Volunteering at advice service unearthed new career for archaeologist

Witney Gazette: Barbara Shaw Buy this photo Barbara Shaw

WHEN Barbara Shaw began volunteering at her local Citizens Advice Bureau in Witney 18 years ago, she never imagined she would end up running the place.

Now, as chief executive of west Oxfordshire and Banbury branches she manages 40 paid staff and 120 volunteers.

But she still spends time at the sharp end.

“I regularly go back to the shop floor, because that really grounds me,” she said.

“Being with clients and seeing what a huge difference our help makes to them is really important, because otherwise, you can lose track of what you are trying to do.”

At the moment, she is trying to win the contract to carry on running a project she set up to help older people around the county.

Community Connect, funded by Oxfordshire County Council, started last year. Next month, she will discover whether her team has been successful in its bid to keep running it for the next five years.

“When I started as a volunteer at CAB, I very quickly realised I loved it so much I wanted to carry on,” she said.

“I moved across to paid work as a home visitor, working with older people. It was that experience which made me aware we needed to improve services for them.

“They are often isolated, because they don’t have access to transport, or are unable join in with things because they can’t drive any more and don’t want to be a bother.

“It’s about giving them as much choice as possible, so they don’t feel they are no longer an active person in their community.”

After completing a degree in archaeology and geography at Leeds University, the 55-year-old got stuck into a career as an archaeologist including working for Historic Scotland and the University of London.

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She spent three years in Boston as a result of her husband’s job in educational publishing. On her return to west Oxfordshire she decided to volunteer at the CAB.

Home is a smallholding near Enstone where she keeps ducks, cats and dogs and finds it easy to unwind after a day spent listening to problems to do with welfare reforms, debt, housing and employment.

She is well aware that the CAB is one of the most recognised and trusted brands in the UK.

She said: “Our staff and volunteers come from all ages and social backgrounds and want to give something back.

“What makes us such a good organisation is we offer a service to everyone, whatever their age, race or gender.”

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