Hello Hilary. Could you describe what advocacy is please?
Advocacy is a way of making sure people are able to influence decisions about them; it looks at choices and enables people to know their rights and have their voice heard. The advocate won’t put words in your mouth and won’t judge you. You tell them what you want and need, for example, access to services, and then an advocate will come with you and put your point across.
What is advocacy not?
It’s not a befriendingservice; not an advice service, not a translation service and it’s not counselling but, as everyone in the Advonet office will testify and, more importantly the people who have come to us for help, it can make a huge difference for those who feel they aren’t being heard because they don’t know how to express what they mean in words.
What does Advonet do?
Advonet is a consortium of independent advocacy providers – of which there are 3 sole providers in Leeds: Leeds Advocacy, Advocacy for Mental Health & Dementia and Advocacy Support. We subcontract to these three sole providers and other projects and organisations such as Leeds Independent Health Complaints Advocacy (LIHCA) and Cloverleaf. We also have contacts and links into all the advocacy services available as many other organisations in Leeds have advocacy as part of their large range of service. As an example, organisations include Age UK Leeds and Leeds Black Elders – they have an ‘advocacy arm’ to the work they do; it’s part of their ‘big picture’.
As individuals, we have different needs, different challenges and different circumstances that may need tackling and this can, therefore, require different types of advocacy support. We help direct people to that support; to the support they need, matched with the right advocacy service for them. We are like a ‘one stop shop’ of what’s out there in the Leeds world of advocacy.
Who do you help?
As mentioned, we help different people with different circumstances but broadly, for anyone who feels they are being ignored, overlooked or treated badly. We help people with learning disabilities, older people, women in the sex trade, gypsies and travellers; those with aspergers and autism, people from black and minority ethnic groups, people with physical and sensory impairments, people in mental health distress, people with dementia and people who want to complain about the NHS. The list is endless! In short, if you think advocacy could help you, give us a call or email us and we’ll talk through what the options are.
How would someone approach you?
It’s really simple, from April the 1st, there’s just one number to call – one single point of access. You just call the number, we take the referral and behind the scenes we find the right advocacy service for you. Website? Well, just log on, and email. We’re not a drop in centre however, so it really is best to call or email.
What’s the biggest challenge for you?
That’s quite an easy one – getting the message out there that we’re here and explaining what we do. 5 years ago when I started working for Advonet, I didn’t’ really know what ‘independent advocacy’ meant and nor do many people when I tell them what my job is – I should get a t-shirt with an explanation on it!
And so we’ve got our own little challenges making sure people know what we can and can’t do. In addition to sharing this article, I’d ask anyone who has used our service to spread the word about advocacy; because if someone has used our services, they’ll know how easy it was to access and what a relief it is knowing that with help, you can be heard, you can be understood.
What’s the best part of your role?
Corny, but it really is about making a difference. I know that without hesitation, if someone needs an advocate, we can help point them in the right direction.
One real life story I heard from the Advocacy for Mental Health and Dementia team really hit home how important our role can be.
A man couldn’t access the services he needed and was, at that time, an alcoholic and was at a really low point in his life.He was so mentally distressed, that he couldn’t get his point across and all the stresses he faced led him towards feeling suicidal.
A friend of his put him in touch with us and he got specific support from the Lesbian, Bi-sexual Gay and Transgender advocate. His advocate really helped him by listening to him and helping him to access the services he needed, including a detox programme. He testifies now that our intervention saved his life. That’s a strong and humbling message for anyone out there who recognises similar despair.
Did you want to share any final messages with our readers?
Just you don’t ever have to feel you’re on your own, because you aren’t. Advocates won’t pass judgement on you no matter what your circumstances are or what you feel you want.
Thank you Hilary for sharing with us the important work you do at Advonet. If you need, or know of anyone that would benefit from speaking to an advocate, Advonet can be contacted on 0113 244 0606 or visit www.advonet.org.uk/ for more information.
If you want to know how contacting an advocacy service really did save a life please click here.