Paddington Law Centre has had a cosmetic facelift less than one year after being saved from closure.
Hammonds and Travers Smith Braithwaite raised funds for the renovations, with Hammonds lawyers devoting one Saturday to do the DIY work. The work included making a roof terrace usable for staff and installing shelves.
Meanwhile, creative fund-raising efforts by Travers lawyers, including a charity performance of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, allowed the centre to employ its receptionist for an extra day a week.
The centre has been operating since 1973 and specialises in housing, employment, immigration and welfare rights law. It counts among its former volunteers MPs Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng.
In 2003, the Association of London Government (ALG), which had provided funding to the Paddington Law Centre since 1986, decided to terminate its support. A policy decision to shift funding away from Central London and to law centres in outer London was behind the move.
The loss of the grant represented one third of the centre’s overall budget, and meant certain closure. However, after an intensive letter-writing campaign, the ALG Grants Committee reviewed its decision.
Tom Cartwright, who coordinates Hammonds’ work with Paddington Law Centre, said: “We helped provide a voice for the centre. The ALG wanted to reduce funding quietly. Having major City firms lobbying against the decision helped shine a spotlight on the matter.”
Hammonds and Travers hold two-hour surgery evenings on alternate Tuesdays. There, members of the public who have pre-registered can receive 20 minutes of free legal advice.
Cartwright says the problems can range from “the humdrum, like congestion charge or parking ticket problems” to extreme cases, including one where an elderly woman was threatened with eviction a week before Christmas after missing one week’s rent. One case involved a shopkeeper who arrived at work to find his shop had been padlocked. Unknown to him, the person from whom he was subletting the premises had not been paying the rent.
Cartwright said: “People who are taking advantage of others’ lack of sophistication often turn around when they see the Paddington Law Centre is onto them.”
Cartwright described the centre as “a safety net in the local community”. He added: “As central funding has become harder to get, and the pool of legal aid is diminishing, the funding gap is widening. City law firms are stepping into the breach.”
It is this sort of help that has ensured the centre’s longevity. Former volunteer Boateng said: “Paddington Law Centre is a historic institution in the provision of legal services in the UK, and a vital community resource. Here’s to the next 30 years of making a difference.”