Advertisement
Activism

How a group of Essex lawyers turn things around for those facing homelessness

‘Maybe the government should do it, but they’re not.’

The Essex town of Harlow was home to the UK’s first tower block. As one of the first of the new towns to spring up in the middle of the last century, Harlow was a post-war dream of modern housing. 

Decades later, a symbol of this century’s housing crisis looms over the town centre – Terminus House. 

It wasn’t built as a housing block. It’s an old office block, repurposed as accommodation, and has been described as a “human warehouse”, or as an “open prison”. 

Some of those living inside turn to Jackie Brown of Harlow Advice Centre

“People are still telling me that there’s lots of issues with drugs and violence. Most of the clients don’t like it at all,” Brown said. “It’s very hard to get them out of there.” 

The help that food banks provide is perhaps obvious. But Brown and her colleagues go further, appealing against evictions, and buying time for people to deal with their debts. Without intervention, their clients stand to lose everything. 

Advertisement
Advertisement

“Some people go bankrupt. Some people wind up on the streets,” Brown said. “The help gives you peace of mind, knowing that you’re doing what you can to put your situation right is really important. In a way we enable that.” 

Subscribe to The Big Issue

From just £3 per week

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work. With each subscription we invest every penny back into supporting the network of sellers across the UK. A subscription also means you'll never miss the weekly editions of an award-winning publication, with each issue featuring the leading voices on life, culture, politics and social activism.

Harlow is poised to be hit hard by the cost of living crisis. Nearly two thirds of residents have less than £125 a month of disposable income. In the advice centre, where help is offered for free, that is becoming obvious. 

“We’re giving out more food bank vouchers than we did before. Sometimes you have people who come to see me who can’t afford their next meal,” Brown said. 

Choosing between heating and eating has become a motif of the crisis. Brown points out there’s a third prong: paying rent. “I can see it’s going to be a real big issue,” she said. 

“We’re going to have cases come to us where people have been evicted because they can’t afford to pay for their heating bills.” 

The centre, along with applying for legal aid funding, has received investment from Big Issue Invest, the investment arm of The Big Issue. 

The work is unglamorous. By way of contrast, Brown points out that newly qualified solicitors at London law firms earn upwards of £100,000. “It’s wonderful but I’ll never get that in my life. I don’t mind,” she said. 

“It’s really nice because you’re helping people,” Brown said when describing her work in her hometown. “There’s a buzz in helping people to turn their life around.” 

Brown added: “Maybe the government should do it, but they’re not. It’s no good saying ‘they should do it so we won’t’, because that doesn’t help anybody. 

“There’s genuine need for help here. It’s the right thing to do.” 

Advertisement

Bigger Issues need bigger solutions

Big Issue Group is creating new solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunities for the 14.5 million people living in poverty to earn, learn and thrive. Big Issue Group brings together our media and investment initiatives as well as a diverse and pioneering range of new solutions, all of which aim to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Learn how you can change lives today.

Recommended for you

Read All
Fuel protests: What you need to know about the protesters blocking roads
Activism

Fuel protests: What you need to know about the protesters blocking roads

Just Stop Oil: Who are the protesters storming race tracks and oil refineries?
Just Stop Oil

Just Stop Oil: Who are the protesters storming race tracks and oil refineries?

Pride at 50: 'What has been kept alive is the spirit of fun that marked out that first march'
Pride

Pride at 50: 'What has been kept alive is the spirit of fun that marked out that first march'

Teenage activists deliver wheelbarrows of mud to Kellogg's factory to protest 'misleading' health claims
Healthy food

Teenage activists deliver wheelbarrows of mud to Kellogg's factory to protest 'misleading' health claims

Most Popular

Read All
Exclusive: BT call centre sets up 'food bank' for its own staff
1.

Exclusive: BT call centre sets up 'food bank' for its own staff

Prince William: 'Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue'
2.

Prince William: 'Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue'

Rainn Wilson emailed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to say Harry Mudd would 'fit right in'
3.

Rainn Wilson emailed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to say Harry Mudd would 'fit right in'

The UK approach to replacing the Human Rights Act is just as worrying as the replacement itself
4.

The UK approach to replacing the Human Rights Act is just as worrying as the replacement itself

Keep up to date with The Big Issue. The leading voice on life, politics, culture and social activism direct to your inbox.