Advocacy Awareness Week 2022: Interview with Michele Reynolds who uses Rochdale Advocacy Together Hub
Posted on 09, November 2022
Advocacy Awareness Week runs from 7 to 11 November and the theme for this year is how advocates support people in relation to their human rights. Together has a range of advocacy services working with people in the community or in secure settings and on a variety of forms of advocacy.
For the week we wanted to speak to a person who has used our advocacy services and Michele Reynolds who has used our Rochdale Advocacy Together Hub was kind enough to take part in an interview.
The theme for Advocacy Awareness Week 2022 is how advocates support people in relation to their human rights, could you tell us a bit about how Together’s Advocacy services have supported you in this way?
I’d been working with Adult Social Care for some time and not getting anywhere or feeling like my voice was being heard. Fortunately for me another service steered me in the direction of Together’s Advocacy’s service and a brief chat later, I discovered support was available. With the assistance and support offered to me I was able to make a complaint against the service I’d received from Adult Social Care. This was despite being more than able to speak for myself as I’d felt unheard.
Having an advocate ensured that correct procedures were followed and all areas of concern where looked into. Most importantly for me though, moving forward I did not feel judged or that I would be treated any differently because I’d complained. Some parts of this process with advice I was able to do myself. However some parts I just couldn’t and this is where the advocate asked me what I needed and either supported or just did things themselves on my behalf. There was plenty of interaction and also support from the advocate and I found they take nothing away from you.
When I was working with my advocate each step forward was only done so with my consent. They helped ensure my rights were to be fairly assessed in a manner that was in no way biased or judgmental. The advocate also took steps to make sure that things were person-centred, as requested by me, the service user and not service provided. To be spoken to and treated with respect as a service provider expects of you was important to me. At no point did I feel I would get there alone and it was effecting my physical and mental health as well as my sense of self-worth. My amazing advocate restored all of these things for me and also reminded me how kind some people still are.
Together’s core principle is Service User Leadership and we value lived experience, do you feel your own lived experience was valued in the way Together advocates worked alongside you and could you tell us a bit about that?
I’m not saying I’m old, I’m only 53 and have lived life mixing with many different people, all of which have taught me something. Some good, some bad. I’ve always been honest about this and some people are offended by that or or tend to judge while some people engage and share. However, to my surprise, I found that my advocate wanted to hear about my experiences and the people I had come across in general. My advocate also appreciated we can all learn from each other and acknowledged that a criticism or complaint isn’t necessarily a bad thing if we learn and it leads to positive change.
I found it so refreshing to speak to someone who was there to help me and to assist in getting things on track, someone that came with an open and broad mind. Not one decision was made for me and for the things that I was struggling with, I felt able to openly discuss them with my advocate. I actually feel my life has been enriched during my time working with this absolute critical service. Honestly I’m not sure where I’d be today without them.
In terms of advocacy generally, what are some of the things you feel it is most important to raise awareness around based on your own lived experiences and also just generally?
I was struggling to keep my head above water. I needed help desperately and I felt it was irrelevant what or how I said things or how I presented to the very people who were meant to support me. I felt those people had just prejudged and labelled me or felt the things I was requesting where just ridiculous. It seemed to me that the choices of social workers or occupational therapists for my life were considered better for me than my own.
I felt I knew I hadn’t been assessed correctly, if at all and I knew I wasn’t been supported correctly yet the more I pointed this out and other errors the more difficult things became. I complained and complained but I just felt things were getting so much worse and I started ringing other services and charities so that the list just grew and grew. In the meantime, within my real life I was struggling physically and emotionally. My mental health declined and I was scrubbing my skin raw. I’d cry because my anxiety was so bad and I was taking medication 4 times a day compared to my usual, which was 2 unless I was triggered in which case it would be 3. My seizures where up and I was at a complete loss.
One day that all changed when I had a very tearful conversation with another organisation who couldn’t help. That wasn’t related to my contact with Adult Social Care or my health but with a different kind of support. It was a charity who couldn’t do a lot to make big changes but who were able to listen to my voice. I’m not saying it was an easy step to take but if I didn’t continue and formally complain, not only would things not have changed for me but also for the people who came after me.
I knew taking things further was the right and decent thing to do. I just didn’t know how to go about things and my allocated worker from that charity referred me and so I engaged with my Together advocate. At that point I’d say my name among services may well have been misanthropic and my attitude wasn’t great but that was because of the way I felt I’d been treated by Adult Social Care for a year. When I met my advocate though, we talked about everything from the beginning. Once I started it just poured out. For the first time in a long time someone understood what I was going through had an understanding of how I was feeling. At no point did I feel embarrassed, ashamed, dirty, unworthy, disrespected, a liar or in general a poor excuse for a human which is how the other services had made me feel.
At every point I was reminded that I have worth. I was told I would be assessed in full under the care act and this would be carried out in full. The advocate told me they would be there with me for all the complaints I had and those would be documented and go in formally and each step of the way they would be with me. It is a long way on this journey and there are still a few steps to take. True to my advocate’s word, every single step of the way my advocate has been there as promised even when the steps went backwards. As Wendy says “never is an awfully long time” but I know I will never be able to show gratitude for my regained sense of worth in myself and other people because of the way my advocate has supported me. So now regardless of where I am or what response I get, I raise awareness of the dogs b*llocks (a term for the best of the best in scouse) charity that Together is and will continue to do so because they are a service of impeccable and unmeasurable kindness and support.
Thank you t Michele for taking part in this interview.