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Our board of trustees meet throughout the year to take strategic decisions that affect the future of the organisation. We spoke to two of our current trustees to know more about why they give up their time for this role.
Florence Brocklesby, founder of Bellevue Law, has worked and volunteered throughout the world and has been a trustee at South West London Law Centres for a few years.
Davendra Singh was encouraged to become a trustee by Sadiq Khan, now Mayor of London, when he was a caseworker in his constituency. He has also sat as a Magistrate since 2007. He has been a SWLLC trustee for four years.
What brought you to the board?
Florence: A commitment to pro bono has been part of my professional life. I began advising at London Law Centres as part of my training contract, then did pro bono work assisting immigrant domestic workers who were subject to abuse and in need of support from employment lawyers while working for an international firm in Hong Kong. After returning to London to head up the firm’s pro bono work in the UK, I set up my own law firm, and came to the board as a Wandsworth resident. I was motivated to be part of the organisation due to my experience of the enormous need for the Law Centre’s work.
Davendra: Whilst working as a caseworker for Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting at the time, we often referred constituents to local organisations such as SWLLC for the assistance they needed. We would often assist people with immigration application representations but then they would be in need of the specialist advice available at the Law Centre. As a magistrate I also knew of the Law Centre through fundraising activities such as the LLST’s London Legal Walk, as well as having met duty solicitors on the Housing Country Court Duty Scheme whilst working at Wandsworth Country Court. As a lifelong Wandsworth resident I had also seen publicity in the local news about how the Legal Aid cuts of 2013 would affect the work and funding of the organisation, so it was a very interesting time to join the board.
What attracted you to being a part of the organisation?
F: During my time as a SWLLC trustee I have learned how extraordinarily important the Law Centre is. In the face of greater need and limited resources, I have the utmost admiration for the good work that is done. The pro bono work run by SWLLC also continues to impress me, as I believe that those with a legal qualification have a professional obligation to help people in need if they are able.
D: As someone who has lived in South West London my whole life, working in the court system showed me how often people are unrepresented. Everyone has the right to a fair trial. SWLLC provides a vital service in an incredibly hostile environment, where services are cut and people don’t understand court procedures. People are scared. SWLLC steps in and say 'we are going to help you, we’ll walk you through this.' The caseworkers put aside any fears that clients have when they hear the word ‘law’ and help them understand and navigate the whole process.
What have been the highlights of your time?
F: Seeing the Law Centre rise to challenges, such as the roof being blown off the old Battersea office, causing the whole team to find new offices that are fit for purpose. It is great to see the new Law Centre offices as modern and functional spaces to welcome clients to.
D: Getting to know the my fellow trustees has been fantastic. With lawyers, judicial office holders and business owners we bring a diverse range of experience to the board. As a group we are also all very passionate about the work of the Law Centre. I have learned something from each of my colleagues on the board at one of our meetings. We are also fortunate to have a great chair, James Banks, who keeps the focus on the agenda so that we can be efficient during the long evenings of discussion!
Any challenges that you have faced?
F: Finding funding is extremely difficult and I think the biggest challenge of being a trustee is assisting an organisation on how to best use its resources. But the Law Centre continues to hold tight in the face of adversity.
D: The finance and accounting side of things did not always come naturally to me, although it has helped me build my skills in this area and provided me with a great insight into how to run an organisation.
What are your hopes for SWLLC for the future?
F: SWLLC is made up of visionary and dedicated people working together. I would like to see the Law Centre developing its services and innovating to make advice more accessible and fit clients’ needs through technology.
D: The adaptability of SWLLC is incredible, dealing with any situation thrown in their way over the years. The staff and volunteers are the lifeblood of the organisation, doing amazing work day in day out. The board recognise this when we meet to discuss strategy and I want to see this message being spread even further into the community. We should congratulate ourselves as an organisation for surviving, as well as being thankful to law firms, grant providers and all of our funders. The vulnerable people we work with are those who most need the help, and with support from the community we can reach even more. I hope to see the Law Centre continue to reach for the stars!