Ross and volunteers at Highbury Community Advice
At Highbury Community Advice | Ross and his team of volunteers

Two years to Community Advice – the advice and support service at Highbury Court

Joanne Thomas

“It would be such a fantastic thing – it would show them there is hope.”

This is just one of many comments I’ve heard over recent months while talking to staff about the role of court and how people’s experience of it can contribute to reduced reoffending. It is in reference to the idea of a service on site that would work with people who need support to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour but whose offences do not necessitate probation involvement. The frustration expressed by court-based staff at not having the options or knowledge of what to provide for such people has come up again and again.

This makes me even more impressed by what continues to take place in Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court. It is a year since we celebrated its first anniversary, and now for two years the Community Advice service – formed of only one paid member of staff and a team of enthusiastic and committed volunteers – has supported more than 1,000 people in exactly such circumstances. People attending court for the first time, others who return again and again; all are approached and offered help. One in five who have taken up the offer have been homeless. A third have had active problems with their benefits. Around half have more than one issue they need support to tackle.

How the service helps people

The team works tirelessly every day to identify people, understand what they need, and get them the right help. They have made 2,000 referrals to services in the community, and kept in touch with 400 people for six months to ensure they can follow up on progress and check what else people need to help keep them away from offending. People like Adam, who was homeless, drug dependent, and suffering from both mental and physical health problems. The team helped him to secure temporary accommodation and stop taking drugs. Or others such as George, who they helped to manage his debts accentuated by his court fines, and avoid bailiffs removing all his possessions.

Such results wouldn’t be possible without the excellent joint work with partner organisations in the community, but a court hearing provides a real opportunity to engage people at a crisis point about what they need and help them find appropriate support. Ross and his team have made the most of that opportunity with 1,250 people and counting. And with an independent evaluation currently being carried out,  other courts will soon have all the evidence they need about the benefits such services bring to enable them to ensure those in their own courts have a similar opportunity.

If you are interested in setting up an advice and support service in your area, you can read our step-by-step guidance on how to set up, deliver and evaluate the impact of an advice and support service. Please email me at jthomas@justiceinnovation.org for more information.

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