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Working with partners through COVID-19: Norfolk Community Advice Network

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Click here to read information on the status of Community Action Norfolk's Services. As well as links to other information and advice
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At CAN we have been conducting research to assess the impact of COVID-19 on VCSE operations and service delivery. You can read about that here.  We are featuring regular examples of how groups and organisations have adapted their particular services. This week we’re focussing on Norfolk Community Action Network. 

Norfolk Community Action Network (NACN) comprises a partnership of Norfolk charities - offering free access to good quality, impartial information and advice, via a fast referral system. COVID-19 has seen NCAN adapt swiftly to meet the unique operational scenario of the pandemic.  

Background 

In September 2008 Norfolk Community Action Network received funding from the Big Lottery Fund Advice Plus Programme. This enabled the Steering Group agencies to strengthen and develop the network of advice agencies in Norfolk, with two members of staff working for NCAN. The network continued to grow and, since the Lottery funding ended, the members have been committed to continuing the work of NCAN, focusing on meeting the needs of Norfolk residents, particularly those most disadvantaged by a lack of high quality, timely advice. 

Today, NCAN is made up of accredited and affiliate member organisations, including social welfare advice agencies and the wider voluntary, public, and private sectors. Through partnership working NCAN has built a strong, effective, and inclusive network of advice agencies. And they aim to continue to: 

  • Improve access to free, high-quality social welfare advice. 
  • Ensure quality and best practice. 
  • Enhance partnership working and collaboration. 
  • Identify and reduce gaps in provision. 
  • Provide strategic and policy expertise. 

 

Adapting during the pandemic 

Emily Balsdon, NCAN’s Co-Ordinator, explained their approach to dealing with the effects of COVID-19. 

“At the start of lockdown we quickly adapted to be able to continue giving advice via phone, email and webchat. This included family law issues such as child access, employment advice about rights including use of furloughing, as well as debt, housing, benefits and immigration advice.” 

“In partnership with Norfolk County Council we produced a joint leaflet advertising our services and this is being distributed by a number of foodbanks across the county. We also continued to remotely train organisations in the VCSE, public and health sectors to use our online Referral System, which means that whenever a member of the public needs connecting with further advice and support they can be referred in a secure and efficient way.” 

“We will continue to raise awareness about people’s right to access good quality advice, and that through our partnership’s ‘no wrong door’ approach this advice is readily available” added Emily.  “This public awareness raising campaign is something we will be working on going forward - we expect there will be many people needing advice for the first time, as the knock on effects of COVID-19 continue to manifest in increased debt, unemployment, relationship breakdown, housing concerns and domestic abuse.”  

Quality standards 

NCAN works to The Advice Quality Standard (AQS) as the quality mark for organisations that provide advice to the public on social welfare issues. Organisations that hold the standard have demonstrated that they are easily accessible, effectively managed, and employ staff with the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of their clients. 

Those accredited include Norfolk Community Law Service, Shelter, Mancroft Advice Project, Age UK Norwich, Age UK Norfolk, Norfolk Citizens’ Advice and Diss and Thetford Citizens’ Advice.  You can read more about their work here.