Elizabeth's endeavours at 82
A lifetime of helping Suffolk people solve their problems, has earned Suffolk woman Elizabeth Crean national recognition. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets the 82-year-old who says she likes helping everyone including 'the elderly.
By Tracey Sparling
A lifetime of helping Suffolk people solve their problems, has earned Suffolk woman Elizabeth Crean national recognition. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets the 82-year-old who says she likes helping everyone including 'the elderly.'
THEY come with bank statements showing overdrafts exceeded, sorry tales of broken relationships, and legal wrangles, all desperate for free advice.
At the age of 82, Elizabeth Crean still loves being on the front line to deal with Citizens' Advice Bureau clients - however angry, upset or confused they may be when they arrive at her reception hatch.
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Her commitment as a volunteer has led to her being named runner-up to a Lifetime Achievement Award, in front of 900 delegates at the annual CAB national conference in York.
It was 27 years ago when the former occupational therapist walked into a CAB office looking for a job after raising her family, and was offered a volunteers' role.
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She said: “I was living in Edinburgh at the time and walked into the CAB to see if they could help me find some kind of job. After a chat they suggested I try to become a volunteer and since that day I have never regretted it.”
Elizabeth worked as a volunteer advisor for six years in the bureau there, then moved to Ipswich and asked the manager here to take her on. 21 years later she is the receptionist still loving the work - and is reluctant to retire!
She said: “It's a wonderful job. I love people, and helping people and I learn something new every time I am here.
“I also like being part of a team and I would like to stay as long as they'll have me. I like to keep busy.”
So two days a week she drives from her home in Framlingham to work at the bureau - fitting it in between yoga lessons, bicycling, being a server at St Michael's Church in her hometown, and helping teach children to read at the local primary school.
Now a widow, Elizabeth has two daughters and grandchildren in Canada and two sons in London and Berlin.
She added: “I also work as a volunteer driver for 'the elderly',” she said, laughing at her choice of words. “I take them shopping or to the surgery, wherever they need to go.”
Over the years, many people have asked her for help for a variety of life's problems. During 2005/2006 CABs across the UK dealt with 5.5m problems, including 1.4 about debt - accounting for 27pc of all queries.
Elizabeth said: “People can be upset, some are very unhappy and take it out on me by being a bit abusive, but hopefully I can help. There have been some funny moments too but I can't talk about them really because they are confidential!
“In Edinburgh we were based near the docks and there were a lot of redundancies at the time so we helped many people with unemployment problems, and also drugs - which you don't see as much in Ipswich.
“Unemployment is a common problem here, and relationships and people getting into debt. The types of problem haven't changed much over the years. The difference compared to 20 years ago is that there is so much more beaurocracy for people to deal with - the paperwork people in all walks of life from teachers to police officers to CAB advisors has increased. It can take a CAB advisor almost twice as long as the initial interview, to process each inquiry including logging all the details into the computer. They often don't get to see if people followed their advice or the result of it, which is a pity.”
Volunteers are always needed to train as advisors, and Elizabeth said: “In a way it is quite a commitment but it is such an interesting job. You get to know people and learn about all sorts of things like law which you wouldn't normally get involved in. You do get very good training.”
Ipswich CAB Manager Ian Burnett said: “All the staff at Ipswich are very pleased with the recognition she has received, and wish her all the very best - and hope she will remain with us for many years yet.”
CAB chief executive David Harker said: “All our volunteers are amazing individuals who give up their time to make a contribution to the local community.
“But those who have picked up these awards have shown an extra special commitment. The volunteer of the Year awards gives the whole CAB service a chance to celebrate their success.”
Our Golden Years campaign aims to celebrate the achievements of older people, and champion the issues facing pensioners. Do you know somebody who is inspiring for their age? Ring the Newsdesk on 01473 324789.