Accessing Advocacy Making sure that people have access to independent advocacy within health and social care, is key. And never more so than six months into a global pandemic. Here we reflect on some of the key issues that are facing people we work with and our sector. There are numerous reports that show us that loneliness is reaching all new heights, with around 7 million adults saying that they don’t have any friends for support. So many people who may have to face life changing decisions with no family or friends to help them, and don’t know where to turn. Here at Advocacy Focus, our advocacy hub model and its single point of contact, provides the gateway to advocacy services in our communities. A one stop shop of information so that people get the help they need, to find the right support and service – and are never turned away - when they most need support. Many people who contact our service feel misunderstood, frustrated and often scared - they just want support so that they can hold onto their independence and stay at home. Something that many of us take for granted. By picking up the phone to us or chatting to us via our website and live chat facility, they are half-way to getting the support they need. But the word Advocacy doesn’t ‘trip off the tongue’ does it? The very people we try to reach can often find the word itself a barrier, not really knowing that advocacy is the service they need. So we work hard to tell the story of advocacy through case studies and tell people that we can ‘help people live the lives they want to live’. Now who doesn’t understand, or want that? Once we have their attention, we can support them to understand information, speak up, be listened to, and be at the core of decisions made about them. A professional independent friend in their hour of need. Our community engagement advocates take our services into communities, because we know that people aren’t ‘hard to reach’; services are. We know that we will never reach all the people who need us, but over time we have reached out to many more people, raised awareness about our service and more importantly, made connections with the people who need us the most. We’re fighting a two-pronged battle because many professionals still don’t know what advocacy services do, even though Advocacy is enshrined in law. It’s foolish to assume that they know about all the services in their local community, because the not-for-profit sector is complex, diverse and ever changing. So we offer people within local authorities, health and clinical commissioning groups the opportunity to attend courses to explain advocacy and encourage them to refer people to us. There is a danger that when faced with increased pressure and heavy workloads, professionals will not make a referral for the person they are supporting. They need to recognise that they have a legal obligation to do so. And we never fail to remind them of that fact. The pandemic has changed the way we work in many ways, but it hasn’t stopped us working hard to reach our communities and act, so that fewer people are left struggling to navigate the health and social care world. We need to make sure that the 7 million figure doesn’t grow and that people are able to speak so that professionals listen when it comes to the matter of their lives. It is also vitally important that charities are properly resourced and have the finances to deliver essential services to our communities. Here at Advocacy Focus we build on people’s strengths and support them to self-advocate where possible. That’s what charities should do, strengthen and mobilise communities, and make sure that anybody that needs advocacy can have it. That is the day we know that the battle has been won and it was well worth the fight.