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Cash strapped Huntly advice centre deals with more enquiries than ever due to coronavirus

By Pat Scott

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STAFF at the Huntly-based advice and information charity, Gordon Rural Action (GRA) are handling more queries than ever due to Covid-19.

GRA lost the contract to provide services in Aberdeenshire earlier this year and the cash strapped team had been desperately seeking funding to continue when the lockdown took effect.

Despite losing staff and volunteers, a small team, on reduced wages is continuing to support people in need of people practical and financial advice.

The number of people seeking advice for employment and housing related issues have both increased during the lockdown.

Food bank referrals tripled from five in January to 16 in April and overall contacts between GRA advisors and clients has almost doubled in the same period.

Diane Mathieson, interim chief officer said: “We had announced plans to slim down support levels from April 1 but the increase in people seeking help from Huntly to Westhill and beyond, for all sorts of issues ranging from financial to employment-related has meant that, despite losing staff and volunteers we are continuing.”

“We took the decision to resume our traditional advice service on the announcement of the lockdown using our newly developed home working practices.”

In March and April, the number of people seeking advice jumped by more than 92 per cent compared with January and February.

Employment contacts increased from five in January to 28 in April and housing enquiries from three to 28.

The number of clients contacting GRA for the first time increased by 94 per cent over the same period.

Ms Mathieson continued: “Advisers have been answering questions and offering support to people facing redundancy or being entered into a furlough scheme as well as help with benefits, employment and housing matters.

“Only our benefits advice queries remain consistent with previous periods to date.As time passes and more people find themselves struggling during difficult economic times we foresee that the increase in our client numbers will continue throughout the remainder of 2020 and beyond.

“Our experience during the oil downturn of 2015 tells us that client demand will increase significantly due to the economic impact of the pandemic across the north east of Scotland.

Due to the increase in queries, GRA has introduced a third phone line to ensure that people seeking help and support can be advised within a day in the majority of cases.

GRA’s Facebook page is updated daily with links and information.

Advisors can also be reached by email to advice@gordonrural.org.uk or text or WhatsApp to 07917 405557; 07432 847372 and 07398 900134. Callers should always leave a message.

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