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The Origins of Citizens Advice Swale

By Peter J Morgan

In 1963 I stood for election to the Sittingbourne & Milton Urban District Council as a Liberal candidate, the first ever. I had a six-point manifesto and the leading one was the establishment of a Citizens Advice Bureau funded by the Council. I was elected by a majority of 12 and immediately put down a motion before the full Council for funding for a CAB. It was (not surprisingly) defeated by the combined votes of the two other parties. In the subsequent election (1965) I was defeated by 25 votes so the idea did not appear on any agenda.

In 1966 I was re-elected with a majority of 356 and again immediately raised the proposal for a CAB in the town but it was defeated. In 1967 I mounted a petition in the High Street and raised 1500 signatures plus the support of many statutory and voluntary agencies. The idea was considered by the General Purposes Committee in 1969 and was voted down by 6 against and 3 for. In 1970 a sum of £500 was included in the budget for the setting up of a CAB but was cut out at a Full Council meeting. In 1971, when Labour was in control, the £500 was included in the budget and in October 1971 a Steering Group was set up to establish a CAB.

During all this campaigning, I was giving talks to Rotary, WIs, church groups, etc and took with me the plaster owl with a mortar board on this head because that was the national logo of CABx. I was greatly helped by Miss Phyllis Colebrook, South East Regional Adviser, who supplied information and statistics.  We held a meeting for potential volunteers in the Library and Phyllis was our lecturer. Out of those who attended, 20 or more agreed to become adviser and one of them, Jenny Vaughan, agreed to be the Organiser (voluntary/unpaid). We were given a little shop in Berry Street, a former hairdresser’s, with two rooms.  It was exceedingly difficult to operate in such cramped quarters but a steady stream of clients came to ask for advice. I was elected to the Management Committee as ‘People’s Representative’ because the two leading councillors took the Chairman and Vice Chairman posts. We then campaigned for bigger and better premises and were given the lower flat at 17a Station Street. We were also asked to set up a satellite Bureau in Faversham, which we did and re-named ourselves as the Sittingbourne & Faversham CAB. People on Sheppey wanted their own bureau so we helped them set up.

In Sittingbourne the upper flat of 17 Station Street became vacant so we applied for it and were granted tenancy jointly with the Housing Aid & Advice Centre. When they left for bigger and better premises we let rooms to a commercial firm of kitchen fitters who ‘took us for a ride’ when they left suddenly. All this time we retained the ‘wise old owl’ as our logo until a new regime took over at NACAB and decided that the owl was ‘old hat’. We were given instead the present disc in blue and yellow to put on the wall so the owl went into a box on a shelf in a cupboard and was forgotten. I have great affection for my own plaster owl because it speaks to me of years of struggle to get established.

I have been Chairman for three periods and helped to appoint the last two Managers who are women of the highest calibre and for whom I have great affection.

Peter Morgan holds his Wise Old Owl statue at our 2018 AGM