The first Law Centre began work in 1970 and featured in a TV documentary called ‘The Law Shop’ on the World in Action Programme. At that time, it was not simply the issue that many people could not afford lawyers; it was that there was no lawyer based in or even near their community. That first Law Centre in an old butcher’s shop on North Kensington High Street was inspired by the Neighbourhood Law Office movement in the USA and opened the door for similar projects to grow across the UK.
Cumbria Law Centre started life as Carlisle Community Law Centre in 1990.
It opened its doors without an employed solicitor and struggled in the early years to recruit a suitably qualified lawyer who was prepared to join the Law Centre full time.
In 1991, the Law Centre secured vital core funding from Carlisle City Council. It opened officially in new premises (then in Cecil Street).
By 1993, the Law Centre had secured grant support from Allerdale Borough Council and Copeland Borough Council also came on board 1996.
1996 marked the beginning of a new way of delivering legal advice. The Law Centre was successful in a bid for a Lottery Grant totaling £292,000 to provide Britain’s first mobile legal service. This allowed for a customised vehicle to be bought, taking legal services out to people who need them. This service was particularly useful in opening up access for rural communities.
Times have moved on and communication technology has improved. So the vehicle was mothballed in 2006. It remains the Law Centre’s ambition to go county-wide and we now work across four of the five districts in the county.
Today, the Law Centre is adapting once again, to a world with almost no public funding for social welfare law and we have to rethink how we fund our work. In some ways, the Law Centre is facing its most serious challenges yet, but is committed to retaining as many vital services as possible for the people of Cumbria. We think that our services are more needed today than at any time in recent history.