Blog Posts

Building a new Suffolk Law Centre on a hot day in July

Jo Chimes | 26th July, 2017

When I recall that warm sultry July day, I don’t want to remember it because we held the inaugural meeting of the Advisory Panel for the Suffolk Law Centre Steering Group. Yes, it was a fabulous meeting full of ideas, and enthusiastic, wise people, uniting to offer their support and expertise to create a new Law Centre for people in Suffolk. Yes, we were delighted that our meeting brought together local solicitors, academics and representatives from local advice agencies, all supporting us to build the new Suffolk Law Centre.

What I do want to remember is something that happened earlier that day. I want to remember the calm and patient help given by one of my colleagues to a client who was quietly sobbing for ten minutes in our reception area. My colleague listened to her, reassured her, and helped her to get the advice she needed.

So, even though I was delighted that our first meeting was crowded, energetic and positive, and I will remember it, I want to make sure that it is our clients, and the vital help we can give them, that I remember most. Helping people get access to advice and justice is the reason we are working hard to create the new Suffolk Law Centre.

Suffolk is an advice desert. We are one of the few counties with no local housing legal aid lawyer.  One of the core aims of our new Suffolk Law Centre is to provide advice in areas where there is no advice currently available. We will bid for legal aid contracts to give advice to more people with housing and immigration problems.

Suffolk has hidden areas of deprivation and poor infrastructure. This has created a uniquely difficult challenge for those concerned about access to justice in Suffolk, and it is one that Ipswich and Suffolk Racial Equality Council (ISCRE) has been keen to take on.

When we launch Suffolk Law Centre, it will be a subsidiary of ISCRE, which has been a strong community voice for 40 years.  We want to build on and complement the work of ISCRE, which will continue. The legal services offered by ISCRE for over 10 years already includes a thriving LawWorks Advice Clinic, with over 70 Suffolk lawyers providing pro bono advice.

Our new Suffolk Law Centre Steering Group, has been given a development grant from the Legal Education Foundation to launch a new Suffolk Law Centre.  We are going to have to raise more than that. We have set ourselves an ambitious target launch date of 1st December 2017. This year alone we’re looking to raise £40k at a minimum. It’s going to be an ongoing process of fundraising, and we are hoping to run a crowdfunding campaign in September and October. Our new Law Centre will focus on providing specialist legal advice, casework and representation, and promoting awareness of rights. We need additional funding beyond legal aid to make sure we can recruit the best lawyers to Suffolk, lawyers who are strongly committed to access to justice. We want to be innovative in the way we provide our services, so that we can help people across the towns and villages of Suffolk.

We know that our brilliant Advisory Panel will help us to meet these unique Suffolk challenges, with innovation and a fierce commitment. Building Suffolk Law Centre will mean a lot of hard work, but we know it will be worth it to help many more people in Suffolk get the access to justice they need, and to help all our clients at the times when they need it most. And that is what I will remember about that hot July day.