There used to be nine law centres in Greater Manchester, but by 2015 there were only two remaining. Legal aid cuts meant that many people with problems around benefits, housing and employment did not have access to legal advice.
After the South Manchester Law Centre was forced to close at the end of 2014, a group of local lawyers, community organisers and advice workers came together to set up a community law centre. They had no funding, no premises, and no staff, but they had determination.
The Greater Manchester Law Centre was launched at the West Indian Sports and Social Centre in February 2017. It sought out, trained and managed volunteers to cover front of house and also engaged law students from universities who offered legal advice and representation. Eventually it won some grants and now also has over 50 regular donors.
Although it employs staff in a few key posts, volunteers remain the backbone of the charity. Staff, rent and expenses have cost just £300,000 in the first three years.
The Centre has supported more than 1,000 individuals, and answered enquiries from three times as many. It has also helped people claim over £1.5m in benefits which were wrongly refused by the Department for Work and Pensions. After the Windrush revelations, local people of West Indian origin were supported to find information and advice, and the Centre used their experiences to campaign against the hostile environment for migrants.
The charity is sharing its learning with the writing and dissemination of a publication ‘How to Build a Law Centre’.
Charity Awards judge Cathy Phelan-Watkins was impressed that they had written a book about their experiences so that others could follow the model, and said their work was sorely needed.
Jehangir Malik said the Centre was operating within “a very challenging set of circumstances”, while Chris Michaels said the project was “a clear example of taking a problem and fixing a problem”.
CC reg no: 1170317