An Omagh-based debt and money advice service is bracing itself for unprecedented demand, as it prepares to mark its 25th anniversary.
Omagh Independent Advice Services (OIAS), based at the Omagh Community House, was established in June 1995.
The local charity provides a free, independent, generalist advice and representational service on social security benefits, debt/money advice, employment law, housing, consumer rights and other welfare issues.
OIAS had been making plans to celebrate their milestone before the pandemic struck, however, Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown ended all thoughts of celebration.
OIAS are now preparing to return to office-based advice having spent the last six months providing advice and support via telephone and digital formats.
"It has been a tough period for everyone and staff are now delighted to be able to return to the office and do what they do best which is helping very vulnerable people," said manager, Michael Roddy.
"The service is preparing for unprecedented demand due to the Covid-19 crisis. It is ironic that 25 years on the demand for advice has never been greater.
For any community or voluntary organisation to be celebrating 25 years is a remarkable achievement.
"The organisation has faced major funding issues over the years and in the last 10 years has had to cope with recession, government austerity and welfare reform.
"The success of the organisation is a result of a number of factors. The dedication, commitment and vision of the staff and management committee, the faith shown by our funders and in particularly Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and all the centre users new and repeat who continue to avail of the services we provide."
Over the last 25 years, the organisation has dealt with over 245,000 enquiries and assisted clients to secure £32 million via benefit claims and tribunal representation.
"These figures clearly show that the organisation has been tackling social exclusion head on and in doing so has not only improved our client’s quality of life but also brought much-needed revenue into the local economy," continued Mr Roddy.
Conor Keys, the chairperson of the management committee, stated: "It was a huge achievement to still be operating after 25 years particularly given the huge financial challenges that the organisation has had to cope with often at the same time as having to manage increasing demand on its services."
Congratulating OIAS on its 25th anniversary, the chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Chris Smyth, said: “Omagh Independent Advice Services has been providing a very important and valuable service to citizens for the past 25 years and the Council is pleased to support the advice service in this role.
"To reach such a milestone is testament not only to the level of service provided by Omagh Independent Advice Services but also to the resilience, commitment and dedication of their staff and management committee in providing free, practical, independent information and advice to our citizens throughout the years."
Advice NI would also like to congratulate OIAS on their 25th anniversary.
A spokesperson said: "This is a tremendous milestone which is deserving of our appreciation and gratitude.
"OIAS serves the people in Omagh and surrounding areas with a professional advice service and has done so with dignity and respect for those who use it - many who are often facing difficult and traumatic circumstances.
"OIAS has always had a close association with Advice NI and indeed former manager Conor McGale was chair of Advice NI for six years and this continues to this day with current manager Michael Roddy sitting on the board. This has enabled OIAS help shape regional advice strategy and influence government policy.
"I want to pay tribute and place on record my thanks to the board, staff and volunteers for developing and maintaining this vital service to the community in Omagh and I hope that the service goes from strength to strength. Given the current Covid-19 pandemic it will be needed more than ever"
The organisation is based on the second floor of Omagh Community House, and will re-commence its office based advice service on September 7 and will initially offer appointments only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays whilst offering telephone and digital advice on Mondays and Fridays.
For further information, call 028 8224 3252, text 07889002207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org