The Wiltshire Law Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2021!
A small group of people, passionate about providing free legal advice to the people of Swindon, attended the Law Centres Federation national development conference in May 1978 to hear about how Law Centres could be set up. Three and a half years later, that small group had the satisfaction of being involved in the official opening of the Thamesdown Law Centre by the Government Minister responsible for the Traditional Urban Programme, Lord Bellwin, on 3rd November 1981.
The ceremony was attended by the Management Committee and staff of the new Law Centre, the Mayor of Thamesdown, the leader of Thamesdown Borough Council, the Deputy Leader of Wiltshire County Council, David Stoddart MP, and the Chairperson of the Law Centres Federation.
Lord Bellwin congratulated local people for the time, energy and enthusiasm put into getting the project off the ground. This energy and enthusiasm has not diminished over time and there is still the same passion to serve the people of Swindon now as there was twenty five years ago.
The first breakthrough for the Thamesdown Law Centre came when the Thamesdown Community Trust gave a grant of £1000 to allow two researchers to look into unmet legal need in the town and to draft a funding proposal. The proposal was sent to Lord Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor at the time who to everyone’s astonishment offered the group £7000 towards their capital costs. This was tied to the group obtaining funding from other sources too to get the project off the ground. Unfortunately, the Lord Chancellor’s offer lapsed, as no other funding at that time could be found. However, his backing for the project was crucial in obtaining the necessary endorsement first from Thamesdown Borough Council and then from Wiltshire County Council who between them basically provided the bulk of the initial funding. The Lord Chancellor’s department then renewed its offer to everyone’s relief and the Law Centre was set to go.
Over the years the Law Centre has faced many challenges, not just in the wide range of legal cases it has taken on, but also in the funding required to keep the centre alive. Each time it has managed to fight off the threat off closure by securing sometimes at the eleventh hour, the funding (not always the full amount) to keep going. The fights for survival over the years have been highlighted in the local press (1986, 1993, 1997, 2005 to name but a few).
The Law Centre started life in premises in Milton Road all those years ago. In 1998 it was awarded a Legal Aid Board franchise in employment, housing and welfare benefits work. This made the Law Centre only the third firm of solicitors in Swindon to have a legal aid franchise. In 2000 the Law Centre moved to its premises in Temple House, Commercial Road and in June 2014 to the Sanford House in Sanford Street, Swindon as part of the Local Authority advice hub with various charities housed under the same roof to make helping clients easier.