The funding OPAAL has received for sharing our Unexpected Conversations is being used to make a contribution towards printing costs for our storytelling publications. Having hard copies enables us to take our publications on the road and this has sparked new conversations with health and care professionals, potential volunteers and service users too as they hear about how advocacy has supported their peers.
I’ve been working with a small group of volunteers who want to use their experience of cancer, and of supporting their peers through advocacy, to influence decision makers in health and care. When we first got together last year to talk about how we might structure the presentations they deliver to local services we hoped these conversations about our experience would yield interest in the service and lead to new referrals.
We wanted to tap into the lived experience of older people affected by cancer who came up with this strapline for their training to health professionals - “you have nothing to lose from referring to advocacy but your patient has everything to gain”.
Some of our training sessions were deeply emotional, and we learned first-hand about the power of sharing stories and explored how we could present these experiences to have maximum impact, leaving our publications with people to give them more stories to encourage them to refer to us. Speaking to one of our Dorset Macmillan Advocacy’s volunteers this week about how he feels these training sessions are going, I asked if there were unexpected conversations coming out of these discussions. He told me that the talks they’ve been delivering have indeed led to interest in the service, and to new referrals, but a really unexpected outcome has been health professionals themselves hearing about the service and deciding to volunteer with us, testament to the power of advocacy stories.
For example, we had a conversation recently with a retired Clinical Nurse Specialist who joined as a volunteer last year. We asked Mike Goodman why he volunteers, and he told us:
"I was interested in becoming an advocate because, despite being retired, I still have an interest in helping people live with and recover from a diagnosis of cancer. After many years as a health professional you do build up a wealth of expertise and numerous medical contacts which it seems a waste to suddenly abandon just because you retire. Retired professionals can play an important role in advocacy but, at the end of the day, it is that human touch, that word of encouragement, that listening ear that every person affected by cancer needs and wants and that is a role that every advocate seeks to fulfil."
It’s a varied role, as Richard, a volunteer peer advocate describes in our latest publication Time: our Gift to You:
"As an advocate, you often work with people who have different outlooks on situations and my partnerships have certainly thrown up some challenges! What seems right for your partner may not be what they choose and you must support their decision fully."
Advocates support older people to make informed choices, but they also promote their right to change their mind about decisions, so sometimes the advocacy takes a different direction. Other times the issue that a person is referred for is not the issue that’s having the greatest impact on an older person’s life, so we might work on several complex issues concurrently.
We hope that the stories we share resonate as examples of the support available to provide reassurance, companionship, dignity, and most importantly a voice. In an era where care must be delivered in a joined-up way, closer to home with fewer resources, solutions like peer advocacy, which tap into the existing lived expertise of individuals to empower people affected by cancer, will be crucial.
And so to our next unexpected conversation; this work programme is a wonderful example of how great things can be achieved when voluntary sector organisations work together, wholly focussed on the benefits to those who use our services. We hope it will spark new relationships in the future so that more older people get access to excellent quality advocacy support.
Since you’re here… ...we’ll let you in on a secret about Kaleidoscope’s funding. Spoiler alert: it’s not a secret. We’re a business. We design and support collaborations, run events, and help to develop strategy and policy. Our work is shaped by our clients’ challenges. We’d love to hear about yours: find out more.