Only Connect

Slough Citizens Advice Bureauhas closed down. This is sad news, both for the people of Slough, who will lose a first class source of support, and for the staff and volunteers who have given so much of their time, their lives and themselves to provide this fantastic service.

I was a volunteer adviser there for several years. I’m quite sure I gained as much as I gave. I’ll admit that I sometimes felt demoralized – angry at the injustices still perpetuated in a twenty-first century democracy; frustrated at our impenetrable bureaucracies; saddened to reflect how bad things are in other parts of the world if this is a better option. At the same time, fighting the fight is exhilarating. It’s hard to beat the buzz you feel when you get a result for someone –or better still, when you help them get that result for themselves.

For me, it’s about connecting with other people – even if it’s just for the duration of a short interview.   I loved the CAB because you had the chance to do that. I don’t doubt there are other sources of information, online, by phone, and even still the odd place where you can see a human being. But you need more than information, I think, and it’s something the CAB was good at.

These are the people that help when the neighbours turn nasty. This is the number to ring when you’re scared in the night. We know a place you can get something to eat for your children. There is the queue where you wait when you’ve nowhere to go. That is the form you fill in when your boss feels you up. We’ll tell you how to appeal when no one believes you.

What you need, on top of this, is someone who can spot the panic behind your eyes. You need someone who can tell you’re skirting the issue that terrifies you most. Someone who catches the throwaway line that changes everything. Someone who will pause, look you in the eyes, and wait for you to tell the real story.

These are the people that help when the neighbours turn nasty. This is the number to ring when you’re scared in the night. We know a place you can get something to eat for your children. There is the queue where you wait when you’ve nowhere to go. That is the form you fill in when your boss feels you up. We’ll tell you how to appeal when no one believes you.

And no, you don’t have to leave cash for the doctor who finds you dead.

I arrived at the Citizens Advice Bureau as an ex-English teacher with a newly acquired law degree. I left it a few years later for photography – the work, art and craft of many of my family members. Someone asked me recently where I wanted to go with my photography. It was difficult to answer, but I thought back to all those advice interviews where I watched people’s faces as they told their stories, where I made those connections with other human beings. It’s stories I want my pictures to tell, in close-up. Whether it’s pain, sadness, or fear; the wish for death or the wish to avoid it; violence, injustice or the grind of getting by. Or whether it’s good cheer, great people, loves lost and found, the joy of small things and the exhilaration of the epic.

CAB Slough has given a great deal to many people. For me, it helped define my philosophy as a photographer, and it was a good part of the inspiration behind my portrait project, Written on the Face.

Its closure will be a loss to Slough, to the clients, and to those who’ve given their time to making a difference.

 

 

 

 

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