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Rising to the challenge: reflections on advocacy

19 November 2021

In light of Advocacy Awareness Week earlier this month, Jonathan Senker, Chief Executive of VoiceAbility, reflects on the challenges we face as advocacy organisations and how we can come together to deliver better for our clients.

Advocacy Awareness Week is always an exciting time for me and fellow advocates. We know the impact of advocacy and the huge difference it can make to people’s lives, and this is our chance to shout about it to others but also to get together as a sector to reflect, challenge, and push ourselves forward. 

I have taken three main messages from Advocacy Awareness Week 2021. First, we must focus relentlessly on the quality and availability of advocacy support, both within our own organisations and as a national movement. This was summed up by a speaker at a panel discussion on the Mental Health Act during the national advocacy conference. He praised the brilliant advocacy support he had received to get off his mental health section, but observed that other people, even on the very same ward, had received poor or no advocacy support. As an organisation with advocacy at our core, we must redouble our efforts, both in our practice, and in our collective influencing including on the Mental Health Act reform, to ensure that everyone can get good quality advocacy when it is needed. At VoiceAbility, we’ve been working with other organisations to influence reform. You can read more about what our priorities are for reforming the Mental Health Act here.

My second reflection is about the range of important roles advocates play. At one end of the spectrum, we act as a springboard to a better life, helping people’s voices be heard so that they can set their plans for the future. At the other, we provide an essential safety net, ensuring that people can assert their human rights, get basic support and live with dignity. I recognise the skill, persistence and commitment that delivering this range of life-changing support requires. I continue to draw inspiration from observing the work of advocates and colleagues in our Connections services across VoiceAbility. It seems quite appropriate that Safeguarding Adults Week quickly follows Advocacy Awareness Week given the vital role advocates play in safeguarding. You can read more about our work on safeguarding here.

Finally, participating in the national advocacy conference drove home to me how advocates and advocacy organisations are increasingly working together to share what is working, address challenges and influence externally. At VoiceAbility, we are proud to be playing our part in this, drawing organisations together through the pandemic, sharing our resources and benefitting from the insights of others. We are committed to continue to work with advocates and advocacy organisations across the UK to ensure that people get support to make sure their voices are heard when it matters most. As I look to the future, I am excited by what the future holds for VoiceAbility as we channel our expertise in advocacy to shape policy, drive up quality, and reach even more people through our services.