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AGM 2011 - HCLC moving forward with confidence


Hackney Community Law Centre held its 2011 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Monday 5th December 2011 ay Hackney Town Hall.


The meeting, which was well attended by interested local Hackney residents, received reports from Cllr Rathbone as the 2010-2011 Chair of HCLC and a Manager's Report from outgoing interim manager, Matthew Howgate.


The AGM also approved HCLC's accounts for the year 2010-2011 and appointed auditors for the year 2011-2012.   Ian Rathbone (pictured right with new HCLC Manager Sean Canning) gave his Chair's report for the year 2010 - 2011.  HCLC was in a serious position.  Where will people going to go when they need legal aid to help them?  Cllr Rathbone thought it was a sad day for democracy. 


The issue was  about access to justice.  Hackney Community Law Centre would have to reinvent itself. Cllr Rathbone informed the meeting that the current interim manager, Matthew Howgate, was leaving and Sean Canning (pictured above right), Manager of the North Kensington Law Centre would be taking over. 


Cllr Rathbone thanked the Law Centre team for "sticking with it".  There may have been ups and downs over the past year but the HCLC team had really stuck together. The Centre set up a Friends of Hackney Community Law Centre last year, which has brought in some interest and donations. 


The Centre now has robust financial systems in place, the latest computer software to record all our cases and has cleared a lot of the back billing.  HCLC can move forward with confidence despite difficult times. However, HCLC does still face legal aid cuts in April 2013.   Cllr Rathbone was grateful to the London Borough of Hackney for their direct funding to and to the Law Centres Federation and Sue Brown of Tower Hamlets Law Centre for helping HCLC to access funding to fund a Development Officer for the centre. 


It’s been frustrating for Matt to have to spend lots of time fire fighting.  The Development Officer will be a useful role. HCLC has tried to involve more Councillors in its work over the last year.  HCLC has attended two council scrutiny commissions, the second of which was scrutiny was about the criminalisation of young people after the riots. 


HCLC has also tried to encourage councillors to join the Friends of HCLC. The London Borough of Hackney became the first council to sign up to the Justice for All campaign.    Funding from Hackney Council for the year 2011-2012 has now been confirmed.


Over the last year, HCLC has also developed an intern scheme.  The intern scheme has really helped people develop. Matt Howgate has been with the Centre for 3 years.  He’s been firm, doesn’t take being pushed around but is also flexible.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of law and finance.  Matt cares about the people of Hackney. 


When he became interim manager three years ago, Matt spoke passionately about the need for asylum seekers and refugees to access legal aid. The Chair endorsed tributes paid to Yvonne Stevens, a solicitor who worked for HCLC for 23 years, working her way up from a legal secretary to a solicitor.  Yvonne has now left HCLC to set up her own solicitors practice, Owens Stevens.  


Matthew Howgate (pictured third on the right) then gave his Manager's Report.  Matt hoped that he was leaving the team in a better position than when he found it.  He was originally only supposed to be coming in two days a week for 3 months.  A lot of people left the organisation but he and others had slowly built up the centre to what it is now. 


There are now 14 staff. In the last year, HCLC has lost half of London Councils funding and 10% of legal aid income (100k).  Matt hoped that HCLC would not be losing the other half of the London Councils funding.  However, Matt was sure that HCLC would " find a way through".  Of that he had absolutely no doubt. 


The great Billy Ocean had said “when the going gets tough the tough get going” but HCLC haven’t.  We’ve come up with new projects. Matt thought that HCLC needed to reach out to the community more now and increase our visibility.  The London Borough of Hackney also want HCLC to be involved in community advice strategy more widely.  HCLC will be joining the council's community advice strategy steering group in January 2012.


HCLC would be appointing a Development Officer in the New year.  It is impossible to run a law centre two days a week and build new relationships, put funding bids in, etc.  The appointment would commence in January 2012. HCLC had ben involved in a number of fundraising drives.  We are very grateful to the London Legal Trust and London Councils.  HCLC was also in the process of talking to other funding organisations. Matt and HCLC solicitor Wendy Pettifer had attended the Law Centres Federation annual conference in Manchester on the 17th and 18th of November 2011. 


This year the conference was energetic and lively.  Law Centres have a lot to give.  We’re seeing demand increase not reduce.  It would be unforgiveable if we allowed Hackney Law Centre to die.


After discussion and approval of the accounts, the election of new board and members, the re-election of auditors and a public discussion of Government changes to legal aid, the meeting closed at 8.50pm.