DESPITE the chill outside for the Citizens Advice Woking (CAW) annual meeting on November 30 at Goldwater Lodge, the atmosphere inside remained positive.

The CAW president, Brian Hamill, welcomed a packed house, including invited guests Jonathan Lord MP and Cllr Will Forster, deputy leader of Woking Borough Council and portfolio lead for the voluntary sector.

Brian noted that it was CAWs 84th annual meeting and, given circumstances regarding the council’s potential withdrawing of funds for CAW, he really hoped that the audience would all be together in a year’s time to celebrate the 85th.

As CAW treasurer, John Butler reported that the 2022-23 accounts had to state, given the uncertainty of receiving funds for 2024-25, that “CAW is not a going concern at the time of writing this report”. 

He said the trustees are putting in place a contingency plan to close CAW by the end of June 2024 if sufficient funding is not received for the 2024-25 financial year, and a decision on the future of CAW will need to be made by the end of February.

Laurence Oates, CAW chair, welcomed the support provided by Woking Borough Council over many years but he believed there are no other organisations in Woking that can provide the services delivered by CAW; services that support WBC’s statutory duties and protect the vulnerable in the community.

If CAW no longer exists, it is the residents of Woking that CAW supports who will be penalised and who will inevitably end up at WBC’s doors.

The close relationship between CAW and many WBC teams was emphasised by Lorraine Buchanan, CAW’s chief officer. Lorraine reminded the audience of the importance of volunteers to CAW, and the fact that they deliver, unpaid, nearly 21,000 hours annually to support their clients, with an annual volunteering value of more than £387,000.

As many as 7,000 clients (ten per cent of all Woking adults) are now provided with free, independent and confidential support, and these numbers are increasing all the time, particularly with the continuing cost of living crisis.

Not many people would disagree, said Mr Lord, that CAW is “the most important charity in the borough” and “there is an essential need for CAW’s survival”. 

Mr Lord questioned how the council, and indeed his own office, would survive without CAW.

On a more positive note, Mr Lord presented Roger Harrison with a certificate for 25 years of volunteering for CAW, an amazing achievement.

Cllr Forster was clear that partnerships are crucial to the council being able to operate in the future and expressed his own frustration at being told that CAW’s support does not come within the definition of the council’s minimum statutory, and therefore essential, requirements.

The overall message from the annual meeting was that a way forward has to be found, and where there’s a will, there’s a way.