We’re delighted to announce The Advocacy Project has won the 2019 National Advocacy Award for Equality & Diversity.
Each year the awards are open to anyone involved in advocacy across the UK. This includes individuals, organisations, informal groups and professionals. These awards recognise excellence within advocacy and congratulate exceptional contributions to the field of advocacy.
What does equality and diversity mean to us?
40% of our staff and 50% of trustees have lived experience of the issues we work on – things like mental health, learning disabilities, physical and sensory disabilities etc. This gives us an authenticity and builds trust with service users, which enables us to get to the nub of their issues.
Equality in the board room: making information accessible
We want to make sure everyone on the board can engage meaningfully. We’ve developed governance processes like easy read management accounts so it’s easy for everyone can get a clear understanding of our financial situation. We partnered with National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to develop an easy read Good Trustee Guide so our trustees with learning disabilities can participate fully – and this now helps other boards across the country include people with learning disabilities too. Diversity on our board has had a big impact for us.
Making accountability and contribution fair
Under the traditional charity model of governance, trustees (including service user trustees) have more legal accountability than CEOs do. We successfully applied to regulators to change the model so we didn’t have this power imbalance.
We also sought the Charity Commission’s approval for paying service user trustees at London Living Wage for their service (something that’s rare in the UK), as some people can’t easily afford to take time off work to participate.
Through our advocacy, we uncovered that people identifying as LGBTQ+ were reluctant to disclose important information about their lives and mental health because they were afraid of discrimination and abuse.
Working with CNWL, we did an extensive consultation on the issues, led by Natasha Lobo. Cutting a long story short, the idea of rainbow lanyards emerged from patients themselves (true co-production) – a visible sign to indicate they are safe to disclose. This small thing made a massive difference. The stats on the outcomes speak for themselves. Not only do people feel safer, their health outcomes are better. All CNWL staff now have equality and diversity training, and there is a greater level of awareness of the issues. Rainbow lanyards are now used nationally. Although we work primarily in London, our work contributes to improving outcomes across the country.
Empowering people to speak for themselves
We focus on building people’s capacity and increasing their agency – rather than speaking on their behalf or doing things for them. We always follow the empowerment cycle, as set out in the advocacy code of practice. As an example, we supported Michael, someone with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and a speech impediment, to tell his MP (Karen Buck MP) why yet more training in how to write a CV and practice interviews is well meaning, but will not help him (or anyone else in his position) to get a job. The actual issue is to do with disincentives in the benefits system.
So what does all this mean?
It means that equality, diversity and service user voice are built into everything we do – people help us set strategy, monitor service delivery and improve our practice across all levels of the organisation.