- Established in 1972, the Agnes Smith Advice Centre has been providing free advice and representation to people in the local community for more than 40 years. We have developed and expanded over the years, from a largely voluntary and informal organisation into an independent advice centre that is professional and effective in its work but firmly rooted in the local community.
We are independently audited every two years, and have been awarded the quality mark (AQS) for our service.
Clare Charleson – Manager
Gail Craig – Senior Adviser/Volunteer Superviser
Ruth Emsley – Finance & Administration Adviser
Carole Ewers – Cleaner
Gary Horne – Money Adviser
Helen Pinne – Adviser
Eva Pinnington – Welfare Benefits Adviser
Mandy Richards – Adviser
Latisha Walker – Reception Administrator
- Our board of trustees is made up of volunteers committed to helping the local community. Our current members are:
Kate Griffin (Chair)
Kate started work in the civil service. She volunteered for the Citizens Advice Bureau for 9 years, while her children were young. In the mid 1980s Kate worked in the social housing sector, and in the mid 1990s she was a volunteer for the UN in Kenya, on a project providing glasses for the developing world. Kate returned to social housing and became a team leader managing sheltered housing for a local housing association. She is also a trustee of a charity for brain injury, rehabilitation and development. She has been a trustee since 2008.
Wendy Spray (Co-Chair)
Wendy became a trustee in 2017. She has recently set up her own business as a freelance coach and facilitator helping people to clarify their goals and reach their full potential. For the previous 15 years, she led the community involvement team at OCHA/GreenSquare Housing Association which involved working closely with the advice centre.
Wendy has also worked in Brookes University setting up and running a course in Tenant Participation. In the 1980s, she worked for a Tenants Association in London facilitating their involvement in a major rehabilitation scheme and helping them establish the first Estate Management Board in London. She has lived and worked in Botswana as a District Development Officer and in Lesotho as a secondary school teacher.
Andrew Carver (Treasurer)
Andrew started working life as an economist with the Overseas Development Administration (now DfID), leading to secondment work in Lesotho, and then leaving the UK government as new projects manager at the Botswana Development Corporation. He then took a MBA from INSEAD and had a career in business, in roles spanning business development, strategy, and product management. It included founding a software start-up. He retired in late 2016 and has been a trustee and treasurer since June 2017.
Audrey Bronstein MBE (Company secretary)
Audrey was deputy international director of Oxfam GB, and now works there coaching/advising other staff. She was the first director of Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme, from 1995 to 2006. In the early 1990s, she was Oxfam’s director of communications and acting head of the public affairs unit, and in the 1980s its regional representative in Chile/Paraguay. She was awarded an MBE in 2001.
Previously she had worked in media and development, and as a community development worker. She also researched the lives of peasant women in Latin America.
Paul Dornan has been a trustee since 2010 and treasurer since late 2016. He is a senior policy officer in Oxford University’s Department of International Development, leading policy activity on the ‘Young Lives’ study of child poverty in developing countries.
Elaine has been a trustee since 2011. She is a senior research fellow at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, where the main focus of her research is with children, young people and families at risk of marginalisation and disadvantage. She is currently working on research related to poverty and social exclusion and the wellbeing outcomes of young migrants.
She has previously carried out many other research studies on health, education, care and community issues both nationally and internationally.
Beverley became a trustee at the end of 2014. Beverley has many years of experience working in human resources for Oxfam GB. She lives locally in Blackbird Leys and is married to Councillor, Rae Humberstone, who was selected as Lord Mayor of Oxford in 2015/16.
Simon has been a trustee since 2002. Originally he studied business and tourism in Bournemouth and worked for two years in life assurance, before starting work in a hostel for homeless people in Swindon in 1990. He then qualified as a social worker at Oxford Brookes University, but remained working with homeless people. He worked as Project Manager of O’Hanlon House (formerly Oxford Night Shelter) for 17 years. Simon is currently Head of Housing at Oxfordshire Mind.
Simon was previously a volunteer adviser at the Oxford Citizens Advice Bureau, and is a member of the local church on Blackbird Leys. Whilst manager of the Night Shelter, he completed an MSc in voluntary sector management at the Cass Business School, City University, London. He is also a trustee of a charity working in Nicaragua.
Cora is a resident of Blackbird Leys and has been involved with the Centre since its beginnings in the Holy Family Church; she originally came to the centre for advice as a client before becoming a trustee. Because she lives locally she ensures that she regularly visits the Centre to check that all is well. She acts as a link with the church, having been its chair, and now in a role as church officer.
Cora is a retired British Telecom superviser, having trained recruits for the operator system for BT (and had the experience of being made redundant several times by them); she has also worked as an adult guidance counsellor with Link training in Oxford. Her volunteering work includes having been chair of the African Caribbean Community Network, and she is still on the loans committee of the local credit union.
Saltanat became a trustee in 2016. She is a consultant at Oxford Policy Management (OPM) which is an independent development consultancy committed to helping low and middle income countries achieve growth and reduce poverty and disadvantage through public policy reform. Before joining OPM, Saltanat was a student at the University of Oxford whose research interest was on children, poverty and wellbeing. In the past she volunteered working with homeless people, children and schools in Oxford.
Jesse became a trustee in 2017.
- We acknowledge the support of our funders, including:
AB Charitable Trust
The Big Lottery Fund
Blackbird Leys Parish Council
Catalyst Communities Housing Association
Feoffess (St Michael’s & all Saints’ Charities)
Garfield Weston Foundation
Greensquare Housing Association
John Paul Getty Jnr Trust
Marsh Christian Trust
Oxford City Council
Oxford Community Foundation – Delivering Impact
PF Charitable Trust
Pye Charitable Settlement
Thames Water Trust Fund
The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust
University of Oxford Colleges (Christ Church, All Souls, Jesus, St John’s, Magdalen, Merton, New, Queen’s, University and Wolfson)
The Wates Foundation
- Our volunteers
Bower & Bailey solicitors
Blackbird Leys Community Centre
The Church of the Holy Family
- Blackbird Leys is a residential estate on the southern edge of Oxford. It was built in 1958, to provide housing for workers at the Cowley car plant. In the late 1980/90s a further housing estate in Greater Leys was developed. The population of the two estates is now approximately 15,000, making the Leys one of the largest housing estates in Europe.
The Centre started life in the 1970s in the Holy Family Church, run entirely by volunteers. It was originally set up as the Blackbird Leys Neighbourhood Support Scheme to promote community development in the area. As unemployment increased and local needs changed, the scheme grew and focussed more on becoming a community advice centre. Paid workers were taken on to meet the increasing demand for advice, particularly on welfare benefits, debt and housing issues.
The Centre was registered as a charity and a limited liability company in the 1990s. We moved from the church to larger premises located in the main shopping parade, in 1996. Since then we have converted a garage at the back and added a portacabin to ease space pressures. We have also extended our service to include giving advice in outreach venues.
The Centre is named after Agnes Smith, the first manger, who was instrumental in building up the Centre and was much respected by the community. Sadly, she died in 2002.