A LAW centre that gives people on low incomes free legal help will be able to expand its work into family and discrimination and equality work thanks to a Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.
The Wiltshire Law Centre, which supports people from all over the county with free advice and
representation, has been awarded £5,000 a year for the next three years from the community
foundation’s new Community Fund, which helps grass roots groups and charities who make life
better for people in their area. The fund’s first round of grants has awarded more than £106,000 to
11 groups across Wiltshire and Swindon.
Olivia Crowther, who has been managing director of the charity in Sanford Street, Swindon, since
April, said its three full-time and two part-time case workers are kept busy with housing cases but
demand for representation with family and discrimination work is rising.
“All we do currently is housing work and that seems like a real shame because we should be a law
centre and not just a housing law centre,” she said.
“We are absolutely inundated with requests for family work - the court has asked us to start doing it -
so we have decided to extend into that area as well. Citizens Advice in Swindon and Wiltshire are
telling us they are getting a lot of these cases and there is no one else to take them on.”
She is moving one case worker who has experience of discrimination and equality work into that area
and is recruiting more staff to plug the gap and take on family work.
“We already do discrimination work within a housing context but this will be branching out into the
areas of employment, consumer and education,” said Mrs Crowther. “Regarding family law, Legal Aid
is only available for matrimonial and custody cases in the case of domestic abuse but the court is
desperate for non-molestation orders so that will be a big part of what we do I suspect, as well as
proceedings where local authority is seeking a care order against a parent.”
The centre, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, takes on cases that are covered by Legal
Aid but is one of the few such organisations doing so in the South West. “There’s nothing apart from
us between London and Bristol,” said Mrs Crowther.
The centre’s case workers meet demand from across the county by travelling to see clients in places
like Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury as well as visit them in their own homes. “We also do a
lot more phone consultations now, which is a more efficient use of our time,” said Mrs Crowther.
She wants to work with law centres, other funders and universities to find more solicitors and case
workers willing to work in the sector. “It’s a personal goal of mine because there is a real lack of
capacity, we are in the middle of a Legal Aid desert here in Wiltshire,” she said.
The grant will help the law centre get its new casework up and running and cover costs for the six-
month gap between work being done and Legal Aid payments coming through.
“We need seed money to help us transition into these areas and that’s really where Wiltshire
Community Foundation have come in and provided us with that bridge so that we can move into this
other area of law and extend our services. It’s been a crying shame that people have called us up
with a request for help and we have had to say ‘we don’t do that’,” she said.
Wiltshire Community Foundation chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “It’s crucial that people on lower
incomes have the same access to good legal advice and representation as everyone else. I am
delighted that the generosity of our donors means we can support important work like this.”
Applications are open for the next round of Community Fund grants, which offer up to £5,000 for a
maximum of three years.
To find out more eligibility and how to apply, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk/grants-and-support/groups.