This week we met for the 2nd time for a ‘Social Justice Picnic’ in Park Hill Park, Croydon.
We picked this park as it is opposite the Law Courts, near to many transport links, has a history of social organising and is a really great park.
When I was a teenager I had a friend who was made homeless – I will call him Jed. Jed was one of my many friends who were told to leave their family properties and sort things out for themselves as a teenager. No one told them they could seek legal advice or support from services like the South West London Law Centres and support from the local authority. We didn’t know then.
Jed, not knowing there was any support for young homeless people, found himself ‘living’ in Park Hill Park.
15 years later, another friend who I will call Chan also found himself in Park Hill Park. Chan had been happily married. After a relationship breakdown he had to leave the home he had built for his family and had nowhere else to go. Chan was eventually told about ‘No Second Night Out’ the portal you can report yourself as homeless on. You have to wait at the spot you report you are sleeping in for someone from the ‘No Second Night Out’ team to verify you are there. Chan decided Park Hill Park was the safest place he could sleep in for a few nights. A few days later after sleeping in the park Chan was ‘linked in with services’ and was able to access accommodation and support.
Chan received support because he was told about and accessed a service which had capacity to support him. For Jed the journey was much longer as we had no idea where to get support or that there was even support or advice out there. I am pleased that years later both my friends are now in places they call home and have work and can pay rent, which is much easier said then done!
Before the picnic started I took a moment to visit where Jed (as a teenager) and Chan (as a man in his 30s) both ‘bedded down’ and reflected on the importance of people having information and services having capacity. This is not always the case.
It is important to reach beyond eligibility and appointment availability and work out what we can do together to access justice, the picnic gives space for this.
At the picnic we were joined by many allies from across south London. We had Citizens Advice, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Trade Union Congress, Southwark Know Your Rights, Court Watch, Unite the Union, South Norwood Community Kitchen, the Law Centre Network, Day Centre for Refugees, Credit Union, Croydon and Wandsworth Temporary Accommodation Campaign all represented at the picnic as well as the members of our Law Centre.
The picnic started with Emma from South Norwood Community Kitchen (SNCK). If you haven’t been to the SNCK yet – I really recommend it. The atmosphere is what all public spaces should be: inviting, inclusive, stimulating and relaxing. Our Law Centre is at the SNCK on the 1st first Thursday of the month having lunch and building a temporary accommodation campaign. Emma spoke to the picnic about mutual aid and community power.
The next speaker was Fionnuala from Court Watch. Court Watch is part of Transform Justice and is bringing Court Watch to Croydon. Not knowing anything about court watch schemes I was keen to know more and how they might fit in with the work our Law Centre does.
When researching the project I realised it was magistrates courts and originally saw the cross over into our work as criminal proceedings having an impact on housing, money, employment. When discussing Magistrates Courts the later on in the picnic attendees pointed out council tax cases go through the Magristrates Court and many are rubber stamped in bulk. Council Tax debt is a big area of our cost-of-living and debt work.
Court Watch says: Courtwatching is the practice of observing and documenting what really happens in the courtroom. By attending court hearings and writing down what they see, volunteer courtwatchers become the eyes and ears of the community. The data they gather helps to hold courts accountable, identify both good and bad practice, and take action to improve the courts.
The third speaker was Josh from Unite the Union. Josh was excited to share news of a recent housing campaign in which the union focused on a housing associatoin estate that members had told them had various issues. The union spent a long time gathering evidence and testimonies to demonstrate how the housing association was failing to deal with its repairs. Once enough evidence had been gathered they asked for a special meeting with bosses of the housing association to present their evidence and demands. To the joy of the tenants and union – the bosses agreed to the demands. This approach of evidence gathering and demand shaping in hope of having the demands met worked. After Josh spoke attendees of the temporary accommodation campaign wanted to do something similar.
Josh asked if we would deliver some workshops for tenants informing them how to gather evidence and make the early stages of complaints. We have delivered this workshop which uses the EIRC approach (Evidence, Identify, Report, Connect) with other tenant groups and have been told it really does work.
We hope to do this in partnership with Unite the Union and learning from the techniques the union deployed to get demands met. We will keep you updated on that over the next few weeks…
It was a great day and was grateful to all who came. This came about to mark the anniversary of the ‘Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949’ which received Royal Assent on the 30th of July 1949. This year we had to delay celebrations by a month but next year marks 75 years since fair access to legal advice and representation was developed and it will be marked with a bigger then ever Social Justice Picnic!
Thank you to everyone who came. If you would like to be involved in future events celebrating social justice, please contact me (Rhi) at firstname.lastname@example.org