From its humble beginnings as a volunteer advice and referral service Peninsula Community Legal Centre Inc. (formerly Frankston North Legal Service) has grown over the past four decades to become one of the leading community organisation’s in the region, providing a suite of legal and support services across its vast catchment. The Centre’s inception bore out of concern by local residents. Frankston North was home to many working-class families who were attracted to the area’s low-cost housing. Relationships were often strained as families battled to stay together as they tried to realise the ‘Australian Dream’. Many young people found themselves caught up in the criminal justice system. It is unsurprising then, that the police and community were rife with suspicion and distrust. The residents of Frankston North found themselves at a particular disadvantage for they often could not, due to limited public transport facilities, even utilise the minimal legal services available, for those services habitually operated in Melbourne. The residents recognised the need for a local legal referral point in Frankston North.
The first available service was a weekly evening service, during which a volunteer solicitor would come in and dispense advice for a couple of hours. It was up and running in November 1977. Immediately the service was a success in the local community. In fact, there was very little active advertising in those first years for fear that the service would be unable to meet client demand. Publicity, in those first days, was a real word of mouth affair.
Over time, as the number of volunteer solicitors increased there were about six by 1981, the service became more certain of itself and the number of advice sessions provided each week multiplied. The Centre’s move from being a purely volunteer based organisation to one with paid staff members was unremarkable. It was done in small steps out of necessity more than clear policy.
Since the late seventies, the Centre has received financial backing from a core group of bodies, including state and federal government and Victoria Legal Aid. Today the Centre continues to receive funding from all three levels of government including local government as well as grants from philanthropic trusts.
The Centre has undergone significant periods of transition over the years, it became incorporated in 1984, secured public benevolent status in the early nineties, broadened its services to include outreach services in 1995 and changed its name to Peninsula Community Legal Centre to reflect the region it was servicing. The late 90’s was a pivotal time for the Centre with the move of office to a central location in Frankston, an increase in the Centre’s catchment to incorporate the local government area of Glen Eira after a merger with Southern Community Legal Centre with the development of a Bentleigh branch office and the introduction of specialised programs in child support tenancy and consumer program.
The new millennium saw the establishment of branch offices in Cranbourne and Rosebud and specialist programs in Family Law and Family Violence with duty lawyer services being offered in both the Federal and Magistrates’ Courts.
As the Centre has grown over the past four decades the foundation on which it was built has remained, a commitment and passion to improve access to justice and ensure that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community are empowered and supported with the provision of free legal services.
Acknowledgement: From Humble Beginnings – A Brief History of Peninsula Community Legal Centre 1977-2007 written by Victoria Erlichster