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A year on - What caused a small charity in waltham forest to step up!

 

`Social responsibility’ are the first two words that most voluntary sector organisations will use to describe why they step up to lead during challenging times and in situations that affect the most vulnerable in our society.

Our Collaboration 

A year on – what caused a small charity in Waltham Forest to step up?

 

`Social responsibility’ are the first two words that most voluntary sector organisations will use to describe why they step up to lead during challenging times and in situations that affect the most vulnerable in our society.

 

 

We secured three years funding from Trust for London to set up a brand new independent Housing Advice Service that would operate 3 days a week in Waltham Forest, we would be working in partnership with Hackney Community Law Centre. This was during the summer of 2021, at a time when our local MP’s Office was receiving more than 900 (in a year) housing related queries from Walthamstow constituents. And that number doesn’t include residents living in other parts of the borough.  We received the backing and full support of our MP Stella Creasy.  The Senior Caseworker Ashley Harmon from the MP's Office spearheaded the initial research and empowered us to take the lead.

 

According to the Law Centres Network there are 42 Law Centres in total (https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/). However, the borough of Waltham Forest lacks a Law Centre; a place where residents could access free legal advice and representation. Additionally the borough also lacks a Council of Voluntary Organisations that could provide appropriate capacity support to it’s voluntary sector. Unless residents of Waltham Forest were aware of Law Centres in neighbouring boroughs and those Law Centres had jurisdiction to accept their cases, they had no way of legally challenging housing and homelessness decisions.

 

Why would a Funder like Trust for London agree to fund a small charity that runs a Community Centre? When you know the community desperately needs a particular service, but don’t have experience and track record to support your case, it feels like a double edged knife. On the one hand change is needed to improve the lives of our residents and yet nobody will ever want to bet on an organisation that hasn’t proved it’s worth. Our organisation understood the enormity of the problem, but we were not going to allow our fears to affect our choice. Even though it was a huge undertaking, we saw it as a real opportunity to make a real difference. Providing residents with free legal housing advice could ultimately lead to more people knowing their legal rights, secure tenancies and a reduction in homelessness in the borough. Everyone should be given the opportunity to learn about their basic rights.

 

You can find out more about the Housing Advice Service on the Community Hub’s website: https://www.wfchub.org/housing-advice-service

 

The journey over the last one year has involved many lessons and challenges that we were only able to overcome because of our perseverance, resilience and relentless willingness to address a great NEED within our community. The service started on 4th of October 2021, after the recruitment of a Housing Advice Coordinator and partnership agreement with Hackney Community Law Centre. For the past one year the service has been operating three days a week; Tuesdays to Thursdays for 48 weeks.

 

 

Arun Nadarajah – the Housing Advice Co-ordinator at the Community Hub and Kevin Long, the Housing Solicitor from Hackney Community Law Centre.

 

Arun has been working closely with Kevin, Jeremy and other colleagues from Hackney Community Law Centre over the last one year. A small group of people who work closely and collaboratively can sometimes achieve much more than an entire army. Between them they have served more than 300 households in Waltham Forest. Arun has also set up a Housing Advisory Group – a forum for representatives from various agencies to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss challenges and solutions to improve joined up working.

 

Many wondered, what does a small charity like ours know about legal advice work? Even our Funder was concerned about the enormity of what was needed to address housing problems in Waltham Forest. However, we felt reassured knowing that we were not going on this journey alone, but with support from our local MP’s Office, Hackney Community Law Centre and Shelter. Collaboration was the only way for our charity to approach a problem as big as ‘Housing’.  As we find ourselves facing another crisis – ‘the cost of living’ we are now looking to grow the service by securing further funding to help the increasing number of vulnerable residents who will be knocking on our doors in the coming weeks and months.