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Digital screens help Sheffield community access advice

People can access advice across a Yorkshire city thanks to a series of new digital devices that have been placed in easy-to-access community locations.

Citizens Advice Sheffield has created ten Community Access Points, which incorporate large iPad-type screens with video and scanning functionality to allow people to connect with advisors.

The idea came about following the coronavirus pandemic and supports their goal to break down the barriers that can make it hard for some people to get the advice they need.

Joanne Abdulla, Head of Advice at Citizens Advice Sheffield, said:

“When the pandemic hit, staff went home on a Friday and our advice lines were up and running again by the following Monday using our telephony service, so there was no gap in our service.
But after doing a deep dive into the data, what we found is that we saw a dip in the number of people from certain demographics contacting us, notably people of colour, disabled people and people suffering from ill health.
We looked at our models and realised we needed something else.
We started to have conversations with Zoom about how we could reach people – and that’s how Community Access Points came about.”

The devices are now set up in ten different locations spread across the city where the need is most, providing confidential spaces within community locations.

People can press a button and be connected to one of the Citizens Advice team, allowing face to face sessions via Zoom wherever they are in Sheffield. The devices even include a scanner to allow documents to be seen and shared with experts within seconds.

Since its initial success, Citizens Advice Sheffield was approached by numerous local community organisations wanting to roll out the scheme further.

Joanne added:

“We are working with a number of community organisations, to train their frontline staff and volunteers to be able to identify an advice issue and refer into our service accordingly. This has also allowed us to move to an appointment-based system for clients who need it.
Feedback has been great so far and hundreds of people have spoken to advisers in this way. But the need for our advice is growing all the time so we continue to explore new innovations and new partnerships in order to reach everyone who needs us.”

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