Since joining Dacorum Citizens Advice Bureau in July, and gleefully giving up the daily trek to London, I am happy to say that I now both live and work in Dacorum.
This has given me the chance to see a whole new side of the area, meeting new people and learning more about all this great borough has to offer.
One of the things that has impressed me most is the strength of the voluntary sector here and the huge, sometimes hidden, value that volunteers and volunteering brings to our community.
The hundreds of organisations making up Dacourm’s vibrant voluntary sector not only support and enhance the lives of local people but play a fundamental part in building a sustainable local economy.
Last year alone Dacorum CAB volunteers donated time worth more than £250,000 to help thousands of local people deal with issues from debt and employment to housing, and everything in between.
Their work not only makes people healthier and happier – 46 per cent of people felt less anxious, less stressed or had fewer health problems after receiving help from the CAB, according to one survey.
It also takes the strain off other local services in many ways, for example by preventing homelessness, avoiding legal action and helping people to fill in official forms correctly.
Helping people manage their debts and maximise their incomes feeds back positively into the local economy, too.
The current economic situation combined with public sector cuts and the unprecedented changes to the welfare system have put real strain on individuals, families and businesses across the borough.
Demand for our services is greater than ever and people are increasingly coming to us with multiple and complex problems.
But voluntary organisations are themselves not immune to those pressures.
At Dacorum CAB, despite strong support from Dacorum Borough Council, we need to be innovative and flexible to keep up with ever increasing demand and changes in society.
This is a challenge that has been recognised by the Big Lottery through its Advice Services Transition Fund.
Having successfully made a bid for funding we have been awarded a two year grant for a project starting in October.
As well as providing additional specialist advice on housing and homelessness the funding will enable us, working with our partners, other local voluntary organisations and the council, to develop and strengthen our collaborative working and provide more joined up, efficient and streamlined services.
This will bring real benefits to local people using our services in these challenging times and ensure we are fit for the future.
More details of the project will be published on our website in the coming weeks.
For me, Dacorum is special for many reasons.
The dedication and commitment of our staff and volunteers to help local people in crisis move past their problems and the contribution of volunteers across the borough is just one of those reasons.
After all, it’s the people that really make a place.
Victoria MacGregor is chief executive of Dacorum District Citizens Advice Bureau. She can be contacted on email@example.com