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Bevan Ashford is advising a number of fledgling businesses on a pro bono basis as part of a burgeoning rural regeneration scheme in Princetown, Devon.
Deborah Chappell, the Bevan Ashford lawyer leading the project, says the scheme is part of the firm’s longstanding commitment to pro bono initiatives.
“Princetown doesn’t qualify for Government [urban regeneration] funding, and so they have to fund themselves completely,” explains Chappell. “With high-profile charities and others needing funding, Princetown has tended to drop off the bottom of the table. In response, we’ve given the town pro bono advice to the tune of £10,000 per year.”
The scheme was initially kicked into gear through ProHelp, a national network of professional firms offering free support to the voluntary sector. Bevan Ashford was one of the first firms to link up with the organisation.
Jill Webb, a spokesperson at ProHelp, says the disadvantaged Princetown – which suffers from low employment and education levels and is famous as the home of Dartmoor Prison – was in need of some help. “The town’s fairly isolated and so the local community hasn’t had access to legal advice other than a costly trip to another county,” she says.
In response, the pro bono team set up a pilot scheme in the area in order to provide basic legal advice to the business community. Chappell explains: “There were a lot of fledgling internet businesses in the town that needed basic advice. We initiated a free monthly legal clinic, advising on intellectual property, routine business matters, free wills and tax issues.”
If further legal advice is necessary, Chappell is on hand to refer clients to the relevant professionals.
Although Bevan Ashford has no dedicated pro bono team, the work is coordinated between corporate partner George Wilkinson, charities lawyer Chappell and the marketing team.
Marketing spokesperson Martin King says: “It’s part of our culture to be sympathetic, and pro bono work is just part and parcel of giving something back. We treat pro bono work with the same degree of quality as paid work.”
Chappell says charities and not-for-profit groups were another focus for the firm. “People out there aren’t totally au fait with legal structures and different types of charities,” she says. “We work with groups to help them understand different structures, looking specifically at what the law is, how to apply it and how to work it to its best advantage.”
Chappell also advises campaign bodies lobbying for rights on various levels. “This is one of the big issues, as many organisations are allowed to advocate, but not lobby,” she says. “We work for advisory bodies who become interested in lobbying.”