Still Fighting at 50: Pioneering North Kensington Law Centre marks 50th anniversary

When I walked through the door I felt hopeless. I was stressed and down.  They listened. They gave me hope. They treated me like a human beingNorth Kensington Law Centre Client 

North Kensington Law Centre (NKLC) in West London was the first Law Centre in England. Friday 17th July 2020 marks their 50th anniversary. No strangers to adversity, whilst their doors are temporarily shut in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Centre is proving more important than ever to people in crisis, as their lawyers help with housing, employment, immigration, mental health and human rights.     

The office, which sits in the shadow of Grenfell Tower in the diverse area of North Kensington, is like the A&E of law; open to anyone, offering free and low-cost advice to people in an emergency.  During the virus, like so many frontline services have had to offer legal advice through telephone helplines, receiving an unprecedented number of calls in three months. A surge in demand is anticipated when they re-open their doors for face-to-face clients in August.

The North Kensington Law Centre inspired other communities to set up their own law centres’ across England and Wales.  

From day one NKLC has been innovative and transformed the provision of legal services including initiating free legal representation for people arrested at police stations. More recently, the law centre has provided support for Grenfell residents and are fighting for compensation for victims of the Windrush scandal.

To mark this month’s 50th birthday NKLC is launching a campaign to raise £50,000 + to train social welfare lawyers of the future from the local community.  Specifically, this money will allow the law centre  to provide a training contact for a BAME candidate from North Kensington. 

Annie Campbell Viswanathan, Director of North Kensington Law Centre,

I’m incredibly proud to be part of a long tradition of helping people to exercise their democratic and legal right to the law, regardless of whether they can pay. Every day we see people in crisis who without us have nowhere else to turn. The elderly man who turns up with a bundle of papers facing a complex housing crisis, the young woman in tears being evicted that day, the zero hours employee laid off with no warning.

People don’t realise they need the law until they do, then they are so relieved we are there for them. We are the A & E of law.   

And our own story is one of survival – we exist in a constant battle to keep going in the face of constant funding cuts. Our clients bear the brunt of tough policies: immigration, austerity and now the pandemic. Already our helplines are overrun and we anticipate unprecedented demand for our expertise when our office doors open again, hopefully, at the beginning of August.

As we celebrate 50 years of tireless advocating for people’s human rights – whoever they are, wherever they come from- our community can trust we will be there for them. Never have we been more needed. ‘

People helped by the Centre have said,

This Law Centre is of the utmost importance for me. Had it not been here in my time of need I don’t know what would happen. It’s also important for other people to clarify the law, to help people obtain justice where there is none, for local people in particular. ‘ 

The Law centre helped me get my identity. I was in the shadow, now I can be heard and I can be seen. ‘ 

For more information on this story and to arrange interviews.

Annie Campbell Viswanathan  / Jude Habib    

Watch: From the BFI Archives North Kensington Law Centre

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