It was the summer of 2015 and I had just moved back home after being at University for 4 years. I had a part-time job but was looking to do some volunteering. I had previously volunteered with young people disabled adults and so was looking for something similar. A quick search on the ‘Volunteer Scotland’ website brought up Dunfermline Advocacy (DA) and I knew immediately it was something I would be interested in.
After registering my interest, I was quickly invited for a chat…just to talk about DA, what my role would be and to answer any questions I had. This was so relaxed and there was absolutely no pressure for me to make any decisions, or to be involved at all. My DA contact was really friendly and so passionate about the organisation that it was hard not to be infected! Several meetings followed, in which we discussed possible partners (and I waited for my PVG to come back…!) and suddenly I had a partner and we were arranging out first meeting!
Development Worker Support
Well I say suddenly, but DA provide loads of support and to start with their main concern is making both you and your partner feel comfortable and safe with each other. This means that for your first few meetings with you partner (or as long as you need) your contact at DA comes with you. This will be someone your partner already knows and feels comfortable with, so it really takes the pressure off everyone.
I found this particularly useful as my partner, Shannon, has some speech issues and to start with I found it difficult to understand what she was saying. But having someone else there meant I had the time to learn Shannon’s speech and she had time to feel confident in communicating with me. Naturally you reach a point when everyone feels happy and confident and then it’s just you and your partner!
Though, again, not really! Your still very well supported. You get two training sessions where you get to meet new advocated like yourself and hear from old advocates. You meet up with your contact from DA every three months or so and if you have any problems or worries everyone in the office is happy to help. In your role as an advocate there is a high chance you’ll come across things you don’t really know about. DA has loads of resources and knowledge to help you…and if they don’t know they’ll do their best to find out for you!
Mutually Beneficial Friendship
I’ve now been meeting up with Shannon for about 10 months. We’ll meet up every 2/3 weeks for a couple of hours and I try to keep our activities varied. To start off with we always went bowling, as this is an activity that Shannon really enjoys. It meant that she didn’t have to deal with a new environment as well as a new person. But as her trust and confidence in me grew, we branched out. Shannon is very happy to try new things, and she is equally happy to tell me when she doesn’t like something! This enabled us as a pair to work out what we liked doing together. It is easy to get stuck in a rut though (McDonalds…!) so I’m always asking Shannon what new things she might like to try.
Throughout our time together I have seen Shannon’s confidence and trust in me grow, which is wonderful to see. To start off with she would chat, but only in response to my questions. Now she natters away…telling me about her friends at college and asking every question under the sun! I mentioned that she had speech issues that initially meant I had trouble understanding her. Well sometimes I still have difficulties but Shannon is great and happily repeats herself or mimes until I get it. It’s certainly not a barrier to communication! She is also incredibly observant and has suggested to me on more than one occasion that I should wash my car…!
On a personal level, I have gained so much through spending time with Shannon. My confidence in my own skills has grown and I now know there are many more ways to communicate than just through speech. It always amazes me how she can make me see the world through a different perspective (by asking me things such as ‘do cars have feelings’ or ‘do chickens lick you’). I can also honestly say that Shannon and I are friends. I look forward to our meetings, and I’m pretty sure she does too…! I haven’t had to do too many ‘advocacy’ things yet, but there are challenges on the horizon (such as her life after college). I hope that when they come she’ll want to share them with me and we’ll be able to deal with them as a team.