Advocacy Musings for April 18
What is the date of the first day of Spring? Well, I’ve always thought that it was the 21st March. Is that what you have said? I noticed this year that on the television, radio and in the newspaper the 20th was declared instead. This surprised me somewhat so I consulted that well-known source of all knowledge: Google, and discovered that the Vernal Equinox may fall on either the 19th, 20th, or 21st March. So I learnt something I didn’t know.
A few years ago about this time of year my friend Rose Ralph and I went to a conference in London. It was a gathering of mostly movers and shakers within the world of learning disability. The key guests were people who had written influential reports and books in the 1970s and ‘80s or leaders of services or projects which were deemed to have been radical. How exactly Rose and I got invited remains a mystery but there we were amongst these folk who were seen to be important and who (well some of them at least) saw themselves as having changed things for the better twenty years previously.
The conference ably chaired by Simon Duffy who now runs the Centre for Welfare Reform based in Sheffield, agreed as a whole that the changes that had come about some decades ago had improved the lives of people with learning difficulties and others but had not gone far enough. What was needed was a new “Spring.”
The experience of attending that event was a mixed one. It is fun going anywhere with Rose. Her road-crossing skills in the centre of London have to be seen to be believed. And we came away with her having made personal contact with Simon Duffy which later flowered into a number of visits by him to Buxton and to Chapel-en-le-Frith. Later he cited Rose’s group “Speak and Eat” which he visited as a guest speaker as a source in his essay on citizenship. A not so positive point for me was the comment by one of these esteemed writers that “advocacy has been tried and doesn’t work.”
Of course I don’t agree with that comment. If you think of advocacy in the context of the seasons you’re never going to get a climate that is always summer. The thing about advocacy is that it should always be available. Just as a crocus doesn’t know whether it is the 19th, 20th or 21st March but will poke its pretty head out of the soil when the conditions are right, so advocacy has to do the same.
Did that conference lead to a new beginning? Maybe and maybe not but regardless of that there are plenty of exciting and positive initiatives around. The continuation of advocacy of course is one of them but there are others such as the current review of Day Activities for people with learning difficulties in Derbyshire and the national and local consideration of the rights and needs of autistic people. For the first time in my experience people themselves, advocate and carers are being properly engaged with by the authorities in order that real, positive ways forward can be identified.
When I think about Spring what often comes to mind is the Easter period and the daffodils in the churchyard of St. Oswald’s church in Ashbourne, “waving and dancing in the breeze” and shouting out “we are here, we are beautiful!” They don’t give up, they come back every year. Good ideas and assertive advocacy is like that. It may have been a hard and long winter and the earth may be cold but there are ways to break through it, again and again, to show our colours and to bring joy and pleasure into people’s lives. Long live Spring. May it develop into a long and glorious Summer which in turn may lessen the harsh effects of Winter until our next Spring.
Peter Dawson – Advocate/Senior Advocacy Development Worker, Peaks and Dales Advocacy.
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