College and Citizens Advice programme ‘has been a life changer’

Posted: 03rd June 2021

Suffolk woman determined to help others after Covid forced career change

A Suffolk resident whose business had to close down because of Covid is determined to start a new career that helps others after a link-up between a college and the Citizens Advice.

58 year old Karen Smart used to run a health business that specialised in giving one to one treatments relating to health, massage, nutrition and yoga.

Lockdown meant that the all her work immediately stopped leaving the Stoke by Clare resident on universal credit.

Unsure of what to do next, she found out about a three week employability course at West Suffolk College that offers ongoing training as well as a position as a volunteer working for Citizens Advice.

Enthused by the idea, Karen immediately signed up to the course and is nearing the end of the six month programme that has made her think about a completely different career supporting others in need.

Karen, said, “Before the course and this programme, my confidence was very low. It was the kick-start I needed. This experience has been a life changer and has made me rethink my direction completely.”

To get to this point, Karen began a three week course at the college that focusses on a mixture of employability and customer service skills. On completion of this and after having an interview, she then moved on to get specific training to become a volunteer with Citizens Advice.

Karen was one of six people to start this journey. The aim is for all those on the course to end up with a full time placement as a volunteer with Citizens Advice this year.

Karen continued, “I never thought I would have a new area of interest at my age – but I see myself staying within this industry where I can build a new career.”

21 year old Harry Bryant from Norton also is just about to complete the course. He said, “This course has really helped my communication skills. The college has been very good. The highlight of working at Citizen’s Advice has been the potential for development. It’s given me support and it’s allowed me to help others.”

The project is called the Community Challenge and it is a scheme for Norfolk and Suffolk led by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in conjunction with both the Norfolk and Suffolk Community Foundations. It aims to help people in the LEP area to enter employment, and delivers against a range of work readiness outcomes.

Michelina Partridge is Training Supervisor at Citizens Advice West Suffolk and has been directly responsible for developing and delivering the training. Her six month course provides the students with in depth training and hands on experience which can lead to the possibility of becoming accredited advisers. “We really value the wide range of experience and different backgrounds that all our volunteers bring to our service.  It has been a pleasure working with the West Suffolk College students and watching their knowledge and skills develop.  Volunteering for Citizens Advice is so interesting.  It gives the students confidence, and a lot of job satisfaction to know that they are helping people to solve real issues that are impacting on their lives.”

Deborah Barton is the Head of Adult Skills and Employability at West Suffolk College. She said, “This has been a brilliant community project that has helped students of all ages develop transferable skills that will hopefully enable them to get the job of their dreams.

“Hearing the positive impact that this programme has had on people like Karen and Harry is why I enjoy working in education so much. I’d like to congratulate everyone involved and thank Citizens Advice for their amazing support.”

Citizens Advice West Suffolk has already received funding from a legacy to enable the same scheme to be run again in Mildenhall and Brandon in September for twelve adults. The College is now accepting enquiries for its second phase. For more details about how to apply, you can visit