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Our History


VoiceAbility was formed of two leading advocacy organisations; Advocacy Partners and Speaking Up. We merged in April 2010 and changed our name in December of that year.

That’s the short story.

As with all mergers, there was a lot of back story and before a merger could take place both organisations needed to make sure that the other was the right partner for them, that they valued  the same things.

Today we work with 18,000 people to help them speak up about issues, concerns and questions they have about their lives. Read more about our impact.

We’re extremely proud of the work that we do, but to us it’s not enough. Especially at the moment, with Government cuts impacting on so many vulnerable people, it’s more important than ever for people to have a strong voice, rights that are respected and to have greater choice and control over their own lives.


With two organisations that have such strong foundations and illustrious histories, this section could be quite long. Since the past is the past and the present is what’s important to the people we work with, we’ll keep it short.

Speaking Up:

  • 1995 to 1997 – Founded by Craig Dearden-Phillips and James Fletcher as a small, Cambridge based, self advocacy organisation.
  • 1997 to 2002 – Having given up their day jobs, Craig and James worked full time to develop Speaking Up into a highly successful local charity with a growing reputation for innovative work. They won numerous awards, culminating in the Guardian Charity of the Year Award in 2002.
  • 2002 to 2008 – During these years they expanded their advocacy services across the country. They created Active Voices projects, aimed at providing innovative ways for people in the community to have control over their own lives. They also created and developed a training and consultancy team, who help to transfer learning to organisations across the UK.

Advocacy Partners:

  • 1981 – 1989 - Advocacy Partners, originally called the Advocacy Alliance, was formed in 1981 and was the first advocacy scheme of its type in the UK. They started by developing Citizen Advocacy; partnerships between people with learning disabilities who lived in long-stay hospitals in South London and Surrey and people who volunteered in their local communities.
  • 1990's - During the 1990’s the organisation began to employ paid advocates alongside its volunteers. Their work expanded both geographically, and in terms of their client base, supporting self advocacy and working with people with physical impairments, sensory disabilities and mental health needs.
  • 2000's – The organisation's growth accelerated and Advocacy Partners adopted a clear national leadership role, trialling the new statutory advocacy service – IMCA. They led on the development of national advocacy guidance and contributing strongly to emerging thinking on personalisation both within the advocacy sector and more generally.


Jonathan Senker and Craig Dearden-Phillips (respective CEOs of Advocacy Partners and Speaking Up) both realised that social care policies were changing, fast. And organisations had to change with them, embracing innovation and challenge, in order to survive in the new world. Both had ambitions for their organisations as well, both wanted to reach more people, in more areas, with a greater set of services to offer. With this in mind, a merger – which allowed the experience and expertise of each organisation to be complemented and improved – was the perfect solution.


As one organisation, VoiceAbility has been able to do more together than we could do apart. We have been able to continuously improve all of our services, develop the skills of our staff members so that they can support the people they work with more effectively. We’ve been able to work with new client groups in new areas, using the skills shared across our existing services.

But our vision is of a society in which everyone’s voice, views and hopes can be heard loudly and clearly, in which our rights are understood and respected, and in which each of us is able to lead a full and enjoyable life.

That’s not the case at the moment. We know that the work that VoiceAbility does is invaluable to the people we support; its impact is life changing and long lasting.

Making sure that all around the country, people who are vulnerable or marginalised have access to the services that we provide and the life changing opportunities we present is imperative.

That’s our aim for the people that need us the most.

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How to contact us

IMCA Referrals

Tel: 0300 330 5499
Fax: 0208 330 6622
Email us

NHS Complaints Service

Helpline: 0300 330 5454
Textphone: 0786 002 2939
Fax: 0330 088 3762
Email us

All other referrals and enquiries

Please contact your local office.