Reflecting on Burges Salmon community engagement activities

In this post, I reflect on my initial thoughts approaching community engagement activities and the outcomes of my time involved in community projects.

21 December 2018
A photo of lawyers volunteering

By trainee solicitor Darius Barik

Like most law firms, Burges Salmon is keen to show that it forms part of and contributes to the wider community. We say that community engagement is intrinsic to our business activities and that the firm is prepared to look beyond its immediate confines. Bristol is one of the UK's most vibrant, diverse and dynamic cities, where we all enjoy living and working. It is also thriving economically. Yet there are pockets of deprivation across the city and other social problems are visible in the wider south west area.

Before joining, I admit to being sceptical that the firm’s positive rhetoric actually translates into wider social impact. However, it has been refreshing to see that my scepticism was misplaced and the firm's active engagement is something that I am proud to be part of. The numbers themselves are striking. In 2017, the firm partnered with three schools, engaged in initiatives with 27 different community organisations, and collectively contributed over 500 volunteer days. Our community partners are varied, ranging from Lawrence Weston Community Farm and the Avon Wildlife Trust to organisations such as the Wild Goose Cafe and FareShare. In their own ways, each of these organisations looks to address pervasive issues, notably hunger, poverty and homelessness, and enhance social cohesion.

Beyond the facts and figures, my own experiences working with two of these organisations have been particularly satisfying. The Social Innovation Programme (SIP) is a great scheme that we operate in partnership with the University of Bristol (through Bristol Hub, a student social action group). Teams of students are partnered with a local community partner or social enterprise. Each organisation gives their team a brief, setting out a project or challenge that would greatly assist their activities and future development. These range from developing a new website for the community partner to assessing income diversification strategies. The teams have seven weeks to analyse the problem and produce a detailed report for their organisation setting out their key recommendations.

Throughout SIP, Burges Salmon provides facilities, logistical support and business training for the students, as well as a 'business mentor' for each team. This is where I came in. I supported a team whose task was to assess the feasibility of opening a community café and bookshop in the city centre for a small Bristol-based social enterprise. My role was to help the student team consider the key issues, act as a 'sounding board' and ensure that they had access to any Burges Salmon facilities that might be useful. Their final report was staggeringly good - professional, incisive and, most importantly, useful for the social enterprise. In fact, the organisation’s trustees commented that the report raised issues that had not been considered previously and that it had helped to shape their future-planning.

It was great to see that the benefits of the programme were widely shared: the students gaining invaluable business nous, while the community partners received the insights of their reports. These relationships often extended beyond the 7 week programme. Students have subsequently taken up internships at the community partners or provided consultancy services during university vacations - real examples of how the programme can make a lasting difference for all involved.

Since September, I’ve also had the opportunity to be a 'reading buddy' at Barton Hill Academy, a primary school just ten minutes’ walk from the office. Every Wednesday lunchtime, a group from Burges Salmon visits the school and spends twenty minutes reading with our buddies. The scheme is facilitated by Ablaze, a fantastic local charity that carefully selects schools whose pupils will benefit most from extra attention and resources (Ablaze also operates a 'number buddies' scheme aimed at enhancing maths skills). Twenty minutes is only short but the additional reading time is invaluable for pupils whose first language may not be English and who, for a variety of reasons, may not have the chance to read regularly to an adult in their home environments. My buddy, a year 2 pupil, has progressed steadily and gained in confidence. It’s an incredibly rewarding way to spend a lunchtime.

 

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