We have all known what it’s like to not be heard; to be asking for something you need and to feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. This is particularly exhausting when you’re trying to be heard by an institution or a system; something so powerful that it makes you feel powerless in comparison. Here at Equal Lives we know that institutions don’t listen to disabled people like they should, and that’s why we have an advocacy service. Our advocates work with people to try and get their voices heard and push for whatever they want to happen. That could be a move to more accessible housing, for their GP to take them more seriously, or any number of things.
This year Norfolk County Council changed the way that they commission advocacy. When we talk about ‘commissioning’, we mean the process by which councils set up local services; where they plan what they think people need and then decide which organisations will get the funding to run those services. Instead of commissioning individual organisations like they have in the past, they wanted to commission a group of charities that would all work together.
That is how Equal Lives came together with seven other organisations to form the Norfolk Advocacy Partnership. First and foremost, the purpose of the Partnership is to deliver advocacy services in Norfolk. So that means all the organisations will provide advocacy to the people they specialise in working with:
Age UK Norwich - Provides advocacy to older people living in Norwich.
Age UK Norfolk - Provides advocacy to older people in the rest of Norfolk.
Deaf Connexions - Supports d/Deaf people in the Norwich area
West Norfolk Deaf Association - Supports d/Deaf people in the King’s Lynn/West Norfolk area
Equal Lives - Provides advocacy for disabled people
MAP - Supports young people under 26
Opening Doors - Run by and for people with learning disabilities
The Bridge Plus+ - Supports people from ethnic minority and/or migrant backgrounds.
Although providing the advocacy services commissioned by Norfolk County Council is the main reason we came together, we think there are lots of extra advantages to us working in partnership. We’re hoping to be able to share knowledge between us, and make sure anyone looking for support gets to the organisation that is best placed to help. Over time we would like the partnership to expand; we would love to get other advocacy organisations involved and use the partnership as a way of challenging institutions on a bigger level. For example, if we saw a particular problem that came up again and again in all our organisations, then we could use the information that we have to lobby the council for change.
When times are hard for charities and we’re expected to do more work with less funding, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture as you try to keep up with the day-to-day work. By forming the Norfolk Advocacy Partnership we want to keep focussed on trying to change systems for everyone.
Serious, long-term change is what we want and need. There’s a weird thing about advocacy where you are always trying to work yourself out of a job. We want to make systems better so that people are always listened to, rather than those people needing to have an advocate. If we had a fair society, institutions and organisations would be accessible. We wouldn’t need to know the right jargon or understand complicated policies and procedures in order to get the support we need. But until we have fair society, our advocacy services are here to stand up for people’s rights and amplify their voices.
Find out more about our Advocacy service here.