North Kensington Law Centre was the first law centre to open its doors in the UK in 1970 and this Friday they are celebrating their 50th anniversary. With support from The National Lottery Community Fund and The Tudor Trust, we’ve been working with them to capture the stories of their clients, trustees, and staff past and present to put a spotlight on the importance of access to justice for all. In this guest blog, Holly Stow, the Windrush Compensation Scheme Paralegal at NKLC shares what it has meant to her to work at NKLC.
As a young child I always did as I was told, I was rarely in trouble, enjoyed school and never questioned authority. However, as I grew older, I noticed how people were treated differently for the way they looked, where they lived and what they could afford. I noticed the way those deemed to have some power in society had the ability to get away with such treatment. Treatment that differentiated myself and my brother just because of the difference in the colour of our skin. No one would tell me what a ‘good white kid’ I was, but people knew my brother as the ‘naughty black kid’. It wasn’t until I moved out of my small home town that I saw this wasn’t just happening to my brother, but to so many people because of an institutional and systemic problem in society. The years of just doing what I was told are over, I am doing what is right, showing my younger self that it’s ok to speak up and hold authorities to account. I am proud to be part of the team at North Kensington Law Centre, working for justice and fairness, surrounded by colleagues who inspire me every day.
I started volunteering for North Kensington Law Centre in November 2018. I began volunteering on the reception and after a few months I began to volunteer for the Immigration Team and the Crime Team. Through this voluntary work I found my passion for Immigration law. In July 2019, after 8 months of volunteering, I was lucky enough to have successfully gained employment at the Law Centre as a Windrush Compensation Scheme Paralegal.
The Windrush scandal had and is still having disastrous impacts on people’s lives. In a country that claims to be so ‘Great’ it is truly the opposite for those who simply weren’t born here. The international postcode lottery that meant those who came to England to rebuild our country, giving so much and taking so little, fell victim to the hostile environment which lead to the exposure of the Windrush scandal. Lives shattered and still no justice served.
As well as my full-time position at NKLC I manage an Independent Legal Observers team that monitor how the police, police certain events such as Notting Hill Carnival. This team upholds the community’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the police attempts to bridge the gap between the authorities and communities, a bond that was broken due to the Grenfell and Windrush scandals. I am also the sub team leader for the criminal defence division of Project: Empower, as part of NKLC and for this project, I speak to young adults about their rights and responsibilities on a range of topics from rights at a police station, drug and weapons offences to various laws surrounding consent.
‘Without Law Centres, people may go unheard and their injustices never resolved.’
I, like many other law students during my studies, always had the vision of working in a commercial city law firm, I am proud to say I changed my mind! The bond you create with your fellow colleagues and your clients is something that I believe is unique to Law Centres and the voluntary sector. People work at Law Centres because they care about their clients, they care about access to justice and they want to help. Law Centres are crucial for communities and especially for people on low incomes who may otherwise not receive the legal help they deserve. Without Law Centres, people may go unheard and their injustices never resolved.
The cuts to legal aid introduced by LASPO have caused severe difficulties when it comes to access justice, therefore many services are dealt with on a pro bono basis. However, this is sometimes hard to maintain and as a result Law Centres are closing. For some people, this will never affect them, for others this is a devastating moment in their lives.
It is fair to say that many people may not appreciate the importance of accessing justice, until they need it. Without Law Centres, accessing justice would be impossible for so many people and spreading awareness of Law Centres is a crucial part in maintaining their existence.
I enjoy coming to work every day, and no days are the same. Everyone at the Law Centre works so hard to fight for the justice that people deserve whether it be against their landlord, employer, the Home Office or Police, North Kensington Law Centre helps a wide range of people and I am proud to be a part of the team here.
I can honestly say that the Law Centre has changed my life for the better. The opportunities I have gained through the Law Centre are incredible and knowing that each day that I come into the office I am making a difference to someone’s life, someone who has faced such injustice, is extremely motivating and I am grateful to be in such a position.
About the author
Holly Stow is 22 years old she grew up in Lowestoft a small seaside town and moved to London in 2016 to start University. Holly has recently graduated from London South Bank University with a 2:1 Law Degree. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, travelling to new places and attending music events.
This blog was first published on the NKLC blog.