People’s voice lost as Oxfordshire advocacy service folds

Andrew Willis of Banbury Advice Centre says his organisation would love to help but has insufficient funds NNL-190807-125642001
Andrew Willis of Banbury Advice Centre says his organisation would love to help but has insufficient funds NNL-190807-125642001

A service whose volunteers help individuals receive their entitlements has folded because of funding issues.

The Oxfordshire Avocacy Service was run by Getting Heard, which coordinated a team of volunteers experienced in benefits support and other advocacy.

The organisation had been providing advocacy for people with mental health problems and limited capacity, such as those with dementia or confined to hospital, but this county council funding has been transfered to a new provider.

Spokeswoman Karon Phillips said: “After over 20 years supporting and speaking up for vulnerable people across Oxfordshire Getting Heard has closed down.

“The community service, which received 600 calls a year and supported people with poor mental health, learning disabilities and long-term health conditions, reached the end of three-year funding from the Henry Smith Foundation in March.

“Fully funding the service required additional fundraising which proved challenging in the current environment.”

One of the community advocacy volunteers said support is sometimes needed for a specific event such as a benefits assessment or an appeal.

“It is at a time when that person is desperately stressed and we can see how much difference our presence and support makes just in that short time,” she said.

Andrew Willis of Banbury Advice Centre, run at Hanwell Fields and Marlborough Road, said his team would love to help people needing advocates but the project’s resources are already very stretched.

“We already prepare people as best as we can by discussing possible questions.

“Unfortunately we just don’t have the necessary funding or resources to take on actual advocacy or specialised trained staff.

“We have no regular on-going funding to maintain services we already offer and taking on another service would be a bridge too far.

“It is quite costly in terms of having to pay volunteers’ travel to Oxford and Witney, other related costs on a regular basis to do it properly.”

Getting Heard managers and volunteers are continuing to try to find a way to maintain supporting those needing a voice.