40 years

South West Lancs Independent Community Advice Network (ICAN)



Community leaders have sent their Congratulations and Best Wishes to a small charity that has been working quietly supporting people across West Lancashire and beyond to alleviate poverty for 40 years.

South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice Network (ICAN) which provides benefits, employment law and debt advice, as well as running a drop-in computer suite, started on 2nd May 1980 at the Ecumenical Centre in Skelmersdale Town Centre. 

It hasn’t all been plain sailing: There have been good times when grant funding has meant that three or more advisers could be employed, but in other years funding has been hard to come by and the charity has struggled to get by.  For example, in 2016, income for the whole year fell to £5784 and it was only the dedication of volunteers, donations from the trades union movement, and staff prepared to work without wages that kept the charity going.

All the the work we do helps ordinary people to secure the benefits they are entitled to by rights, helping to reduce anxiety and severe financial insecurity for those least able to manage.  And evidence shows that the funds secured for local residents goes straight back to support the local economy.  Last year alone, despite its tiny budget, ICAN still managed to secure over £1.8m in benefits for local residents. 

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Paul McConnell said it really is a tribute to the resilience, skill, hard work, and effective grassroots support that ICAN has survived all these years and are again proving a necessity in this current turbulent period. Being able to respond to local needs has been ICAN’s great strength and relevance, diversity has also meant that the potential for a greater profile has not, till now been possible.

We now work alongside many local and national organisations supporting families and individuals ensuring they get the right help and support they deserve, for many this will mean being lifted out of poverty, their health and well-being being improved and their quality of life improved. And there aren’t many better rewards for the work we do than that’’.

The future looks bright for ICAN.  A recent successful lottery bid has provided for two new advisers and a dedicated IT facilitator; and with new premises and a newly fitted office space, the organisation is going from strength to strength. 

Once again, our Know Your Rights Course, will provide essential information on common Benefits such as PIP, ESA, Carers Allowance and Attendance Allowance, and new sessions will be added on Money Management, and getting the help you need to care for someone at home. Details of all their work can be found on the website www.swlican.org or by contacting us on 01695 726269.  

In the present climate, when so many people are losing their livelihood through corona virus, the need has never been greater. 

Forty years of struggle’s and successes:

A brief history of South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice Network or ICAN, as we are locally known.

While Newcastle TUC may have set up the first ‘Centre against Unemployment’ in the late 1970s, South West Lancashire TUC’s Unemployed Resource Centre was the next in line as one of the national networks of TUC Unemployed Centre’s supported by the Trades Union Congress. Established in Skelmersdale in 1980 by local TUC and Community Activists including Arthur Adlen, Les Mawdsley and Terry Maxwell it is still going strong 40 years later. Its name may have changed but the core values of supporting the community at times of its greatest need is as relevant today as it was in the late 70’s and early eighties.

The TUC Unemployed Workers' Centre’s were a response by the trade union movement to the growing level of unemployment in the late 1970s. The reasons why the Centre’s were set up have not gone away. The fight for full employment, against poverty and for social justice is as important today as it was in the 1980s. In August 2020, leaders of the TUC, Unite, Unison, GMB and Usdaw Trade Unions warned that the UK is staring at its biggest economic crisis for generations

The Skelmersdale Centre, now called ‘South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice Network’ or ICAN provides free, quality, Independent advice and support on Employment Law, Welfare Rights and Money Advice as well as training and support in basic and advanced IT,’ Learn My Way’ free online learning courses, as well as providing CV writing assistance, job search and much more.  It is still recognition by the Trades Union Congress as one of the few remaining such Centre’s left in the Country.

In recent years the Centre morphed itself in to a fully registered Welfare Rights Charity, this has helped us obtain funding from the National Lottery and other funders. This has enabled us to help the most vulnerable people in our community including the disabled, Unemployed, elderly and those on low income as well as many others. We have been awarded just short of a £1 Million in funding from the Community Lottery and there aren’t many small independent Charities can make that claim and it’s something we and the West Lancashire Community can be very proud of.

January to December 2019 we recovered £1.81million in benefits for clients, which in turn helps support the local economy. This was against a backdrop of local advice services closures which meant there had been a 70% increase in our workload.

For the last 15 years the ICAN evolved into a much sought-after Welfare Rights, Employment Law and Basic IT Support Centre and supports clients from all over the North West of England and beyond. We have assisted clients from as far away as Truro in Cornwall and Toronto, Canada!

We work alongside most of the key providers of health and well-being support across West Lancashire forging partnerships to ensure the most vulnerable people in our community get the help and support they need and deserve and we will continue to do this for as long as we possibly can.

Throughout the Covid-19 Crisis our work never stopped as we found new and innovative ways to work from home and continued to support clients and organisations via phone, text, e-mail, direct messaging and zoom. We will meet head on all the challenges put in front of us, we have had many of them over the last 40 years, but helping people and seeing families progress and being lifted out of poverty is its own reward.

We would like to say a great big thank you to all those people and organisations that have supported us over the last 40 years, we couldn’t have done it without you. Here’s to another 40!

If you, your family need help of this sort please, please, always seek help and advice first before you reply to someone or fill in a form. This one simple call or e-mail could save you and your family from a lot of stress and heartache.  

Paul McConnell, Chair


From Jay McKenna, Acting TUC NW Regional Secretary

“It’s great that South West Lancs TUC Centre are celebrating their 40th anniversary. The work they do, and have done over the years, supporting communities is invaluable. They’re a physical embodiment of the trade union values of solidarity and collectivism. 

They will have helped so many people, and we sadly know will have to help many more particularly during the current crisis. I only wish there were more centres like this to help support many more people in times of need.”

 From Peter Billington, Secretary Lancashire Trades Councils said:

"Congratulations from the Lancashire TUC to SW Lancs ICAN fighting to defend and support ordinary working people for 40 years"

From Jan Monaghan, West Lancs ARK

"I would like to say well done in obtaining the lottery.  ICAN staff and volunteers work so hard to achieve this, you have represented our town and helped so many people over the years; many of our clients have said they would not know what they would have done without your advice and help".

Greg Mitten, CEO WL CVS said:

SWLICAN, known locally and informally as ICAN is one of the most essential support networks for the community of West Lancashire. We would like to join our colleagues from across the West Lancs Voluntary, Community, Faith & Social Enterprise sector in thanking them for their hard work in bringing together their essential resources, quality advice and training programmes over the last 40 years. ICAN's hard work should not only be recognised for the positive impact it has made for thousands of local residents who have received its support during a time of personal crisis but also for the very practical resources such as its community-based IT suites used by local residents in their daily lives. Over the years it has had to work through many challenges to survive as a charitable organisation which is, in itself, an incredible achievement as it is its determination to continue to  ensure it remains connected with its original aims and values as described in their own words "ICAN’s basic philosophy is the empowerment of people to be active citizens who are able to help themselves, either by accessing services or volunteering and employment opportunities. We want people to be able to solve their problems themselves by providing them with the necessary life skills, confidence, resources and facilities to do so". West Lancs CVS would like to acknowledge all of the individual volunteers, trustees and staff members, past and present through the 40 years, who have contributed to ICAN's success in making such a major contribution to the well-being of our community. 

MP (West Lancashire) Rosie Cooper:
"ICAN have been a huge support for the community of Skelmersdale and West Lancashire for 40 years now and their help and advice to local residents has been invaluable.

"Since I became an MP in 2005 ICAN have been a part of so many projects locally, and their work in recent years supporting those who have been forced onto Universal Credit has been invaluable.

"My thanks to Paul, Jimmy and all the other workers, volunteers and supporters over the years who have worked hard to make ICAN the success it is, and hope for many more years at the heart of the community."

West Lancashire's Mayor, Cllr Terry Aldridge, said: 

Congratulations to Paul, Jimmy and the team at ICAN - 40 years is an amazing achievement; and it is testament to their unstinting commitment to helping the people of West Lancs that they have stayed the course and continue to go from strength to strength.  I often recommend ICAN to residents, and when I do, I am always confident that they will be met with a welcome, treated with respect and given the best of support and advice.   Here's to another 40 years serving our fantastic community in West Lancs. 

Congratulations and Well done!

Our West Lancashire Councillor Adrian Owens:

“Financial problems affect people from all walks of life, especially in times of economic shock as we are experiencing currently.  ICAN have been there to provide support to people in West Lancashire with advice over debt and welfare benefits for 40 years.  If you are worried about your current finances then there is help available from a range of organisations including ICAN.”

On behalf of the Ecumenical Centre, Sinead Martin, Manager said:

“The Ecumenical Centre is delighted to welcome back our long-term friends at ICAN.  Their journey started out all those years ago in the Centre and are now back where they belong!  We have been working with ICAN to develop our Centre including the installation of an IT suite for community use.  ICAN are a brilliant organisation to work with and we are busy developing ideas for exciting partnership project that will benefit the community in the near future so watch this space!

Our volunteers have helped us to complete our newly refurbished offices ready for hire which we are really excited about.  With a building this size the work to develop our Centre will continue in the coming months, to ensure that we are a welcoming space for everyone in the community. We are always looking for supporters, friends and volunteer to help us on this journey so please get in touch for ways in which you or your organisation could help.  “

Ewan McHenry, Virgin Care:

I have known about the services that ICAN deliver for almost two years and have been impressed by their local knowledge of the priorities and needs of residents of West Lancashire and their commitment to making a difference for communities.

I have been very impressed with their response to the Covid pandemic when services have either been advised to close or have been unable to deliver their services safely during the pandemic. ICAN have certainly risen to the challenge of delivering services during Covid being quick to adapt their services to safe platforms such as virtual and telephone. It has been great to see how they have quickly understood the needs of local residents, developed innovative solutions and through their funding and bid writing skills made successful applications for funding.

ICAN clearly values the contributions of its staff and volunteers in keeping them involved and thanks for them all for their contribution – please keep up the excellent work.

Maureen Fazal, The Sewing Rooms

We would like to express our sincere congratulations on your wonderful achievement and for all the support and assistance you have provided during the 40 years working in our community.  You are all to be congratulated and never more so, do we need organisations like yourselves providing the service you offer to the most vulnerable services users living in West Lancashire.

Leigh Walsh, Scissorspaperstone

Congratulations to Paul and the Team at ICAN on the 40th Anniversary helping the most vulnerable people in the West Lancs Community.  It’s always a pleasure working with you.  Looking forward to another successful 40 years!

ICAN client Garry Morgan sends his thanks too:

I think ICAN are heaven sent. People like us who have worked all our lives simply don't have the knowledge, vocabulary, or the special methodology of the system needed to claim benefits and the government certainly don't assist in any way. Quite the opposite they seem to look for any excuse to deny people like us benefits they know we are entitled to.

I cannot thank John and Jan from ICAN enough. I have already offered to work for them on a voluntary basis as I feel their work is so essential and special.

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