On Thursday 23rd January 2014, representatives of Hackney’s advice agencies, the local council, corporate partners, sister law centres and advice agency volunteers, attended the official launch of Hackney’s Big Lottery Funded ‘Sustainable Advice in Hackney‘ project. The launch was hosted by the Turkish and Kurdish Halkevi Community Centre. The Big Lottery set up the nationwide Advice Services Transition Fund (ASTF) to enable local not-for-profit advice providers to continue providing advice to their local communities. The two-year funding will be used to help Hackney’s not-for-profit sector transform and adapt to a new funding environment by renewing its service models to reduce duplication, measuring the difference services can make to people’s lives, and bringing providers together to be more efficient and effective. Hackney’s ASTF Partnership is made up of HCLC, the Hackney Caribbean Elderly Organisation, East End Citizens Advice Bureau, Age UK East London, the Hackney Migrant Centre and City and Hackney Mind.
The launch was opened by Cllr Ian Rathbone, Chair of HCLC who told the assembled audience:
“The dictionary definition of advice is: guidance or recommendations offered with regard to future action. And so whilst members of the public may not quite understand what we mean by advice, we know that it often means life or death to our clients, a bringing of order for them from chaos, an effective charting through bureaucratic storms and choppy waters. It’s about their future action. And we do it well in Hackney at the law centre, CAB and other agencies, and we want to strengthen and expand that offer across Hackney”.
“We need to stay together in as broad a coalition as possible because we are stronger together – united we will stand to give the best professional and effective advice to the people of Hackney. Divided we will not and poor people seeking access to justice will suffer. I’m not having that and neither will any of us involved in this new partnership“.
Ian’s opening speech was followed by Sean Canning, HCLC manager and Chair of Hackney’s ASTF steering group. Sean outlined the background to the Hackney ASTF project and the key challenges to date. Sean told the audience that the demand for Hackney’s advice services had gone up 300% in the last year. Sean hoped that Hackney’s ASTF project would help local advice agencies become resilient by expanding their use of volunteers and Pop-Up clinics, but also celebrating and strengthening partnerships with the Corporate Social Responsibility sector.
Jane Sterland, project officer from the Big Lottery Fund (pictured above), then made a presentation. The Big Lottery considered the ASTF to be ‘a serious investment from the Government and Big Lottery Fund to make sure that the most vulnerable in society are protected and the advice services sector is supported’. You can see Jane’s full presentation by clicking HERE.
We were delighted that Lord Colin Low of Dalston CBE (pictured above left with Cllr Ian Rathbone), who is also a HCLC Patron, attended to give the key note speech. Only a week before the launch, Lord Low had published the final report of the ‘Low Commission on the Future of Advice and Legal Support‘, a year-long commission established to develop a strategy for access to advice and support on Social Welfare Law in England and Wales.
Lord Low shared six of the Commission’s one hundred key findings with the audience:
1. Public legal education should be given higher priority, both in the school alongside financial literacy, and in education for life, so that people know their rights and where to go for help;
2. Central and local government should do more to reduce preventable demand (e.g. by requiring DWP to pay costs on upheld appeals);
3. We should improve systems of dispute resolution (e.g. by getting things right first time, taking action early, getting courts and tribunals to work more efficiently by providing better help for litigants and utilising alternative forms of dispute resolution);
4. The next UK government should develop a National Strategy for Advice and Legal Support in England for 2015-20, preferably with all party support, and the Welsh Government should develop a similar strategy for Wales. There should be a Minister for Advice and Legal Support within the MoJ, with a cross-departmental brief for leading the development of this strategy;
5. Local authorities, or groups of local authorities, should co-produce or commission local advice and legal support plans with the local not-for-profit sector and commercial advice agencies;
6 . The next UK government should establish a ten-year National Advice and Legal Support Fund of £50m PA, financed by the MoJ, the Cabinet Office and DWP, and administered by the Big Lottery Fund, to help develop provision of information, advice and legal support on social welfare law in line with local plans. And we believe that a similar amount could be raised from alternative sources of funding such as clinical commissioning groups, housing associations, the Money Advice Fund, a levy on payday loan companies, dormant funds that lawyers hold for clients who can’t be traced and companies that have gone out of business.
Lord Low also said that “greater use needs to be made of new technology and helplines for those who can manage to access these forms of communication and are not digitally excluded. This will free up resources to ensure that more face to face, in-depth and intensive support can be targeted at those most in need“.
Read Lord Low’s full speech to the ‘Sustainable Advice in Hackney project launch’ HERE.
After a question and answer session with Lord Low and a short break, Miranda Grell, Business Development Manager for the project, opened the ‘Hackney Showcase‘ half of the proceedings to give the attendees an opportunity to learn more about some of the project’s partner organisations. Miranda explained to the audience that, as the project’s Business Development Manager, she had been tasked with bringing to life some of the aims and objectives of the project such as partnership development, shared delivery of services and so on.
Yasmin Alam, Chief Executive of the East End Citizens Advice Bureau (pictured right), then introduced Benno Allerman and Andrew Skipper and of the Hackney CAB (pictured left and centre) who will be leading on the training aspects of the project. Prior to the launch, Andrew and Benno had already provided some very well received training on Welfare Benefits topics to advice agencies from across Hackney. They told the audience that they hoped to be able to deliver at least one training session a month for the duration of the ASTF project.
Miranda Grell (pictured right) then conducted a mini interview with Ozlem Galip, the Director of the Halkevi Community Centre (pictured left) and a partner of the ASTF project steering group. Ozlem told the attendees that Halkevi had been running since 1984 and was an integral part of the Kurdish and Turkish community in Hackney. While the launch was taking place, Ozlem had also been operating one of Halkevi’s daily advice sessions. Ozlem said: “When people think of Halkevi, they think of advice“.
We were delighted that, as well as colleagues from the local advice sector, we were joined by Rebecca Greenhalgh, Pro Bono Manager of Debevoise and Plimpton LLP (pictured above). Rebecca, who has worked closely with HCLC for a number of years, talked about the Hackney advice sector’s work with commercial partners. Rebecca said: “We’ve seen how partnerships can work for the benefit of the local community and are very excited by the opportunities that the ASTF presents to Hackney. I really encourage other organisations to keep an open mind about ways to involve other groups in what they do – there are business out there with expertise that could be of help and you may come up with ways to use their services pro bono to help your clients“.
Miranda then introduced ASTF project group partners Martyn Cooper, Director of Services at City and Hackney Mind (pictured above), Victor McAllister, Chief Executive of the Hackney Caribbean Elderly Organisation (pictured behind Martyn) and Rosemary Sales, trustee of the Hackney Migrant Centre to tell the audience about their work.
The final speaker at the launch was Ian Lewis, Assistant Chief Executive of the London Borough of Hackney (pictured above). Ian expressed his support for the ASTF project and talked about the relationship between the Hackney Advice Sector and the Council. Ian said that he was pleased to hear Lord Low’s recommendations and looked forward to working with all the agencies involved in the project.
After closing remarks by Cllr Ian Rathbone, the launch came to an end.
Thank you to everyone who attended the launch, especially the excellent speakers.
We are very much looking forward to working with you all!