Olive McCarthy wins Community Engagement award

The Hertfordshire Law Society held its annual black-tie dinner on Thursday 9 June, with The Old Palace at Hatfield House the venue for this eagerly awaited event. As a leading regional law firm, with many members of the society, Taylor Walton LLP hosted two tables and enjoyed success on the night.

One of those attending from Taylor Walton was Olive McCarthy, who is a Partner & Arbitrator in our Family Law Department. She had been nominated for and won the Community Engagement award, which recognised her unstinting work for families in Hertfordshire.

For more than 22 years Olive has been supporting families and individuals with free legal advice focussed on family matters, through regular monthly sessions at three different Citizens Advice centres across the region.

Olive commented: “I have always believed everyone has the right to receive legal advice irrespective of their means. The Citizens Advice provides free, confidential and impartial advice on a huge range of issues, which is critical to helping people find a way forward, especially with family matters.

“As the years have passed and my own work and family commitments have occupied more of my time, I have been forced to reduce my support to only servicing the Citizens Advice centre in St Albans, where my office is based.

“With the huge reduction in availability of Legal Aid and the tightening of the eligibility for what is left of legal aid it is incredibly hard for vulnerable people to access the legal advice they need when faced with urgent family issues.”

Recognising a growing need to help keep estranged families connected, in 2008 Olive applied for and was granted a National Lottery award to help her set up the Hertford Contact Centre which is an accredited centre under National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC).

The NACCC is the only UK charity dedicated to providing safe spaces where children can meet the parent they don’t live with. The organisation oversees around 350 contact centres across the UK, which are run by a network of nearly 3,000 dedicated volunteers, just like Olive.

Olive continues: “Following the separation of their parents, more than a million children in the UK may lose contact with one of their parents, which can be for a variety of reasons, including the resident parent not trusting the other parent to have contact without a third-party present.

“My role is to oversee the centre and help raise the nearly £4000 per annum that the centre requires to provide the ability for parents and children to meet every two weeks in a safe space where relationships can be maintained.”

Utilising your professional skills to benefit those who are unable to afford legal advice or pay to attend private contact centres, is the true meaning of Community Engagement. This award stands testament not just to Olive’s work, but that of the Citizens Advice and Contact Centres that support individuals and families when they need it most.