Barry Mills is an Employment Law Adviser at North Kensington Law Centre. Barry is also a supervisor at London South Bank University’s Legal Advice Clinic. In this guest blog he tells his own story of working in law centres for the past 30 years, and why NKLC’s work is as important as ever.
I began working in Law Centres in 1990 – so this year is my own personal 30th anniversary. I have been at North Kensington Law Centre (NKLC) since 2014.
My first years in advice work were in Sheffield where I began at a Citizens Advice Bureau on the outskirts of the city. This was just before the 1984 Miners Strike, and as a centre close to the coalfields of North East Derbyshire we ran daily advice sessions at the local Miners welfare centre. Everyday we would assist with keeping people housed, also dealing with financial and debt issues for miners and their families. This was at a time when the miners were being demonised by much of the media and I can still remember calling a Building Society about a client’s mortgage arrears and hearing the person who answered the phone sneeringly saying to the rest of their office “Anyone feeling sympathetic towards the miners today?”. Many staff themselves lived locally and had relatives/friends personally affected by the dispute. Our assistance and support was much appreciated.
It gave me a stark introduction in the importance of advice to local communities. And also that the political dimension of our work will always be present- fighting injustice, challenging discrimination and unfairness, and supporting local communities.
In 1990 I began at Greenwich Law Centre as an Employment Law caseworker. In those days funding was almost 100% from the local authority and there was considerable scope around how to deliver services. The Centre had a Women’s Rights adviser and we also ran a number of outreach sessions in the community. During this time I also ran many Employment Tribunal cases, the most memorable of which was a successful Sex Discrimination claim against the Cricket board at Lord’s which dominated the front pages of all the papers the next day (much to my surprise when walking into my local newsagents!). It also opened up much debate about the treatment of women in cricket – and sport generally. At the other end of the scale I’ve had a client who after an unsuccessful hearing was last seen chasing her boss down Croydon High Street…
My employment casework has continued at NKLC. It’s fair to say that everyday is different and the client group is interesting and varied. In the course of a day we can be advising zero hours cleaners, hospitality and security workers, retail staff through to people who work in the City. Dismissals, discrimination and pay issues continue to dominate.
’50 years on, the work of North Kensington Law Centre and the Law Centres movement remains as important and essential as ever’
Of course an abiding memory of NKLC will be working here at the time of the Grenfell fire and afterwards. Coming into the office that week was unforgettable. There was an eerie atmosphere and large numbers of people on the street, media and cameras everywhere. One of my first sights was an enormous pallet of bottled water just left near the tube station – as many local centres had by now received so many donations they had no space. Most poignant of all though was the number of hastily made Missing posters on walls, many for children. All in the shadow of the burned out husk of the Tower.
What was heartening though was the amount of support and assistance the Centre received from others in the legal sector and from the local community. To say the Centre was inundated with offers of help would be an understatement – and it allowed us to provide an allday open drop in service for many months.
I was also here the day that Theresa May finally deigned to make a local appearance in the church hall opposite. Word got around of her arrival and soon an angry group was building – the Police having to block the road as she scuttled into her official car to make an escape. There was righteous anger and tension in the air and even today three years on that anger and the battle for justice continues.
50 years on, the work of North Kensington Law Centre and the Law Centres movement remains as important and essential as ever. Things don’t change much – the vulnerable and disadvantaged continue to need our assistance and will do so in the unpredictable future. What is pleasing for me though is that by working with our volunteers, trainees and students we are creating a new generation of advisers to take on the challenges.
About the Author
Barry Mills is an Employment Law Adviser at North Kensington Law Centre. Barry is also a supervisor at London South Bank University’s Legal Advice Clinic.