As we reflect on our forty years of service to the community we acknowledge the changing environment for community legal centres and how these changes have shaped the Centre’s journey in advancing justice though the provision of legal services.
What has not changed for PCLC over this journey is its strong community connections and an overarching commitment to social justice.
In the mid 1970’s, Frankston North youth workers were sharing concerns about local people not having access to affordable legal advice. They came up with the with the idea of attracting a small band of volunteer solicitors and having them provide free legal advice out of the Pines Forest Community Centre, with local community members providing the support work. From those discussions, a community meeting was held and the Frankston North Legal Service was born. The name was changed to Peninsula Community Legal Centre Inc. in 1995 to reflect the Centre’s growth and the communities it was serving through its outreach services.
In a quote from one of the Centre’s founders John Finlayson; “(The Legal Service) was about creating opportunities for families, particularly for the women, to take responsibility for the social issues that were impacting on their lives”1. From that small office in Frankston North and with the vision of its founders, PCLC has grown into a large generalist CLC, providing high quality legal and support services across the South East of Metropolitan Melbourne.
This year has been outstanding with the Centre assisting over 5,500 individuals and providing 8,460 legal services to clients.
But we’re not content to rest easy. After adopting the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, the Management Committee saw an opportunity to review the Centre’s organisation and governance structure to ensure it was in the best possible position to meet future services. For this reason, Halpin Partners was engaged on a pro bono basis to undertake an organisational review. We also undertook a review of the legal practice to identify what was working well and where we could improve in response to the significant growth of the practice. The Centre was also grappling with Commonwealth funding cuts and increased operational costs for its premises.
Following the reviews, the Management Committee implemented a new organisational structure to ensure the continuing health, sustainability and effective operations of the Centre, both for the present and the future. We acknowledge and commend the staff for their patience and commitment during this challenging time.
We have bolstered our organisational foundations to enhance the Centre’s legal practice with increased planning, strategies and resources to undertake more intensive casework services for our clients. We have welcomed two new pilot projects, the Family Violence to Family Law Continuity of Service Pilot, which was launched by the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Her Honour Diana Bryant, and the Family Advocacy and Support Services Project. These two year family law pilots, and our enhanced family violence duty lawyer services have enriched the Centre’s capacity to provide service continuity and a full suite of legal services for clients experiencing family violence, 35% of whom disclosed family violence.
Connection to community remains a strong focus for PCLC. We continued to take our services to those clients most in need by developing innovative programs and partnerships. For example, PCLC is participating in a 12 month Pilot integrating legal services into the Frankston North school communities. This Pilot provides onsite legal services in two Frankston North Primary Schools. We are also conducting a fines clinic service at Peninsula Health’s Drug & Alcohol Unit.
A core component of the work PCLC undertakes is in the area of tenancy. Since 1998, the Centre has been funded to operate a specialist Tenancy and Consumer Program. This program came under review this past year. PCLC participated in a series of consultations and submitted a successful tender for the new Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program. This four year funding will enable PCLC to continue and expand its tenancy work to vulnerable and disadvantaged private rental tenants in the Bayside/Peninsula and Southern Melbourne regions. However, we were disappointed with the news that PCLC would no longer be funded to undertake consumer advocacy and rooming house outreach work.
Our commitment to continuous quality improvement was a highlight this year with our involvement in the Federation’s Outcomes Measurement Project. The Centre developed its Evaluation Capacity Building Plan, including our Theory of Change and Outcomes Monitoring and Evaluation Framework. This work has strengthened our capacity to assess and articulate the impact and value of our work. It will also assist us to respond to the shift embraced by external bodies (such as funders) to outcomes measurement and evidence based reporting.
PCLC highly values and appreciates its partnerships and collaborations with funders, pro bono supporters, community organisations and networks, all of whom are vital to the impact we can have in achieving access to justice. We continued our work at a local, state and national level, with active involvement in both the national and state peak bodies for Community Legal Centres.
We were proud to formally launch our regional service planning collaboration, The South Eastern Regional Assistance Network (SERLAN) with our partners Casey Cardinia Legal Service, Springvale Monash Legal Service, St Kilda Legal Service, and Victorian Legal Aid Dandenong and Frankston.
Through the year, we farewelled four longstanding and highly regarded leaders from the PCLC team; Victoria Mullings, Gillian Wilks, Andrea Staunton and Saskia Weerheim. Each of them demonstrated outstanding service to the Centre. Their invaluable contributions, unique skills and knowledge have been integral to the development and success of the Centre. We also acknowledge and appreciate the outstanding and valuable service of Valmai Scully who also left the organisation during this past year.
We thank our Management Committee for their knowledge, guidance and support as they undertake their crucial governance role.
Four nights a week, our doors are open thanks to the tremendous contribution of our wonderful volunteers. Volunteers significantly strengthen our ability to respond to the legal needs of our community, providing up to nine additional free legal advice sessions a week across our five branches. Thank you for your support, expertise and commitment.
Finally, our success is underpinned by the extraordinary staff of Peninsula Community Legal Centre whose passion, professionalism and determination inspire us daily. We thank you all for your dedication to our vision and your commitment to the legacy of our founders in achieving access to justice for all.
- From Humble Beginnings A Brief History of Peninsula Community Legal Centre 1977-2007, Victoria Erlichster, 2007, p. 10