Volunteers Week 2022: Interview with Independent Advocate Bekka Kipling

For Volunteers Week 2022 we wanted to speak to different types of volunteers across Together to show the crucial and varied roles they carry out. One of those types of roles is within our advocacy services which look to protect the rights and provide a voice to people within mental health support. We spoke to Bekka Kipling who is an Volunteer Independent Advocate who told us more about her role and what volunteering is like for her:

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your volunteering role with Together?

I came into advocacy initially through a volunteer drop in service in the city that I lived in, which led to a full time role in advocacy. I used to work as an advocate with Together but left for a new job a few years ago. Unfortunately you couldn’t get rid of me that easily! I have returned to support the volunteer service in Rochdale as an independent advocate.

My role is to meet with the service user, discuss their issue and how they would like to resolve it. From there we have discussions to help them understand their rights (for example to access their own medical information or write a letter of complaint) and how they can go about achieving the result that they want. The situation may not work out the way that person wants, but we hope they will gain skills and confidence to advocate for themselves in the future.

Could you tell us a bit more about working within advocacy and the ways you work alongside people who use Together’s services?

It is key to understand what the person wants to achieve and then supporting them to do that. Ultimately advocacy is always person-centred and about empowering that person to make their voice heard whether that is over the phone, by letter or in a face to face meeting. We can support people by preparing questions that they need answers to, drafting a letter with them, helping them access information online or through local services, helping fill out applications, practicing a phone call with them or being there beside them as support. The list is endless!

What would you say are some of the things you enjoy most about your volunteering role?

I don’t think I can pin it down to just one thing. I enjoy being able to connect with people in the community, face to face. I enjoy the unpredictability – Advocacy is not one size fits all. you might have two people in similar situations who want vastly different things to come out of it, so you take two different approaches to support them to achieve the outcome that they want. Part of the enjoyment from the role comes from empowering people with the skills to ask questions, get the information they need and challenge decisions which grows their confidence, self-assurance and creates a sense of pride in what they have been able to achieve on their own.

What would you say to someone who is considering a volunteering role themselves?

I would say to anyone who is unsure about volunteering that you should absolutely go for it. I was at university studying something completely unrelated to health and social care when I first started volunteering. Actually having knowledge in a different sector has been hugely helpful! What started as a part time volunteer gig became a huge part of my life and one of my biggest passions. Advocacy is a great opportunity to work directly with people, grow your skills while also supporting others to do the same. You never know what you are going to get out of it, or where it is going to take you but it was one of the best decisions that I have made.

Thank you to Bekka for taking the time to provide these answers.