In Praise of Advocates
Our CEO, Matthew Hilton, speaks about the positive difference Advocates make to the lives of vulnerable people.
When I started work at The Advocacy People (or seAp as it then was) nearly two years ago, I didn’t really know much about the kind of advocacy we are involved with here. Neither lawyers nor social workers, advocates work with people who are in a vulnerable place in their lives, at the point where the words have run out and someone needs to help out a bit to find them again. There can be all sorts of reasons for this vulnerability: mental health, cognitive capacity, life experience.
We humans are fundamentally communicators and so when we can’t find the word or the sign or whatever it is that helps us communicate with other people, we are robbed of a bit of that humanity. And that is where the advocates come in. Helping clients get their voices heard; standing up for that core human dignity and demanding respect.
Those of us in this sector, like people in many other walks of life, wonder what awaits us and the vulnerable people we work alongside, once we emerge again, blinking in the sunshine…
In the meantime, I look at my colleagues. And I ask myself what I see, what I think about them and what makes them tick.
These advocates are an interesting breed. People who choose to work with clients who fall between the cracks where the language doesn’t seem to want to go. Advocates can, for sure, be members of the awkward squad sometimes, cats resisting herding. But these are people who live their values, often at an economic cost to themselves - no one made their fortune in this game! People who define what is important by reference to others who are not in a good place. People with heart.
The truth is that many of us spend our working lives handling bureaucracy and hierarchy; and in doing do we learn the value of compromise and how to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Oh yes. But in doing so, we do maybe abandon something too. Lose sight of a bit of the immediacy of experience?
This pandemic is one of the tragedies of our lifetime. I think we owe it to ourselves to ensure that it at least makes us appreciate some things a bit more, like the NHS or the kindness of a helpful neighbour. Or a sky that maybe looks a bit more blue and fresher than before. Or, maybe, for those of us whose job is to make the bureaucracy work and who see the need for compromise and go on about bigger pictures, to admire anew those who keep taking it head on, challenging the details that just aren’t right.
Advocates choose to work where it is raw, helping their clients find their own voices by empathising fearlessly in the spaces where the words have run out. Respect to them.