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Legal toolkits for carers win prize at prestigious pro bono awards

9 January 2019

A School of Law and Politics project that offers legal support to carers of people with learning disabilities in Wales, has scooped a top prize at a national Pro Bono award ceremony.

The Wales Independent Support & Empowerment student advice project (WISE) sees Law students work in conjunction with disability charity, Mencap Cymru and was recognised in the ‘Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership’ category at the LawWorks Pro Bono awards which took place in December.

The WISE project began after it was identified that specific support was needed for people in Wales who care for/support people with learning disabilities. Much of the literature that was written for UK carers was tailored towards laws in England which meant that carers in Wales weren’t fully supported (as a result of devolution). Consequently, Mencap Cymru reached out to the School’s Pro Bono unit to see if there was a way for law students to bridge the gap and offer the support that was desperately needed by family members, support workers and advocates of those living with learning disabilities in Wales.

In 2015, a successful bid was made for a three-year Welsh Government sustainable social services grant for the WISE project to develop a series of toolkits across a range of legal topics, including child protection, accessing social and health care services and further education.

The toolkits, which are available on the Mencap Cymru website, provide easy to access guidance and are an important mechanism for empowering families struggling to obtain the legal advice they need. Since their launch, the toolkits have been accessed over 1,700 unique times and over 1,400 people have attended workshops provided by the project.

Carers have cited the WISE project resources as the only avenue of support available to them while the students who offered their support believe that the skills they gained whilst working on the project have helped them gain employment since leaving university.

Kera Powell, who graduated in July 2018, participated in the project in her second and final years and went on to secure a job as a Legal Officer with Rhondda Cynon Taff Council. She said: “Mencap WISE gave me a lot of skills that are hugely needed and transferable into the world of work. At interview I had solid answers for all the questions which related to things like team building, explaining difficult legal language to a lay person, working to deadlines and managing expectations of clients. I honestly believe that my pro bono experience was 100% the reason I achieved my new role.”

Professor Jason Tucker, University Dean for Employability and academic supervisor of the project, echoed Kera’s thoughts by saying: “The project provides students with the opportunity to develop their transferable employability skills, to gain an insight into the work of the third sector and to enhance their understanding of learning disability.  In addition, it supports the University’s civic mission of being embedded in its local community.”

Professor Tucker was presented with the award by Rt Hon David Lammy MP on 3 December 2018 at the Law Works Pro Bono Awards Ceremony in London.

The Mencap Cymru initiative is just one of twelve pro bono clinics that the Pro Bono unit has cultivated since its launch in 2006.

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