Remembering the person and not just the law as Farnfields wins Best Community Contribution Award
Businesses today recognise that they have a wider contribution to make to the communities in which they operate and remembering the person and not just the law is the ethos that epitomises local community law firm Farnfields. In recognition of this, Farnfields has been selected for an award for Best Community Contribution at the Lawnet Awards, an organisation which represents over 70 law firms nationally. This award recognises firms which have implemented policies or executed projects that have impacted positively on their community by delivering long-term benefits.
Why do we do what we do?
Supporting and investing in local communities as a community law firm is important to both Farnfields’ Partners and their team of over 100 staff in four offices.
We appreciate that rural isolation can impact greatly on people’s health and wellbeing, especially within the farming communities, either because people are socially isolated or because they have a lack of access to support. Our region is 98% farmland and although this may make it undoubtedly picturesque, it means people can struggle with access to health resources and activity provision as communities based some distance away from larger conurbations.
Mental health is also a concern to those working in the legal profession, and the team are profoundly aware of this with many of us knowing others who have been affected. In its 2018 resilience and wellbeing survey, the Law Society found among the division’s members as a whole, that 38% of respondents said they had experienced mental health problems in the past year, up from 26% last time. As a firm employing over 100 staff, we need to be especially mindful of this.
Fiona Thomas, the Managing Partner at Farnfields, says, “Working and living in the heart of the communities we serve, we have a deep understanding of the local issues faced. We are especially aware of rural community need and are delighted to make a positive difference.”
How do we plan activity?
Every year, as well as sponsoring several local groups in the health and wellbeing space across all generations, we also nominate an annual charity which is supported through the Farnfields’ Annual Golf Day and other activities including staff Dress Down Days held once a month. If a team member wishes to support a particular cause, this is always encouraged.
In 2018/19 Farnfields raised over £4,000 to provide and install four defibrillators in community areas where Farnfields has offices. While in 2019 we are supporting both Dorset Mind and Wiltshire Mind which has also raised almost £4,000 so far.
In isolated market towns, access to quick medical assistance is particularly tricky. More than 36,000 people are resuscitated by ambulance staff because they suffer a pre-hospital cardiac arrest. Every minute that passes once in cardiac arrest, a person loses a further 10% chance of survival. With this dramatic loss in the chance of survival, there is a need for a defibrillator within every 4-5 minute walk. With our funding, we have now ensured that there are four new defibrillators available. Two are sited on town centre buildings in Gillingham and Warminster, another in the village of Fontmell Magna, and another at a school where there was a specific student need. Although the 4-5 minute walk is an aspiration, it is clearly impossible in an area such as ours, our contribution helps.
Similarly, although there is a national Mind organisation, the 130 local Mind groups nationally support over 425,000 people every year. However, each local group is entirely self-funding, and it is these that provide essential support for anyone in the region with mental health concerns. Farnfields recognises that this practical support is vital to our community which as described is rural in nature, predominately farming-based, and often poorly represented away from larger conurbations. Funds raised have specifically maintained specialist mental health Support Groups in Shaftesbury and Gillingham which otherwise may well have struggled to gain provision. Supporting these worthy charities also allows us as an institution to challenge the stigma of mental health conversation in a sector that itself significantly suffers.
Social isolation is also, as we have said, a contributing factor to poor health and wellbeing. Another project which we have supported for several years is The Exchange Community Cinema in Sturminster Newton. Over time this has enabled the group to improve their projector and public movie provision, enhancing the overall cinema experience. People living locally would otherwise have to travel over 15 miles for up to date film listings. As well as increasing audience numbers which used to average 50-70, to numbers over 200-250 for the monthly screenings, the benefit of having new equipment is that the group now has a facility that generates income rather than being a loss-leading activity.
Who in the firm is involved?
As a team, we are all involved, either through lending support in a personal capacity or through contributing to funds. An example of this is with the Family Team based in the Warminster office. They were aware of a small independent project group which provided vital support for children and young adults with special needs.
Over the last six months, the team have organised two very successful Charity Quiz Nights in Warminster. Altogether over £1400 has been raised for Jacob’s Ladder, a not-for-profit community organisation which puts together creative, stimulating play events.
Just as importantly, the Partners and team members are individually committed to charitable endeavours. Not only do we take great pride in contributing to many worthwhile local organisations, but we also get actively involved, and we support our team if they wish to do so. Partners and staff are governors of local schools and trustees of local organisations as well as being committee members of local Chambers of Commerce, which help support the all-important businesses on the ever-declining High Street.
The Farnfields Family Quiz Night monies enabled the small self-funding Jacobs Ladder team to add greatly to their portfolio of activities, while Dorset Mind has specifically ring-fenced Farnfields’ contribution to provide local support in two of the towns in which we operate. Over the course of a year, around 60 people have benefitted from the Shaftesbury Wellbeing Group, a talking peer support and psycho-education group. It is for anyone wishing to improve their wellbeing and takes place twice a month. The group aims to strengthen self-confidence, encourage a healthy lifestyle while reducing negative thoughts, emotions and shame. It also aims to help people better understand their mental health and learn how to communicate their needs. As well as these, funds have also supported Wiltshire Mind in the provision of training for local businesses on mental health awareness.
Recognising the importance of physical activity to support mental health we also support North Dorset Rugby Club, Shaftesbury Cricket Club, Shaftesbury Football Club, Sturminster Newton Football Club and Warminster Rugby Club. One local Under 10s Football team now has a new football kit; they have previously had to rely on hand me downs. Ongoing support of the TLW Dance Company has enabled four aspiring dance students to have no-cost dance lessons up to 11 times per week. While we have supported this group over four years, one boy has been talent-spotted and has now gained a scholarship at the age of 16 to the Birmingham Royal Ballet as part of a gifted and talented scheme, while another young lady has been recognised for an elite course with Ballet Boost. This particular young lady lives in a local family refuge and is also a full-time carer, who undoubtedly would otherwise not benefit from this fantastic opportunity. We receive regular bulletins from the young dancers telling us of their progress.
Award Sponsor Jonathan Cave from Lloyds Bank, who presented Farnfields with the award following their selection said, “Our winning firm stood out by demonstrating a clear understanding of the issues faced by those in the communities they serve and a commitment to playing a part in trying to tackle those challenges.”
Furthermore, as a firm, we also seek to employ staff from the local community wherever possible and support local school and university students from the area by participating in work experience initiatives. This year to date, we have supported nine work experience students, and currently, employ three apprentices, who historically go on to be offered a full-time employment position.
Overall, Farnfields is very much a community law firm, serving generations of local families.
Award Presentation Image: Lawnet Awards Dinner 2019 Celtic Manor Resort 08.11.19
©Steve Pope Fotowales
(left to right) – Julian Alahakoon (Farnfields), Chris Marston (LawNet), Jonathan Cave (Lloyds Bank – sponsor), Fiona Thomas, Brian Noctor, Clare Gundry, Sophie Davies (Farnfields), Helen Hamilton-Shaw (LawNet)
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