‘Last night I chaired the Law Centre AGM for 2019/20. AGMs can be very formal; but they can also be a celebration, particularly in the current climate. We celebrated and were able to report:
- A clean set of audited accounts, particularly on a going concern basis, is by no means guaranteed – we achieved that with great credit to all staff who have led us through a tough Covid year and the hard work of the CEO and Finance Manager in managing our financial affairs supported by our Trustee Treasurer Ranil DeSilva. The auditors looked ahead from 2019/20 to establish our long term financial viability as well as reporting a small surplus for the operations in that year.
- In the financial year that has just concluded, the ‘Covid year’ 2020/21, we are also projecting a small surplus. Although, in common with most legal aid practices, our legal aid income has fallen away significantly, particularly in housing, we have been able to secure Covid grants to replace that income. We are extremely grateful to the Ministry of Justice Community Justice Fund, Wandsworth and Croydon Councils, London Community Fund, Big Lottery and Battersea Power Station.
- Our ‘Impact Report’ for 2019/20 shows that we helped 7,452 people, recovered £1.1m in benefits, represented 1,172 clients facing eviction, assisted 1,478 people in debt. Our pro bono service, one of the largest in the UK, is served by 400 volunteer lawyers helping just under 4,000 clients in need and providing over £2m of free legal support.
- We are not standing still in 2021/22. We have adjusted our strategic plan to reflect the impact of Covid, embracing different methods of working with our clients and accelerating technological changes with some of the grant funding we achieved. We anticipate that our expanding Crisis Navigation team will be called upon even more: providing support to clients across a wide range of related issues, and identifying multiple legal responses (e.g. the interplay between debt/ housing/ employment/ social security benefits). Our strategy also envisaged us developing strategic community actions in relevant legal areas highlighted by our casework. We will pursue this in 2021/22 with secured funding for a Community Engagement Manager supported by our legal staff commitment to identify areas where we can have a greater impact by developing test cases. To assist this strategy we are launching an Advisory Board comprised of representatives from the communities we serve.
None of this would be possible without the support of our dedicated staff and our sponsors. Thank you all. I would also like to thank the Trustees and Staff Representatives on the Board for their tremendous support and encouragement.’
Allan Blake, Chair Trustee Board, South West London Law Centres, 8 April 2021