Sophia's story

I started volunteering at the Nottingham Law Centre in March 2016. At the time I was unemployed and had difficulty finding employment. I decided to use the time I had to volunteer in order to both give back to the community and possibly learn some new skills.

During my time as a volunteer I was welcomed into a warm and friendly environment by all the staff at the Nottingham Law Centre. I had never worked in an office before. They helped me gain both administrative and life skills. Most importantly they gave me confidence and subsequently helped me find employment. Every job interview I’ve been to the employer asks me about my voluntary work at the Nottingham Law Centre.  

The work that they do for the community is outstanding.   I always found time to return and do voluntary work at the Nottingham Law Centre, as I wanted to be a part of this small group of good people who come to work every day and help those who are most in need. Fast forward a few months and I am now employed by the Nottingham Law Centre as their Legal Aid Billing & Finance Clerk!

Mary's story

Before I started volunteering at Nottingham Law Centre I was struggling with a five year battle with depression. I left my job as a reporter to study law in London but shortly after I found myself divorced, heartbroken, in the middle of bar exams, alone, and entirely without zeal for continuing with the dreams which had brought me to the UK in the first place. My plans changed; I couldn't return home as there were too many reminders of my failed marriage and friends whom I had lost touch with.

I remarried when I moved to Nottingham, but my health was still a problem which impacted on my studies. I struggled to get out of bed to look after the house or myself. I stopped contacting friends and family, who were concerned. I was dragging my husband down with me. I used to walk past the Law Centre on my way to the supermarket but negative thoughts would be played on repeat “You're not British, you're too old and they wouldn’t want you'.   It was so long since I had been in work and my illness negated any drive and motivation to seek work.

It was with the encouragement of an employment specialist at Highbury hospital that I sent my CV to the Law Centre manager.   He told me that volunteering would give me a reason to start getting out of bed, getting dressed and facing the day, which would lift my mood and give me the chance to start interacting with people again.  I was nervous so he came with me to meet the manager, who showed a genuine interest in helping me, as well as empathy in knowing in that I was dealing with a mental health problem.

Having had full training on the basics of giving advice and assistance, I spent time learning about the way that Nottingham Law Centre operates.  I spent time with the manager and on reception. I shadowed advisers in order to understand the range of issues that people sought assistance with.  This also gave me a good understanding of the client group and the Law Centre’s ethos and ways of working.

I worked closely with the advisers and was able to assist them by undertaking delegated tasks on cases.  This included writing letters to clients and statutory agencies, assisting with the completion of application forms for benefits, telephoning clients and other agencies, and so on. 

Over the next few months my life started to gradually take a dramatic turn.  I had a reason to face the week ahead through my commitment to volunteering.  Also, meeting clients who were in a position where they needed help forced me to shift the focus off of my problems.  Just chatting with staff and doing things like organising files or making tea gave me a sense of normality and it brought back old memories of being part of office culture again. When I started to assist advisers in casework, the sense that I was actually useful was so therapeutic and I was proud of my role as a volunteer. I started to look forward to each week learning a bit more about welfare rights and always leaving with a feeling that I had accomplished something, which does wonders to the mind. Even my husband started to notice that I was happier and it gave him hope that I was starting to finally tackle this illness and not give in.  He is grateful to NLC for helping me get back on the road to recovery.  The most special feeling was when the staff surprised me with a cake and a song on my Birthday.  It had been six years since I had had anything to be thankful for and I felt appreciated and recognised as a person who mattered.  No-one was too busy to offer assistance if I didn’t understand something, regardless of how busy things were.

Working at Nottingham Law Centre helped build my confidence and sense of self worth and I really felt that I was doing useful work that helped other local residents. 

After a few months the manager informed me that there was an opportunity for some paid employment at one of the other advice centres.  After only 4 months of volunteer work at the Law Centre I moved into paid employment as a trainee adviser.  

Volunteering at Nottingham Law Centre has made a real difference to my life.  The supportive environment at the Law Centre has enabled me to rebuild my confidence, skills and self assurance.  Without this opportunity I don’t think that I would be in a paid job now.

I never expected to now be employed as a trainee adviser at another advice centre, an opportunity for which I am grateful each day. It's a wonderful feeling to be working again, but it was my experience in volunteering at NLC which gave me hope and the opportunity to get my life back.