I remember heading to west London, the weekend immediately after the fire at Grenfell Tower, to see if there was something, anything, I could do to help. Hundreds of others had the exact same thought. But while I was standing on the street, looking up at the tower, feeling helpless, down below were the staff of North Kensington Law Centre, busy running a free drop-in advice clinic, raising thousands of pounds to help families needing immediate legal assistance, and pressing the Home Office to waive the fees for residents whose vital documents had been destroyed or needed to be replaced.
Today, North Kensington Law Centre turns 50. To mark this special anniversary, the law centre is looking to the future, to train the next generation of social welfare lawyers to help society’s most vulnerable. The centre hopes to raise £50,000 to provide a training contract for a BAME candidate from North Kensington.
Housing solicitor Thalatha Wickramansinghe, North Kensington's training principal, tells me there are many aspiring lawyers passionate about social welfare. ‘The problem is, they don’t get a chance. Most BAME people have given up because they cannot get a training contract.’
This is difficult to hear, as law centres are an essential part of the beating heart that supports communities. Ask any law centre staff about a client they helped that morning and you will feel grateful for these unsung social justice heroes.
One client, who needed help with housing possession proceedings, said in a note of appreciation: ‘Through the past years, Thalatha had managed my case very efficiently, overcome many obstacles and never gave up seeing my case through in order to save a roof over my head… I hope in the future when my circumstances improve and I am back to employment that I will contribute some financial assistance to North Kensington Law Centre as a token of appreciation for the help and the outstanding service they provided, and to enable them to keep going to serve the community as one of the leading law centres in the capital.'
North Kensington director Annie Campbell Viswanathan describes law centres as the ‘A&E of law' but 'we exist in a constant battle to keep going in the face of constant funding cuts’.
Law centres need our help as much as we need theirs. Happy Birthday, North Kensington. I hope you smash your fundraising target.