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ProHelp London, a national network of professional firms offering free support to the voluntary sector, has enlisted the support of Allen & Overy (A&O) to urgently improve the office space of a project-led farm in Vauxhall.
Vauxhall City Farm, a registered charity involved in piloting social welfare projects and educational, recreational and training opportunities for local residents, has been operating out of an old and unstable building on derelict land. Early in 2003, the team at Vauxhall City Farm approached ProHelp London for help in securing new office space in order to continue to expand the farm’s activities.
Vauxhall City Farm company manager Fiona McKenzie says: “The building had become a death-trap – there was no fire escape, the building was subsiding and when it rained water ran down the walls.”
McKenzie contacted Roseanna Henderson, ProHelp London manager, who quickly instructed the help of chartered surveyors to determine just how bad the building was. “ProHelp spent a lot of time on-site, and when the engineers decided the building needed to be demolished, ProHelp turned to A&O for help with the next stage of the process,” says McKenzie.
A&O, a member of ProHelp London since 1998, examined the farm’s existing lease to determine whether it had been appropriately advised by its lawyers at the time of signing. McKenzie says: “A&O advised us that our lease was ‘sound but onerous’, as we have to keep the building in a good state of repair both inside and out. They also went through our 14-page staff employment contract with a fine-tooth comb.” In all, A&O contributed a total of £12,000 worth of pro bono work on the new office space. Combined with other organisations ProHelp had enlisted, the value of the work finally reached £40,000.
According to Henderson, last year ProHelp London brokered 150 projects worth £750,000, “although it was probably even better than that, as some firms are sloppy with their timekeeping”. The organisation began in London 14 years ago with four firms on board – now the national programme is active in 40 regions and with 1,000 national member firms.
Henderson says: “A lot of organisations want legal help. Generally, we ask the firms to do bread-and-butter work such as lease negotiations, renewals and contracts. There’s no stipulated requirement as to the amount or work the firms do – we’re basically happy for any time the firms are able to give.”
McKenzie considers ProHelp “an absolute godsend”. She says: “We now have a proper work environment with proper computers, all in line with health and safety regulations. Staff morale has gone through the roof.”