In praise of employment advice volunteers
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: Trust for London
In our modern, online world, there are networks for pretty much everything. With only limited hours in a day, we must all choose our networks carefully. As the Employment Legal Advice Network (ELAN) continues to grow and make plans for 2022 and beyond, why people join networks and what captures ongoing interest and participation from their members are hugely important questions.
Any dictionary will tell you that a network is essentially a group of people or organisations working together and sharing information. This alone wouldn’t be enough to pull me away from my work and it fails to capture the essence of ELAN. Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve witnessed an incredible group of people supporting each other, sharing the load, and giving time, knowledge and energy. There is a sense of togetherness in knowing there are others asking the same questions as you. There is a sense of relief in knowing others share your concerns. There is also a sense of a burden shared, and at the heart of this is a body of volunteers working with ELAN in various ways, making a difference, one step at a time, to our advisers and their clients.
During the pandemic, the isolation of some employment advisers became acute, and in spring 2020 ELAN created a mentoring scheme, aiming to partner employment advisers in the network with experienced experts. The scheme began with one mentor and one mentee; it now runs with six mentors and well over 20 mentees, all meeting regularly to talk through cases, employment tribunal procedures and practical issues in the workplace. Feedback on this scheme is universally positive. The mentors meet with each other every six weeks to discuss key learning points from their mentoring. I chair these meetings, and I wish I could bottle the enthusiasm I witness and share it widely! As one mentor writes: ‘It is very rewarding to help a mentee develop their knowledge and expertise, and consequently their confidence and enjoyment, in the important work that they do.’
It is heartening indeed to hear so many experienced people thinking of ways to make a difference to the ELAN members. You can find out more about the mentoring scheme here. If you think being a mentor might appeal to you or your colleagues, please do get in touch. You can chat to existing mentors and we will match you with an adviser working in an area that is of interest to you. There is a trial period built in, so if things don’t work, we manage this together.
While we are not yet able to offer mentoring for all of our employment advisers, we make sure that as many as possible benefit from the learning opportunities designed with them in mind. ELAN has delivered training on issues such as holiday pay, whistleblowing, vaccines, redundancy and even employment tribunal procedure rules. These important, practical sessions empower our advisers and make a difference to their clients.
At the heart of this training programme is a group of solicitor and barrister volunteers. Special mention must be made of Cloisters. Since April 2020, the chambers have delivered seven workshops to ELAN during which the barristers have answered questions on a range of topics from furlough to vaccines, redundancy, and health and safety. They made time in their busy diaries to listen and respond carefully, recognising the challenges of advising workers with limited resources. Allen & Overy has also contributed immeasurably, by delivering introductory employment law training on five occasions. The last session was attended by over 80 people, many of whom are volunteers trying their best to work through the large volume of enquiries from people seeking assistance from the employment legal advice sector.
It is these volunteers who deserve the last mention. It is very inspiring to meet so many people volunteering, whether in Law Centres, Citizens Advice or other voluntary organisations. They don’t take their responsibilities lightly. They seek out training opportunities, ask questions and try to improve the quality of their work. They know their clients are unlikely to have a second chance at obtaining access to justice and want to do their best for them.
ELAN is more than just a group of people – it is a very special group of people, and we would be more than happy to welcome you to our network. All of our members work or volunteer in London’s employment advice sector. Even if you are outside London, you are welcome to join ELAN as a guest, and receive updates and news of training opportunities. If you are too busy to attend meetings, you can still benefit from our information-sharing efforts. You can find out more through the ELAN website or email: elan@swllc.org.

About the author(s)

Description: Victoria Speed - author
Victoria Speed is director of network at the Employment Legal Advice Network.