Paperweight, which began as a community version of Citizens Advice Bureau, is transformed by coronavirus lockdown

Charity finds itself helping people who have suddenly gone from being 'self-supporting to being marooned'


A charity that began as a communal citizens advice bureau has seen the nature of its workload transformed overnight as a result of the pandemic.

Paperweight was founded 10 years ago, initially providing the majority of its expert support and advice to those in the community tackling issues such as probate, bills for care, and areas around mental health, for the very first time.

Taking referrals from all the major charities — Jewish Care, Jewish Women’s Aid, Jami and Norwood — the charity developed a fine reputation for providing case-workers, often semi-retired lawyers, judges or accountants, to provide answers to the most complex or simple questions from clients.

But as Paperweight’s chief executive Bayla Perrin told the JC the coronavirus outbreak has dramatically altered the type of service the charity needs to provide — and for greater numbers within the community than ever before.

“With Covid 19 it is an entirely new strata of society who have gone from being self-supporting to being marooned,” said Ms Perrin. “People are coming to us who would never thought they would need to access our services.”

Paperweight has been able to rely on 170 volunteers to man the phone lines to ensure over 300 people are being offered expert advice.

Despite the growing need for its services, Paperweight tries to keep its overheads down, working out of a one-bedroom converted flat in Hendon.

Another service based in Manchester, like the London operation, is run  entirely by volunteers.

But as Emma Roache — the operations manager and only salaried team member — confirmed: “We are a professional outfit.

“We have got our procedures, our policies and we have got strict rules for the recruitment of volunteers.

“But we do it all because we have all got big heart.

“With Covid 19 we want to get the message out there that not only are we here to help, but also that we are here to begin with.”

Many of the charity’s incoming calls now relate to issues around government advice on areas such as claiming Universal Credit and help for those who are self-employed.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly phoning the charity in the first place is often the hardest act of all for some clients” said Ms Perrin — but she is keen to stress that for anyone contemplating making a call “there is no judgement”.

She added: “All of us, we don’t know from one day to the next who we are going to need help from, especially with Covid 19. Call us. We have the case workers, we have the expertise, we will try to help everyone to the best of our ability.”

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