Brixton Advice Centre to leave historic Railton Road HQ

Images of Darcus Howe and Linton Kwesi Johnson at Brixton Advice Centre on Railton Road

Brixton Advice Centre, a fixture on Railton Road for decades, is selling its building at 165-167 Railton Road.

It plans to use the proceeds to buy more accessible and suitable premises elsewhere in Lambeth that will allow expansion of its free legal advice services.

BAC, a registered charity, is one of only two free legal advice centres remaining in the borough.

BAC won a national award for its work during the lockdown, creating and coordinating the Online Legal Clinic, a service delivered by more then 30 volunteer solicitors and barristers providing free legal advice to Lambeth residents.

Efforts to market its current building and find more suitable premises for its expanding services are under way, with a move expected sometime next year.

As well as needing space to grow, poor travel links and lack of full disabled access have been cited as factors in the decision to move.

Conversion costs to the former residential building would be prohibitive, BAC said.

It said there had been a steady change in the area – which is close to central Herne Hill – over the years.

A noticeable post-pandemic drop in footfall and a big increase in take-up of online and telephone advice across wider Lambeth also played a part in the decision.

Patrick Torsney, chief executive officer of the charity, said: “The trustees have been putting a lot of work in and will be looking to find somewhere suitable.

“It has to be somewhere easily accessible and something we can afford; has to be in Lambeth and as close to the centre of Brixton as we can manage.

“We want to be able to carry on serving the people who use us now as well as accessible to people elsewhere in the borough.

“It will need full disabled access for clients, staff and volunteers and, sufficient space – more room to build on what we’re doing and for collaboration.

“For example, we’ve worked with Lambeth Larder for some years now, a local social enterprise that connects people to emergency food and other services, and we want to continue being able to offer facilities to groups like this that we have a lot of time for and who work well with our own advice services.”

Torsney said BAC had been thinking hard about a move for a long time and the pandemic had focussed this. He did not think the move would result in a break in BAC’s services.

“We learned a lot during the lockdowns in particular, he said.

“All staff worked throughout – no furlough. So if there’s a gap between moving out and into the new place we’re geared up and will be ready to provide a complete service online, over the phone and face-to-face where necessary, by putting advisers in outreach and partner venues.

“We also have plenty of open cases involving court and tribunal proceedings.

“They can’t just stop or be put on hold because we’re moving.

“We’ll be providing the same kind of service one way or another regardless of what’s going on with the building.

“It’s a big deal for us leaving the current place, it’s a special building and we’ve a lot of history there, but it’s for all the right reasons – it will allow us to improve and expand our services and make sure we’re there for the many more people who will need our help in the coming years.”

The 165-167 Railton Road building – located in an area known 40 years ago as the Front Line and near the centre of the Brixton Uprising – was originally two separate residential buildings with shops below.

Other former tenants include the Race Today collective, a leading voice of Black political journalism in Britain, which moved out in the late 80s.

It was also the home of influential Black historian, journalist and author, CLR James, who passed away in 1989.

An English Heritage blue plaque commemorating CLR James was placed on the Shakespeare Road side of 165 in 2004.

Members of the public can access advice via: brixtonadvice.org.uk/for-advice/

Any sale or property enquiries should be directed to Petermans. 020 7733 5454 enquiries@petermans.co.uk

BAC currently has six employed staff and 16 volunteers (including trustees).

Six additional specialist advice trainees started on 4 October.

Three further specialist paid staff, including a new solicitor, have been recruited and will be starting during November.

What's your opinion?