In 2015/16:

30,662 people supported to have their voice heard, their rights respected and the lives they choose  22 new services offering advocacy under the Care Act opened across the country  97% of people reported positive changes in their lives after advocacy support

45 easy read jobs completed for 33 clients  188 people mentored by peers in a new Camden service  Co-creation project launched to develop products that increase the accessibility of forms and consultations

Our year 2015/16

2015 was an exciting, challenging and ultimately very successful year.

We introduced advocacy under the Care Act, rose up to meet the needs of an increased number of people who needed our support and developed a range of training and guidance to enhance the quality and effectiveness of our services. We continued to develop innovative solutions including in our community development and peer support services and introduced some new and more effective ways of doing the essential things to support our colleagues.Headshots - Jonathan Senker, CEO and Peter Letley, Chair

It’s been challenging also, with people using our services facing unprecedented cuts to social care and more people than ever before needing advocacy services. We would like to thank everyone who has worked with VoiceAbility for their continued focus in supporting people who use our services to have a voice, rights which are respected and a life of their choice.

Title - An Advocacy Organisation... 

We support people to be heard, to gain control of their lives and of the support they need to live them well.

  • We’ve supported more people than ever before to have their voices heard. 

  • We've supported people who use services to help shape services are designed and delivered, and to hold decision makers to account.

  • We opened 22 new services offering Care and Support Advocacy (Care Act Advocacy), and by the end of the year had already worked with 1,507 people in these areas.

2015 overview numbers

How many people we have worked with, infographic  

Find out more about these services:

IMHA  |  IMCA  |  Care Act  |  Professional  |  NHS Complaints  |  Glossary of terms  

Feedback quotes 

Alan's story - link to stories page

VOICE Outcomes

We are here to support people to make real and lasting changes in their lives. It’s important to us that we measure and understand the impact that we are having. So last year, we developed and introduced a new outcome measurement tool measurement 'Voice Outcomes*' which link in with the Adult Social Care Outcome Framework (ASOF). We ask people to rate changes how things have changed based on outcomes that are important to them. 

voice outcomes chartThe Outcomes:

  • I am involved in decisions about my life
  • I can understand my rights and entitlements
  • I can speak up for myself more
  • I have better support (quality)
  • I understand support options available
  • I have more choice
  • I live more independently
  • I understand how to keep myself safe
  • I am more confident in keeping myself safe
  • I know who to tell if someone was hurting me

97% of people we worked with** said that one or more positive change had been made as a result of advocacy support

*VOICE (VoiceAbility Outcomes for Inclusion, Choice and Empowerment)
**out of 23,773 responses

Title - ...but so much more than advocacy


Service User Involvement (SUI)

Supporting local groups to meet and raise their voices with key commissioners and decision makers, influencing the future of service design.

Camden Frontline

Frontline meetingIn Camden, the Mental Health and Substance Misuse SUI group, Frontline have been going from strength to strength. Numbers at their monthly meetings have been steadily increasing with over 800 local service users attending over the year.

RAPS - In 2015 the group set up The Recovery and Peer Support Project (RAPS) where members provide peer needle exchange, provide some hot food and give their members something useful or fun to do and help point them to appropriate services that can support them.

New Website - 6 members were also supported to attend a 5 week website building course, giving them a skillset that they could use going forward and enabling them to build and maintain the new Frontline website


Awareness Raising

Supporting team members who have 'experts by experience' (disabled people who have experience of using services) to visit professionals and members of the public and share their story, or that of others they know, in order to break down barriers and increase understanding.

Talking Books in Lincolnshire

quote - It was a great way of breaking down barriers and I for one will feel much more comfortable with patients with learning difficulties in the future

Last year in Lincolnshire, talking books visited GP surgeries to help staff members understand better how the ‘books’ (in this project the books were people with learning disabilities) wanted to be treated. Staff were given the opportunity to ask the books questions and talk to them about their lives and their experiences.

Both the books and the surgery staff found the experience positive, with the staff members reporting that their attitudes had changed a lot.  


Group support 

Facilitating learning disability and mental health partnership boards.

Lincolnshire Board

Our experts by experience facilitate the Learning Disability Partnership Board. Team members work starts well before the board meetings, seeing self-advocate representatives beforehand, setting the agendas and making practical arrangements. They chair the meetings and take minutes, making sure actions are followed up afterwards.

the team sitting at the LDPB meetingIn 2015 the Lincolnshire board produced:

  • a survey to all GP practices across Lincolnshire asking for information regarding annual health checks. This work led to the Talking Books project above.
  • 11 easy read leaflets on how to stay safe for Lincolnshire Policy and Crime Commissioners. They also delivered training sessions to police, day services and council staff teams on Hate and Mate Crime.
  • guides on how to make information and presentation accessible and where to find easy read information.


Improving accessibility

Taking systems, documents and processes that are inflexible and difficult to use and altering them in a variety of ways depending on the end user to make them more inclusive. This can include creating easy read documents and questionnaires, using communication aids and facilitating group discussions.

2015 was a successful year for our accessibility team. They completed 45 jobs, for 33 clients including local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups, education bodies, other charities and corporations.

 easy read quote - medway council


Quality and Access Checkers

quality checker presenting his findingsSupporting 'experts by experience' to visit and report on services, working with the people who use the services to get a fully informed picture.

Northamptonshire Team

Our Quality checkers had a busy 2015, visiting 79 settings over the year.

quote - the best expert by experience I have ever worked with.Many of the checks were on behalf of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Northampton County Council. The team have been gaining respect, and momentum over the year and have also been asked to carry out 32 privately paid checks to local services.

The quality checkers were also paid privately to carry out a training session to a supported living service so that their residents would be able to carry out their own checks in their own homes.

One quality checker was asked to support CTRs (Care & Treatment reviews) for people in low-medium secure hospitals to ensure their care and treatment was appropriate and to see if there was a need for them to remain in hospital or whether they could be treated in the community. Our quality checker has a lived experience of these environments and has been immensely successful, being told by the ward manager that she is “the best expert by experience I have ever worked with”.


Peer Mentoring

quote - things are starting to fall into place and life is feeling good again. My mentor has been a lifeline 2015 was the pilot year for our Camden peer mentoring team.

40 peer mentors were trained throughout the year, who mentored 188 people.

The help peer mentors offer their mentees can take on various forms, it may be as simple as accompanying mentees to appointments or meeting them for a cup of tea once a week, or it could be as in-depth as sitting down with them and creating a wellness plan to keep them safe and firmly on the road to recovery.

Once goals have been set and a time frame worked out, both mentor and mentee set about accomplishing them, with the mentor initially taking the lead with the implementation and execution of tasks but eventually handing over the reins to the mentee so they can take control of their goals and feel responsible for their own life.

Crucially, not one of the vulnerable people engaged by the peer mentoring pilot service have used crisis services whilst we have been working with them.

It should be noted that five of the peer mentors who helped to deliver the project have now moved on to full time employment. Four of them have specifically cited peer mentoring as central to them gaining the skills and confidence to make this life changing move.

The project has now been extended after its amazing success in the first year.

quote - “Listening to my peers and hearing their experiences of not only having to cope with mental distress but also with stigma, discrimination and judgments fostered in me the desire to try and implement some kind of change. From this I gained a clear direction of what I want to do with my life, I am now working for a drug and alcohol charity in communications and marketing. Here I have the opportunity to communicate a message that challenges the stereotypes surrounding addiction, homelessness and mental health”


Peer Research

2 peer group membersLast year, members of the Camden Borough User Group (CBUG) and Camden Frontline formed a dual diagnosis group to look at how well services supported people who had both mental ill health and substance use problems.

The group were trained in running focus groups and holding peer to peer interviews and conducted an extensive piece of peer research on dual diagnosis culminating in a report with recommendations to inform commissioners and service managers in Camden.

Having gained experience through the dual diagnosis work, the peer researchers were then asked to do a similar piece of work on people's experience of being residents in the Camden Hostels Pathway which currently house about 600 people. The hostels report has had a major impact, with the hostels pathway now being changed to reflect the team’s findings.  

The peer research team continues to be available to target particular issues or client groups and will be a resource available to strategic service user involvement reps to feed user experiences into service monitoring.


Speak Out Council

The Speak Out Council is the voice for people with a learning disability and or autism in Cambridgeshire.

Between April 2015 and April 2016 we have: (led by our six Speak Out Leaders who are both project staff and people with lived experience)

  • Speak Out Leader using the colour system to speak up in a meetingincreased the average number of service users at main project meetings from 18.5 people to 26.8 people, so more people can speak out.
  • started an extra 5 regular drop ins to give our members more chances to speak up.
  • developed new models of questionnaires designed for people with high support needs, and high functioning autism, so our communications are more appropriate for more of our members
  • shared a platform and our service user feedback with a range of professionals (at over 50 events and meetings) , including senior county council staff local MPs and national organisations so our impact is felt both at local and national level.
  • run successful campaigns on access (getting Cambridgeshire County Council to make a number of improvements to local footpaths), hate crime (establishing safe place trials in Huntingdon and March) and health (where our research was shared with and commended by NHS England)
  • were runners up for the National Learning Disability and Autism awards for our work with Cambridgeshire County Council on Drugs and Alcohol.


Speak Out on Line (SPOOL)

someone tapping on a tablet, next to a picture of an ipadSpeak Out on Line (SPOOL) is an innovative project, investigating the difficulties that people with learning disabilities face with traditional questionnaires and consultations.

In the past year, the team (funded by the Department of Health) have been working with groups and individuals in the SPOOL pilot areas and have developed a toolkit of activities to get views and opinions on a range of topics. The toolkit is still developing as people with learning disabilities are co-creating new models of working with us. The range of activities need to reflect the different needs of the people we are working with; there isn’t one simple solution.

The initial research phase has provided interesting insights and, during the coming months, we will be prototyping some of the ideas….find out more

Link to Russell's story

Widening our Impact through Guidance

We want our influence to extend beyond our direct work with people and aim to educate, inform and shape behaviour. These are examples of the publically available products we have developed over the last year to do this. 

challenge guidance front coverChallenge Guidance – A guide for advocates; providing comprehensive information to help individuals decide on the most appropriate route to take to challenge decisions.

Domestic Abuse Tool – Easy Read leaflet for adults with learning disabilities and their friends and families about how to stay safe from domestic abuse.

Sexual Abuse self-help booklet – Guidance for very vulnerable individuals and their families on ways to cope with how they are feeling and how to get professional help.

Video for Suffolk’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities - insight into the history and current state of health from cradle to grave of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, offering practical advice and details for support agencies in Suffolk.

wheel of life cover and quote

Influencing and Policy Development

Presenting at a Care Act eventWe support the rights and voices of disabled people and carers by ensuring that their experience influences national policy.

Last year, people's rights to advocacy were extended under the Care Act; legislation that we played the leading role in developing alongside colleagues in the Care and Support Alliance, government and other organisations. We have been able to build on the knowledge we generated and developed through this process to ensure that our advocates have a leading understanding of the Act and how it can be used to support people.

Other influencing work has included:

DoLS Consultation VoiceAbility engaged strongly with the Law Commission during the consultation on their provisional proposals to change the Deprivations of Liberty Safeguards. 
NHS Complaints Advocacy VoiceAbility initiated and helped to lead a national project to create practice guidelines for commissioning and providing health complaints advocacy. 
Care Act Reporting

In order to monitor commissioning of independent advocacy, VoiceAbility funded an online monitoring survey of advocacy providers. 

Children and Young People’s Advocacy Contributed intelligence to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) resulting in recommendations to revise the national standards for the provision of children’s advocacy. Report due out shortly.

Strengthening our own practice

continuous improvement illustration

To enable our staff members to be able to work most effectively, we have to give them the best tools for the job. Last year, we helped them to learn and share best practice, to work in safe, supportive environments and have the most effective and efficient working methods. 

Here are just some of our improvements over the last year:

  1. Launched an advocacy handbook which brings together the knowledge and understanding of advocacy legislation, policy and practice alongside helpful external resources 
  2. Developed a helpdesk function for expert advice on complex cases
  3. Developed resources, tools, and training for advocacy under the Care Act staff members
  4. Updated our policies so that information is clear and easy to access 
  5. Implemented a new, streamlined online recruitment system
  6. Reviewed and improved our new starter induction process 
  7. Introduced a lone working system and provided training to all members of staff
  8. Carried out DSE assessments for all staff, and took corrective action where needed
  9. Simplified our appraisals, supervision and practice audits to make them easier to run and monitor
  10. Developed a training strategy and increased the number of advocates completing their City & Guilds Independent Advocacy qualifications
  11. Streamlined financial processes, reducing red tape and administration burdens
  12. Introduced a new online expenses system
  13. Invested in IT equipment and IT support

Our Strategy 2016-2021

Our five-year strategy is based upon our vision of a society in which everyone’s voice, rights and choices are heard, understood and respected. Find out more...

Our strategy

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