Change that leads to better lives

Stronger together: the Advocacy Leaders Network

Advocacy organisations have started working together in new ways, as this collaborative blog explains.
Contributions from Jonathan Senker, chief executive, VoiceAbility; Suzi Henderson, CEO, Cloverleaf Advocacy; Leanne Hignett, Service Delivery Director, Advocacy Focus and Lindsay Graham, Advocacy Director, People First.

Adocacy leaders group photo 692 366
Jonathan Senker 2 May 2019

"This year has been so difficult. But the advocacy sector can count at least one very positive thing to come out of 2020: better working together. Since the pandemic started to take hold, leaders from all kinds of advocacy organisations across England and Wales have been meeting

regularly online. We’ve been sharing insights and practical help and taking action. We’re working together to make change happen: within and between our organisations and nationally.

“In mid-March, unsure how it would be received, I sent an email to leaders of advocacy organisations, suggesting that speaking together might help us all respond to the coronavirus pandemic and support our clients. The response was enthusiastic, and we haven’t looked back.

“The early meetings of the ‘Advocacy Leaders Group’ resulted in hugely valuable sharing of knowledge about the impact of the pandemic on people we support and on our work. It helped us to shape how we responded both within each of our organisations and collectively. Now the conversation reaches well beyond coronavirus. Ultimately, working together is helping us as an advocacy sector do what we are here to do: make sure that people’s voices are heard.” - Jonathan

Sharing knowledge

Suzi Henderson crop

"The first few weeks of lockdown were a new situation for everyone. To have space where we could talk about that, go through the challenges we were collectively facing and talk about how we were overcoming them was really helpful. We were able to share experiences of things that had worked for us, and hear other people's experiences. We were then able to share those within the local authorities we work or across our organisation.” - Suzi

Leanne Hignett

“We were one of the first organisations to bang the drum for access to residential homes, when care providers were not letting advocates in. We shared with the Advocacy Leaders group what we were doing about it, so that others could learn from our experience. Equally, there are lots of things we’ve taken away from the group. With legislation changing all the time, the group allows us to quickly pull together information that we might not have had time to research. I found that incredibly helpful in a fast-paced job.” - Leanne

Lindsay Graham crop

“Our topics have extended further than coronavirus: we’ve also reflected on our approaches to equality and diversity, data recording, and more recently, Mental Health Act reforms. It’s impossible for smaller organisations to be involved in every ‘workstream’ that advocacy touches, so the group acts as a pool of information and knowledge. This has helped us understand the national picture, and how this relates on a local level.” Lindsay

Influencing for national change

“It’s been a breath of fresh air to work together for change, especially with COVID-19 and all the challenges it has brought. I was part of the group that developed the mythbuster about advocacy during coronavirus [also available in Easy Read]. There was lots of inaccurate information flying around about people’s rights. We created the mythbuster to set the records straight about expected practice, and explain how to work effectively as an advocacy practitioner. Everyone has shared it with their networks and across their organisations.” - Leanne

“The advocacy principles we developed together have been great. Going forward everyone will be adopting a similar approach. A collective voice is far more powerful than an individual one. I see this as a turning point for organisations being able to work more collaboratively together in the future" -Suzi

“Even before the pandemic, there were barriers to advocacy – people not understanding their rights to advocacy, or referrers not understanding their duty to refer. The Leaders network has really raised the profile of advocacy throughout the health and social care sector, and local communities. The national advocacy survey report, ‘Valuing Voices’ is a great example.

Representatives from advocacy organisations across England and Wales, with support from NDTi, designed, created and shared the survey to gather advocates’ experiences of providing advocacy during the pandemic. The responses showed that people’s human rights were not being consistently upheld. We’ve used this evidence to help us all prepare for the second wave, and winter pressures. We also got coverage of the survey report in the press, to influence the national conversation. - Lindsay

What's next

"With forthcoming changes in legislation, such as LPS, continuing to have a collective voice will be really positive. Together we can look at things like addressing structural racism, inclusion, and how to support all groups access advocacy. The pandemic has highlighted big inequalities, for example, digital inclusion where there is still a long way to go" - Suzi

“Working together through the pandemic has given us all a taste of how effective collaboration between organisations can be, and an appetite for it to continue. Advocacy organisations and supporters across the country are generously sharing their experience, resources, and learning. This has been invaluable and a really welcome development for our services and for the experiences of our customers. My hope for the Advocacy Leaders network is that it continues to thrive and gives us all the freedom to respond to strategic issues and build each other up. - Lindsay

“The group is giving us a more united front and standardised practice, helping us to make sure that people get the best service and rights protected nationally. Together, we will have a strong collective voice for change and social justice. Going forward, I’d love for us to explore a peer support forum for frontline advocates, with representatives from across all our organisations.” – Leanne

Join us

“I would say to any senior leader thinking of joining that it’s been a really positive move for us as an organisation. There’s no-one better to relate to than someone at your level in another organisation. It’s good to be able to have these discussions with someone who does understand, to problem solve and develop yourself and your own skills.” - Leanne

“Whether you are from a small, medium or large advocacy provider, or provide advocacy as a part of a wider organisation, all leaders are made to feel welcome and encouraged to share their experiences and views. The meetings are a ‘safe space’ where everyone is listened to and relationships have grown. Our organisation has benefited greatly from the connections in the group and I would encourage others to join.” - Lindsay

If you’re a senior leader of an advocacy organisation and would like to take part, please get in touch: Jonathan.senker@voiceability.org

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