Monday, 19 August 2013

Action for Advocacy - a kind of obituary

It is with some regret that I have seen the notice that Action for Advocacy has ceased trading.Although the organisation continues to exist for the present, I think it fair to assume that this marks the end of a4a as an active force.

In the past couple of months I have been asked about this many times by many people. In fact, I had expecting the future of a4a to be announced before I left the organisation in May. However, this didn't happen and I have not made any public comment until now. I was hoping to ensure that the future of the Quality Performance Mark was secured and, having  been informed that a new home will be found for the QPM, I want to flag up some of the organisation's work which I think deserves recognition.

Having started in 2001 under the name Advocacy Across London, a4a's work spanned 12 years that saw remarkable change in the independent advocacy sector. a4a started in a period when independent advocacy was only known about by a small group of people. The external perception of advocacy as that it couldn't make up its own mind about what it was. The idea that it would one day be a part of legislation was beyond fanciful. The idea that it would have an agreed quality framework, cited in commissioning guidance seemed implausible.

I joined in 2006 as the National Development Officer and held a number of roles since then. I'm proud to have worked with some remarkable people, to have been involved in an enterprise to try to make the vision of a strong and equal voice for all citizens a reality. I personally got to see the work of  a couple of hundred advocacy organisations and met countless advocates. Almost without exception, they were inspirational.

I believe a4a did some great work, and it did it with a pretty small team. I also know that a4a made mistakes, got things wrong and occasionally messed up on a grand scale (I'll put my hand up to a couple of those).  When it did that, it was usually because it was trying to do something good.

Now it's effectively gone.  I won't get into the why, how or who's fault stuff here, although I'd be lying if I said I don't blame myself to a certain extent. It was singularly unfortunate that I needed to take time off for health reasons at precisely the time a4a needed the most support.

Anyway, this is an obituary, not an autopsy. However,  I decided to take 5 minutes to jot down some of the things that a4a did in its time; just to take stock. Here's what I came up with...

  • The Advocacy Charter
  • The London Support Project
  • Developing A Code of Practice for Advocates 
  • Quality Standards for Advocacy Schemes
  • Founder member of Advocacy Consortium
  • Supporting the inclusion of advocacy included in the Mental Capacity Act
  • Promoting Independent Mental Health Advocacy in the  Mental Health Act
  • Human Rights Toolkit for Advocates
  • Promoting understanding of Non-Instructed Advocacy
  • Training over 5000 advocates
  • Developing and running the ILM accredited Managing for Excellence in Advocacy
  • Standards Support Project which supported hundreds of advocacy organisations raise quality
  • Developing the Quality Performance Mark
  • Member of the Care and Support Alliance
  • Representing independent advocacy in parliament
  • Advocates forums - both in person and online
  • IMHA support Project
  • IMCA support project
  • Free online map of advocacy services
  • Lost in Translation - developing a framework for recording soft outcomes in advocacy
  • Supporting organisations to prepare for contracts and tendering
  • Challenging poor tender documents
  • Representing advocacy organisations to commissioners
  • Planet Advocacy Magazine 
  • Advocacy Commissioners' Support conference and emails
  • 3 National IMCA conferences
  • Working with Welsh Government to develop monitoring framework for IMHA in Wales.
  • Highlighting shortfalls in IMHA commissioning in national media
  • Giving evidence to Joint Scrutiny Committee on the Social Care Bill
  • Review of rollout of IMHA in the North East
  • Review of learning disabilities funding in Wales
  • Review of use of IMCA in Safeguarding
  • Influencing the guidance on IMHA in Mental Health Review tribunals
  • First official review of the advocacy workforce
  • Keeping the sector informed on policy consultations
  • Input into CQC Mental Health Review report
  • Safeguarding courses
  • Responding to countless (and seemingly increasingly quick) policy consultations
  • Role of advocacy in financial abuse situations
  • Signatory of the Winterbourne Concordat
  • Hundreds of In House training sessions
  • Joint work with British Institute of Human Rights, British Institute for Learning Disabilities, National Development Team for Mental Health, Mind, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance, Inclusion North, Valuing People Support Team, Advocacy Wales, Mental Health Foundation......
...and I know I've missed lots of stuff out. Some would say that's pretty good for 12 years. I know I always felt we needed to do more.Maybe that was part of the problem.

To everyone who worked at a4a in its lifetime - thanks for putting in your time, effort, energy and skills. You gave much more than you might have needed, you were committed to helping us change things.. For all trustees, thanks for your part in the journey.

We all believed in working for a society where all citizens can be sure of a strong and equal voice. We didn't get there, but I do think we made some difference and much of those ripples that we caused will carry on.  To the  funders, especially The Baring Foundation, City Bridge Trust, Department of Health, Awards for All, and Department for Education, thanks for supporting the work. In fact, this being a personal blog, particular thanks to the Baring Foundation for believing in independence, believing in us and for sticking with us. They are, without doubt, the most positively engaged  funder I have ever worked with.

In the end, we knew that we were only a small part of a story. The real work must be done by organisations, advocates and ultimately by those who challenge the inequality and poor service delivery that they face on a daily basis. In my time at a4a it was a privilege to meet so many committed, skilled and stubborn people who were determined to make a difference. That was one of the things that kept me going, through seemingly endless journeys on public transport throughout England and Wales. It is some comfort to know that there is no shortage of people out there who are carrying on that fight, championing voice, choice, control and dignity for all.

So raise a glass - for good or ill, a4a is no more.


....I wonder if anyone will miss us


  1. Wong should read won't!

  2. Well written Martin, and a sad day.

  3. This comment via Rob Harris....

    "It's disappointing news to see A4A in this position. I worked closely with A4A from time to time when I was building and growing Advocacy Experience. Always a well meaning organisation, advocacy through and through; but often lacked a clear strategic direction or long term vision as well as effective leadership, my best guess is this contributed significantly to the unravelling we see now. It's a harsh but necessary lesson for other 3rd sector providers, you cannot rely solely on excellent staff at the coal face, CEO and trustees need to be great too.

    Having said that A4A delivered on some excellent and groundbreaking work, notably the QPM which I regard as their best moment. If only they could have achieved the commercial balance with the great technical work, sustainability would have been achieved.

    I know plenty of great people that worked for A4A and I thank them for what they delivered and wish all concerned my very best wishes in the future. There is a gap that is left by A4A's demise, I hope it will be filled by the right organisation with the right intentions and a good plan"

  4. Very sad to have lost this resource, especially the discussion forum which went some time ago and I did wonder all that time back. Advocacy can be a lonely place at times!!!! Individual advocacy services can 'bang the drum' locally for individual clients as for the client groups who they represent, but who will now take up the baton nationally?

    1. I've been thinking about the discussion forum a lot recently and your reply might just goad me into action.

      There's a forum on linkedin that I run for IMHAs, also one which looks at advocacy and safeguarding. Will set up an interim forum for all independent advocates Maybe a few of us could work out what we really want from a forum for advocates?

      email me and I'll send you an invitation.

  5. The delivery of the QPM last year was not good enough. I was trying to juggle too many things and not getting enough right. Communication was poor. (More detail on the post From A to B for anyone who is interested).

    I disagree with the idea that a4a didn't support frontline services though. I think we did. I think some of the campaigning and media stuff was about trying to keep advocacy on the agenda. You disagree, that's fair enough.

    1. Hello,
      Can't comment about the QPM, we tried and got quite a long way down the line, but ultimately budget restrictions stopped us.

      I do think that A4A supported front line services, and they were always very responsive to our service, if we needed guidance so absolutely no complaints there.

    2. Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated.

  6. I agree with the point about supporting front line services, never had a problem with A4A in that respect but the QPM was a real shambles, and that's being polite about it

  7. I'd say it was a little more complex than that. QPM started well, got established and then delivery became poor as the whole organisation struggled to deliver with fewer resources. That meant the changes that we knew needed to be made weren't, my communication became erratic (see getting from A to B) and delivery in the end was bad.
    That said, I'm still proud of getting together the QPM framework, getting commissioners and policy makers to talk about advocacy in the language of advocacy and giving the sector a quality mark of its own. I'm glad that we made the framework available free of charge to help smaller groups develop. And I hope it flourishes in its new home at NDTI.