Unique charity helps to give others a voice

Helen Glass (left) and development worker Camilla McGregor will be on hand with information about Include Me. (Photo: Dave Scott)
Helen Glass (left) and development worker Camilla McGregor will be on hand with information about Include Me. (Photo: Dave Scott)

A unique north east Fife charity is seeking kind-hearted volunteers to help give a voice to some of the area’s most vulnerable people.

Cupar-based Include Me, one of three citizen advocacy services in the Kingdom, is to host an open evening on June 20 at which local people can find out how giving up just a few hours each month can make a huge difference to the lives of some of their neighbours.

The charity matches volunteers with people who have a learning or physical disability, chronic illness, or mental health issues so that they can play as full a part as possible in the life of their local community.

And though it’s not a befriending service, invariably close relationships develop between the citizen advocate and their partner.

At present there are 19 people throughout north east Fife waiting to be matched with a partner.

Stretching from Newburgh to Lower Largo, the area poses a particular challenge as much of it is rural and prospective clients can be both physically and socially isolated.

Many of them need help accessing health services to ensure they’re getting the care and treatment they need – and this is where the citizen advocate comes in.

“Our citizen advocates are people who have a sense of community and a sense of fairness,” said senior development worker Helen Glass.

“Volunteers don’t need any formal qualifications, just a minmum of two or three hours a month to spare and a belief in social justice and equality.

“We’re looking for people who understand that not everyone in society is able to exercise their own choice or express their own opinion and who want to level the playing field for as many people as possible.”

Citizen advocates are drawn from all walks of life and there is no upper age limit for applicants.

Once chosen, they’ll be given basic training in preparation for their role but because every partnership is unique, any further training will be tailored to the needs of that particular pairing.

For example, one citizen advocate has learned makaton – a language consisting of signs and symbols – because his partner has no verbal communication.

Matching a citizen advocate with a partner is a painstaking process based on age, interests and so on, but once established the pair can spend as much or as little time together as they like.

“Sometimes people are afraid of the word advocacy because it sounds rather formal,” said Helen.

“But actually it’s more about changing lives and developing relationships that are mutually beneficial.”

The open event on June 20 runs from 5.30pm to 8pm in the YMCA, Bonnygate, Cupar.