We're very proud of all the work we do at Civil Service Local - whether it's working across government, developing our people or supporting citizens in our community - we like to share those success stories. Our Government Access Point, or "GAP" project for short, is an example of something where we've managed to combine all three elements and really made an impact in doing so. Of course, this wouldn't be possible without the continued support from our partner organisations who have welcomed us warmly and taught us a lot along the way. So I'd like to say a big thank you from all the team to both the hospices we've worked with: St Catherine's in Preston and Trinity in Blackpool. Our other debt of gratitude is to our wonderful team of civil servants who volunteered to make this idea a reality and offer help at a time when it is often needed the most. Two members of the team, Julia Stonely from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and Mike Bellamy from the Department for Work and Pensions were happy to share their thoughts with me.
I joined the GAP team last year after hearing about it at Civil Service Live. I know the great work hospices do in the community, and I joined the project to help make a difference and to stretch myself.
I knew I could be asked questions on a whole range of topics, so to prepare I did some research on the basics of schemes from blue badges to benefits, as I wanted to be able to offer as much help as I could.
As it was my first involvement with the project, I was grateful that my experienced colleagues were on hand to help. The team provides advice to patients and their families about the benefits they're entitled to. Many were surprised they could claim carers’ allowances for looking after their loved ones, believing that's just what you do for those you love.
Working on the project has been rewarding and humbling and makes me feel proud to be involved in such a worthwhile initiative.
I felt the same way, this being my second visit to St Catherine’s. After the team gave their first presentation, I realised that some of the patients needed one-to-one help. One couple were unaware that they were entitled to claim pension credit that could significantly increase their income. Another client, who had recently been widowed, was relieved to be told she could potentially claim bereavement benefits that she had been unaware of.
I believe that the practical advice the project team members provide isn’t the only benefit that the patients and their families receive. I don’t think it is all about the advice we give when we visit one of the hospices. I know that is the main reason we’re there but I’ve found, on occasion, that patients are just happy to have someone to talk to and to be a sympathetic ear. It also helps for people to see civil servants as real people, and not just a voice on the end of a phone.
I love being involved with this project. It ticks lots of boxes in terms of development and engagement, but the main motivation for me is that it’s incredibly worthwhile. And I go home from a visit feeling as though I’ve been responsible for bringing something positive to someone at a desperate time of their lives.
It's great to hear such positive messages from Julia and Mike and to know that our team of civil servants benefit so much in their own development through lending a hand, and indeed an ear to other people in our community.