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Planning Retirement Online

Jobs from the Reach files - 20

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In this regular series Olive Braman tells how volunteers can use their skills and expertise through REACH, the charity that places professional and business people in part time voluntary jobs

You can find all the Jobs From the REACH Files articles from the Volunteering Index

From opera to employment problems

It may seem a far cry from being an expert in industrial relations with actors and opera singers to working as a volunteer adviser at the South Westminster Legal Advice Centre and at Islington People’s Rights, but Mike Chattin, from Chiswick, West London, has found a perfect solution to retirement.

REACH has really transformed my life,” he says. “I had time on my hands and I wanted to do something useful. I now have a very full and busy life meeting marvellous dedicated people, using my previous background but also learning new skills.

Mike’s years of experience in industrial relations working with the actors’ union Equity, the BBC and ITV and the Royal Opera House, included advising on such diverse issues as recruitment, copyright, and union agreements, as well as helping to resolve disputes. He brings much of this expertise to his voluntary work

At Islington, Mike helps people to obtain the welfare benefits to which they are entitled, and offers advice to those with housing difficulties.

 “The benefits system is so complicated and there are so few people who have any expertise that there is a huge demand for our services,” he says. “I did know about some branches of the law, when I started, but not much about benefits. I am getting excellent training and am enjoying the whole learning process.”

Mike hopes eventually to deal with appeals, appearing at tribunals to speak for those who are unable to represent themselves. People who are represented stand a much greater chance that their appeal will be successful, he says. He also offers support to people suffering from mental health problems.

Mike puts in about 15 hours each week, and for some of this time has been working at a local psychiatric unit. He also works one or two evenings a weeks in Westminster, at a drop in advice centre, dealing with such problems as discrimination, redundancy, being bullied at work, immigration and housing.

“I am appalled at the way some employers behave,” he says. “Some of them don’t give holiday pay, proper notice or redundancy. Being sacked is quite traumatic enough without the added humiliation of being denied the payments to which you are entitled. The Centre needs more legal advisors and administrators to cope with this.”

It is an indication of his success that he has obtained in the region of £20,000 in total for his clients.

Richard Walford of the South Westminster Legal Advice Centre is more than pleased with his latest recruit. He says, “Mike is excellent.  He is just what we were looking for. His energy and interest make him absolutely ideal for the job.”

And if that is not enough, Mike also still finds time for singing.  In his youth he was a chorister with the English National Opera Company, and his most recent performance was in The Marriage of Figaro with Forward Opera.

 For further details about REACH telephone 020 7582 6543: website,uk. For information about South Westminster Legal Advice Centre telephone Mike on 020 8932, website

Look out for future features from Olive Braman on Jobs From The REACH Files or view all the REACH Files Articles from our Volunteering Index


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