This year community legal centres in NSW supported more than 51,000 people and provided more than 209,000 services.
There are 41 community legal centres across New South Wales. From Broken Hill in the Far West to the South Coast to inner Sydney: we are there supporting communities, challenging injustice, and advocating for a fairer society.
Our Annual Report covers:
- The 2021-22 Community Legal Centres NSW Client Survey, a key tool by we can evaluate the work of our sector to ensure that centres are delivering responsive, high-quality, and appropriate legal services. The results are outstanding, demonstrating that community legal centres treat people with care and compassion, by providing services that are tailored to peoples’ individual needs.
- Change takes community: Action for a fairer future, a comprehensive set of legislative and policy reforms will ensure that our communities are fairer and more-inclusive places.
- Big Yarn Up, a first-of-its kind gathering for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community legal workers.
- The inaugural year of our First Nations Cadetship Program, which kick-starts careers in the community legal sector.
- The extensive professional development opportunities we delivered to community legal centre workers.
- A new Fines Write Off program that sees debts of up to $5,000 written off for eligible community legal centre clients.
- The Tenants’ Union of NSW’s vision for a crisis-resilient renting system.
- Mob Strong Debt Help's work to support First Nations people affected by the collapse of predatory funeral insurance company.
- Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre's work on-the-ground following flooding in Lismore.
- An integrated justice partnership tackling invisible hurdles in Hume Riverina Community Legal Service.
- The work that Community Legal Centres NSW has done to help centres strengthen their capacity to build trauma informed practices.
- The development of our new website application to help people find an appropriate community legal centre.
Chair and Director’s Report
The world has come to look very different in the last few years. Have we as a sector emerged from a pandemic and an ongoing climate emergency more agile, better able to meet challenges head on? Yes, we have. We have continued to provide legal help to thousands of people without interruption as we moved to having to work from home, and lost offices in floods.
We know community legal centres make a difference to people’s lives in ways that are often difficult to measure. Practical legal advice provided to people when they are in crisis helps them understand that there are systemic issues like unfair policies, poverty, homelessness and violence that has caused their legal problem. Sometimes that advice solves the problem, other times it explains why it is not able to be solved.
What we found in our client survey was that community legal centres made people feel safe, heard and respected. We helped people know where to go for help next time they had a problem and what they could do about their problem.
Community legal centres are unique places. No two are the same. They reflect both the community they serve and the people that work there. We are all bonded by a shared purpose, and we speak the same language, of justice and respect. We strive to do more. We lead with our values.
People who work in community legal centres are, by their nature, people who believe the world can be a better, fairer place. They are resilient, creative and tenacious and put their heart into their work to make that change happen. We have 41 community legal centres across NSW with formidable advocates and big vision.
We know that legal help is needed in the community, but acknowledge it isn’t enough on its own. We go out to community to talk to people to find out what they need. We provide wraparound support, linking people with other services. We strategically advocate to government to change laws and policies that we know cause damage and despair. We insist on compassion where there is none.
A huge part of our work is making sure that centres are safe places, both for our staff and our clients. This year we were able to bring together over fifty First Nations staff to yarn about their work and create connections. We launched the First Nations Cadetship Program to provide career opportunities and support the next generation of advocates. We talked a lot about cultural safety, vicarious trauma and the personal cost the effect of our work can have. The care for our clients is reflected in the care people show for their colleagues.
Our role at Community Legal Centres NSW is to support the work of our centres and their staff, by advocating for them while they advocate for others, by providing support for centres to operate while they provide support to others. We provide training and professional development, we support the continuous development of professional organisations, and we work with the broader legal assistance and social support sector on systemic change. We also provide financial services and bookkeeping services to centres at cost.
Tim Leach, our recently departed Executive Director has, for 4.5 years steered the peak and our members through difficult waters to ensure centres remain open for people who need assistance. We thank him for his wisdom, his kindness, and his humour. He leaves Community Legal Centres NSW well respected by our stakeholders and our members.
The world has come to look very different. What we see is more people in legal distress, in financial distress, more people without homes, without safety. In the year ahead we will continue our commitment to social justice because that is what we do.