MBE for Tonbridge founder of debt advice charity
by Andy Tong | 3rd January 2019
GRAEME CONNELL, an 80-year-old from Tonbridge, has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for his services to the community in Kent.
Mr Connell is the founder of West Kent Debt Advice and has been providing an invaluable free resource for those who have found themselves struggling financially over the last 15 years.
It has branches in Tonbridge Baptist Church, the United Reformed Church in Tunbridge Wells and Vine Evangelical Church in Sevenoaks.
In 2017 West Kent Debt Advice joined forces with the Christian charity Crosslight in order to cope with the growing need for support.
Originally known as Tonbridge Debt Advice Centre, the independent local charity was set up in 2004 because of ‘an explosion of personal debt’ that left established agencies struggling to cope, Mr Connell told the Times.
'The explosion of personal debt at that time was such that existing agencies struggled to cope'
“It had its origins in a perceived need identified in a Community Health Needs Assessment that was carried out in the early 2000s,” he said.
“The explosion of personal debt at that time was such that existing agencies struggled to cope and the resulting waiting lists meant that the excellent advice that was available couldn’t always be offered in time.”
Mr Connell previously worked in insurance and risk management, was a trustee of Credit Action and volunteered with the Citizens Advice Bureau.
West Kent Debt Advice works closely with two foodbanks in Tonbridge, Sustain at the Baptist Church at the north of town and Nourish in the south. He says: “Foodbanks are more frequent these days and are busier than ever.”
Mr Connell is also concerned about the impact of Universal Credit, the all-in-one benefit which was rolled out across the borough in November.
“Benefits generally have not kept pace with inflation,” he said, “and the introduction of Universal Credit has certainly proved problematical in those parts of the country where it has been introduced.”
For more information, and to access a helpline number, visit crosslightadvice.org./westkent
Mr Connell’s five-point guide for people in debt
- Don’t wait to get help: Many people wait until things get really bad – bailiffs, eviction – before seeking advice, but the sooner to get help, the more options you have.
- Don’t try and borrow your way out of debt: It is very tempting to think that a loan will smooth things over until the situation changes, but often that can make a bad situation worse.
- Prioritise the most important bills: If you are being chased by debt collectors and receiving lots of red letters, you may feel pressure to repay whoever shouts the loudest. But rent, council tax, gas and electricity should always be paid first, even if that means some others have to wait. If you find yourself in this situation, always get debt advice first.
- Maximise your income: If you are on benefits, make sure you are claiming everything you are entitled to. You can do a quick check about your status at turn2us.org.uk
- Get to grips with your budget: Most of us find it difficult to manage our money well, but there are lots of things we can do to get back in control. These range from putting money for bills into a separate account each month, to learning how to shop around.
West Kent Debt Advice runs workshops throughout the year which are packed with useful advice.
Sign up at crosslightadvice.org/budget