We have around 2000 volunteers across Shelter and Shelter Scotland, in a variety of roles and all with their own motivations, insights, and experiences. Every month we showcase a different volunteer, celebrating their contribution and sharing more about their volunteer role.
This month, not one but two of our amazing Court Desk volunteers, Georgia (pictured above) and Kiera (pictured below), take center stage. They explain what they do in their role, the difference they make to the people who access Shelter’s services, and how volunteering benefits them too.
Georgia and Kiera are both law students at the University of Hertfordshire volunteering with Shelter part-time alongside other commitments. They joined the team in 2022, Georgia for one day a week and Kiera one day a month respectively.
As part of our legal service, a Shelter solicitor will attend court acting as a Duty Solicitor for people at possession and eviction hearings who haven’t got legal representation. There’re usually many hearings in a short frame of time and so the solicitor only has a small window to get all the information they need to put a case forward against the possession or eviction action.
This is where Court Desk volunteers like Georgia and Kiera are vital, taking client information or instructions and briefing the solicitor – maximizing on the limited time.
‘The clients often don’t know they are going to get legal help and we might see about eight or nine people a day,’Georgia
Helping others get through an all too familiar experience
Kiera has personal experience of homelessness and bad housing conditions, which made the volunteering role with Shelter so relevant.
‘For many years in my childhood we faced eviction, my teenage mother was constantly fearful we were going to lose our home and would be in court often. We became homeless for a period of time. When I was a baby and toddler my mum and I lived in a women’s refuge. We have also experienced disrepair quite severely which we’ve had to fight to get repaired,’ Kiera says.
Kiera appreciates how overwhelming and terrifying housing issues can be and wants to help others deal with such a difficult situation.
‘I wanted to use my experiences and help others to feel reassured and supported in court. As well as putting my degree into practice and gaining invaluable skills.’Kiera
Kiera knows that anyone can experience housing issues, no matter who they are, ‘You can never predict what is around the corner,’ she says.
Building a clearer understanding of the housing emergency
Through her volunteering role with Shelter, Georgia also says she now has a much greater understanding of how difficult the housing emergency is making life for so many people.
‘The thing about volunteering with Shelter [in this role] is that you get to go to court and actually help people.’ There is pressure, but it’s good pressure because you are ‘really helping people in a way that matters’, Georgia says.
As well as studying law, Georgia works part-time in a law firm where cases can take a long time to be resolved. As a volunteer with Shelter, she particulalry enjoys having an instant impact on the lives of people facing eviction from their homes.
‘You’re helping them at a really stressful point in their lives.’Georgia
Georgia has gained knowledge and a greater understanding of the barriers people face and how they are struggling to cope. She says [clients’] situations have worsened in the past six months and it was particularly busy just before Christmas.
‘It’s not just renting possessions, a lot of the time it is mortgage possessions as well because of the cost of living crisis. It’s ridiculous, people have been living in a house for 10 or 15 years and they are losing their homes because they can’t keep up the mortgage payments,’ Georgia says.
Georgia gets frustrated when the council says that someone is making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ if they don’t accept the accommodation they are offered, even if it is clearly unsuitable.
‘How can you expect a mother, father, and their four children to live in a two-bedroom flat?’ Georgia says.
Georgia recalls how on her first day of volunteering with Shelter a badly injured man, who had already been evicted from his home, applied for the ‘right of re-entry’. With help from the Shelter duty solicitor, they successfully argued that the eviction was unlawful, and the man was able to return to his home. ‘That was a real win,’ Georgia says. ‘It was a great first day and a great experience.’
Georgia is pleased too to hear that Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions are now closer to being scrapped as, ‘at the moment you get families being evicted for no reason,’ she says.
Using your time to help on the frontline
Both Georgia and Kiera very much enjoy their volunteering roles with Shelter and would recommend it to others. When not volunteering, Georgia, like many students, has part-time jobs and loves music. She plays the piano and saxophone and recently went to see Queen in Madrid. Kiera enjoys walking and seeing friends and family in her spare time. They both carry out their volunteer roles alongside their busy lives in a way that best suits them.
‘It’s a really fulfilling type of volunteering, it’s up close and personal. You’re talking to tenants at threat of getting evicted. You’re at the front line trying to help. If you can volunteer, you should definitely do it,’ Georgia says.
‘Seeing clients come into court nervous and anxious not knowing what to expect, to leaving with immense gratitude and appreciation with a weight off their shoulders, is truly rewarding.’Kiera