Dalkeith and District Citizens Advice Bureau opened its doors in 1966 in a single room upstairs in the former Council Chambers offices in Buccleuch Street – the same premises it occupies today. Since then it has been a godsend for thousands of local residents, giving them support and information when they have nowhere left to turn.

Dalkeith CAB staff and volunteers
Dalkeith CAB staff and volunteers

Dalkeith Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) on Buccleuch Street has been assisting local people for half a century, with the branch busier now than ever before.

Dalkeith CAB opened for business on August 26, 1966. Fifty years on an anniversary event will take place at Dalkeith Corn Exchange, next Thursday (September 22) .

The branch currently has 11 volunteer advisors, six receptionists, eight paid part-time staff and a board of seven volunteers, dealing with around 4000 enquiries a year.

Manager Susan Bowes has been in charge since 2008, and a part of CAB for almost 20 years.

She said: “Since I started there have been a lot of changes. The main one was electronically logging enquiries. We used to write them up on sheets. It was a big leap for some advisors.

“People don’t appreciate what the role entails and that general advisors do it for nothing. It’s a huge ask and if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t exist. I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve. It’s a big job. I was a volunteer myself, starting at Musselburgh.

“I would say that our service is more important now than ever. We can have someone come in who has a difficult, chaotic lifestyle and they can often be vulnerable people. We appear to have an increasing number of people with mental health issues, which can be very difficult. We have had people in the interview room who say they are going to kill themselves.

“We also deal with people who have addiction issues. Most people who come to us don’t have anywhere else to go.

“There are a lot of people who have complex benefits issues. They have no money, they have no food.

“It’s ‘how can we resolve that problem?’ We look at getting them a crisis grant and putting them in touch with the local foodbank. We have to liaise with a lot of agencies.”

Susan enjoys her role, making a difference in people’s lives: “I think that the challenge of being the manager of a small branch is that you are responsible for everything. Even down to when we run out of toilet paper!

“I have had days when I thought ‘why did I ever do this?’It’s difficult and it can be frustrating. But if I didn’t think that it’s a great job then I wouldn’t still be here.

“It’s when you get feedback from clients about what a difference we have made.

“Not long ago I got an email from someone I had dealt with a while back. He said we were one of the few organisations that treated him like a human being. He had been made redundant and didn’t know what to do, having worked all his life. He said that everyone here was brilliant. It’s always nice to hear positive feedback.

“We have had two or three bits of feedback saying that we literally saved their life. So, when you get something like that you realise that what we do does make a significant difference.

“Hopefully Dalkeith CAB will still be here in another 50 years. There are certainly people out there that need it.”

The Citizens Advice Bureau organisation is 75 years old and Dalkeith was the first CAB in the county, though there is now a second branch in Penicuik.

Dalkeith Citizens Advice Bureau chairman Bill Kerr-Smith spoke of the “absolute lifesaver” grant that the CAB receives from Midlothian Council every year.

He said: “The council has been very supportive. It is very pro-community and it does what it can within its restraints. Nobody wants to be cutting CAB’s budget. But the reality is that the local authority needs to cut costs, just like every other local authority.

“We need to try to maintain the level of service, while still cutting back. The care grant for the Citizens Advice Bureau comes from the council. It’s an absolute lifesaver.

“Of course, it gets something out of it, which is that the public come to us for advice, which saves the council having to use its resources.

“It was the council which was instrumental in having the CAB set up. The provost of the time was one of the directors behind its formation 50 years ago. There has been a solid link with the council over all that time.

“I’m trying to make sure that the CAB continues to get funding and keeps going.”