VULNERABLE and elderly clients could be turned away from a community service unless more volunteers step forward, its manager has warned.
The Independent Advice Centre, Wantage, made the appeal after demand for some services more than doubled in 12 months.
The centre, which opened in 1971, runs an advice, hospital transport and good neighbour service.
It draws on 80 volunteers but needs about another 25 to ease the growing burden.
It referred 149 people to food banks in 2013/14 – up from 61 in 2012/13 – while demand for its hospital transport service increased by 11 per cent in the same period, from 3,156 referrals to 3,493.
Lisa Benge, joint operations manager at the Market Place site, said changes to the welfare system, NHS transport schemes and an ageing population were behind the rise.
The 48-year-old said: “Demand is going up and up and we are at the point where more people to call on would be helpful.
“We don’t want to turn people away so we desperately want some more volunteers.
“Without them it would mean that people would have to wait longer to see someone or we might have to turn people away.
“There is not very much support for people in Wantage – there’s no job centre and no benefits office – so we are where people go.”
The number of referrals to the centre’s benefit, debt and employment advice service increased by six per cent in the last two years, from 3,993 referrals in 2012/13 to 4,227 in 2013/14.
Volunteers can choose their hours but advisers are asked to commit to six hours across two morning or afternoon sessions a week.
Mrs Benge added: “It really does not matter about life experience, background or age.
“The main point is that if anyone is interested in volunteering then please come and talk to us.”
One Wantage user has chronic fatigue syndrome and has used the centre’s hospital transport service since 2006.
The 59-year-old woman, who did not want to giver her name, said it would be “devastating” if people in need were turned away.
She said: “In my case I know I have to go back and forth for hospital appointments so it would be really difficult. For me, it’s not just the to and from the hospital, it’s also the support and reassurance you get from being with someone who looks out for me if I become overwhelmed and can’t manage.”
John Caldicott, 77, of Springfield Road, Wantage, became a volunteer driver with the centre, which is funded by local councils and public donations, three years ago.
He said: “It is probably one of the most satisfying jobs I have ever done.
“People talk about a light at the end of the tunnel; we shine that light for them so they can see there is an end to it.”
- Anyone who would like to become a volunteer at the centre should call Lisa Benge or Wendy Watson on 01235 765348.
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