivering so much more of an impact.”

Citizens Advice Rhonnda Cynon Taff has received funding from British Gas Energy Trust to deliver services to support its community.