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Gwen volunteer Gwen, Volunteer Advocate

Our Volunteer Advocates play a major and invaluable role in our advocacy provision. We thank them for their time, dedication and commitment. Gwen is a volunteer advocate with Connected Voice Advocacy. This is her story of her work providing support for her advocacy partner, Sandra.

 I had an interest in advocacy and strong feelings about the value of volunteering so when I had the opportunity to train as a volunteer advocate I decided to give it a go. Initially my interest was in mental health but after reading several case studies and deciding to take the opportunity to meet a different challenge to my previous experience I asked to be introduced to Sandra, who has a learning disability.

After several meetings supported by coordinators, Sandra and I gradually got to know each other. At first I found spontaneous conversation could be strained as I tried to understand what support she wanted. I had to get used to her leaping from one topic to the next as her attention span could be quite limited especially if the subject was unfamiliar or painful to her.

However, in time, our trust and understanding of each other grew and I began to enjoy our conversations as they danced from one subject to another, my brain having a thorough workout! For me this was a steep learning curve. I never knew what would crop up and had to learn how to pitch the answers to Sandra’s questions at the right level. A sense of humour was an enormous help and sharing a really good laugh helped us develop an honest trusting relationship.

These are just some of the many things I have supported her with:

  • Reading skills
  • Preparing for child leaving care, visits from child, meeting at school
  • Support when marriage deteriorated and she was at risk of accelerating abuse
  • Moving home
  • Divorce and accessing legal aid to pursue a financial settlement from marital home
  • Flagging social services when annual review due
  • Relationship with child and grandchild
  • Healthy relationship and keeping safe
  • Hospital appointments.

Sandra has so many strong points: her endless patience when coping with so many of the changes in her life, her honesty and thought for others, her ability to bounce back when facing problems, putting others before herself.

If you ask me why I am still an advocate I would say Sandra and I are still on a journey and it is one I will happily continue for as long as I am able or needed. When I first met Sandra she found it difficult to say no and voice her opinions and rarely showed her feelings by crying. Today she is more vocal about saying what she wants and, although it is still difficult, will talk of her feelings and even cry when things worry or upset her so that it is easier to pick up how she is feeling.

I have met a great group of people at Connected Voice Advocacy who have always been ready to listen and give advice. I can always rely on them for encouragement and support. The support from the coordinators and resources given during training really helped and there are ongoing training opportunities and social events where ideas and experiences can be shared.

Most important, Sandra has given me so much. Once when I told her this she asked ‘is that worry?’ I laughed because although I have had many concerns at times it has been wonderful to see her meet her challenges and blossom.