My name is Emily Freeman and I have been a housing volunteer at Vauxhall Community Law and Information Centre for 15 months. I volunteered at the Centre whilst studying for my law degree at Liverpool Hope University. I wanted to work at VCLIC due to my own experiences of homelessness and poverty.
Growing up, I lived in a single-parent home reliant on benefits. We did not have much and when those benefits did not cover the bills, we were evicted and had to relocate to the Merseyside area. Several years went by before occurrences of abuse meant that I had to leave the family home and present myself as homeless. I received little support from the local council and had to sofa-surf before social services intervened and secured me temporary accommodation in refuges and hostels in the Merseyside area. During this time, I was pregnant and relying on benefits of around £200 per month. It was a real struggle not knowing where I would be staying or whether the place would be safe, but I remained in college and, after almost two years, at 19, I finally secured social housing. I then became a single parent reliant on benefits.
I still wanted to study Law but felt that it was unrealistic for someone in my position. Fortunately, I had a lot of people in my life who believed I could do it and those people supported me with my application to University. It was a scary process, but I knew I wanted to study Law and help those who were in similar positions to myself. Whilst homeless, I learnt that my story is the reality for lots of other people. It was a heart-breaking reality but listening to their stories gave me the motivation to study Law and eventually support them. After my first year at University, I applied to VCLIC to volunteer.
I was very transparent about my background and why I wanted to help. My interviewer was very understanding of my background and when I got confirmation that I would be able to volunteer with the Centre, I was overjoyed. I began working in the Housing Department and was able to interview clients to talk about their own issues and how the service could assist. I learnt just how important the organisation is to its community. People from all walks of life rely on the Centre for a range of issues and usually have nowhere else to turn. Many of the clients are vulnerable or they are in vulnerable positions and being able to listen to them and support them is incredibly rewarding. It reminded me of my own struggles and how I wished I had someone fighting in my corner the way the staff at VCLIC fight for their own clients.
After several months, I was able to do legal research, draft documents and appeal housing decisions related to Property Pool Plus. I had not yet studied Housing Law and so I initially struggled with whether I was doing something correctly, but my supervisor, Siobhan Taylor-Ward, was incredibly supportive and either pointed me in the right direction or gave me the confidence and knowledge to do a task by myself. This included learning about whether an eviction notice is valid, whether or not a house of multiple occupation needs a license and also learning about how homes are allocated in Merseyside. I was given plenty of opportunities to attend online workshops and webinars in Housing Law to enhance my learning and appreciate the challenges within this area of law. My experience has not only helped my studies, but also gave me a way to help vulnerable persons in the Merseyside area. I enjoyed getting to know clients and felt that it was a real privilege when they opened up to me about their personal issues.
The service has a real impact on people’s lives and being able to contribute to that impact is incredibly rewarding. The experience has benefitted me both personally and professionally. I have met some wonderful humans during my time at the Centre – everyone has been encouraging of both my professional and academic development. As of July 2022, I will leave my University with a first-class degree in law and will also be leaving VCLIC to begin employment at the Citizens Advice Bureau, where I will be using all the skills I developed at the Centre to help other vulnerable persons in my local area.
From all of us at VLC we want to say a huge thank you to Emily for her time and commitment over the past 15 months, Emily has been an outstanding volunteer and we will miss her dearly! Good luck and keep in touch!