The management committee of Advocacy Western Isles

Ernie Garden recently stood down from his role chairing Advocacy Western Isles at the group’s Annual General Meeting in Stornoway and handed over to Emelin Collier, former Head of Planning and Development at NHS Western Isles who was also involved with setting up Advocacy more than 16 years ago. 

The AGM was held in the Newton community rooms on Tuesday, May 22, where there was an emotional goodbye to Ernie, who set up Advocacy in 2001, along with Emelin and John Maclean. 

Friends of the organisation were also there, including Donald John MacSween, general manager with community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, which is about to hand over its latest tranche of funding to Advocacy. 

Point and Sandwick Trust have committed to give Advocacy £5,000 a year for five years.  This is helping to expand the service across the islands, by funding more hours for Advocacy workers, particularly those working with people with mental health issues and the elderly. 

Advocacy Western Isles is a free, independent and confidential service that supports people in speaking up for themselves, defending their interests and ensuring their voice is heard. 

Point and Sandwick Trust also gives financial support to the Western Isles Association for Mental Health, to help run the Catch 23 drop-in service, and also to Western Isles Foyer and to the Hebrides Alpha Project. 

The Western Isles Association for Mental Health receives £5,000 a year, while Western Isles Foyer, which helps homeless and other socially disadvantaged young people, and the Hebrides Alpha Project, which runs a residential recovery programme for islanders suffering from addiction, get £30,000 each. 

Donald John MacSween stressed the importance of supporting those organisations working hard to help the vulnerable or disenfranchised.  Advocacy in particular, he said, were “giving a voice” to people who wouldn’t otherwise have one. 

“Advocacy, Catch 23 and Foyer all work to support different groups in our community who need all the help they can get and we are pleased to support them in their work, doing just that,” he said. 

At the AGM, Advocacy Operations Manager Cathy Anne Dunn reported that the past year had been “another very busy year” for Advocacy, dealing with a total of 1,350 cases across the Western Isles. 

She also revealed a large number of mental health cases, with about 85 per cent of the cases in the Southern Isles involving people with mental health issues and told of a trend for people in Uist and Barra having to wait for two to four months before they are seen by psychiatric services. 

On a different note, she reported that the SMILE project (See Me I Want to Live Equally) had been giving presentations to professionals and the general public about how best to communicate with people with a learning disability.  These presentations have been very well received and more have been booked in, including a date in the diary with Hebridean Housing Partnership. 

The SMILE presentations are run by the Speak Out Group, formerly known as the Stand Up For Yourself Self-Advocacy Group, who have regular support meetings with Advocacy staff. 

Also at the AGM, outgoing chair Ernie reflected on his time with Advocacy – and paid particular tribute to those involved with the SMILE project. 

“One thing that’s really given me a lot of pleasure is working with the ‘speak out for yourself’ group.  Working with and seeing how they operate was really amazing and one thing that struck me was their commitment.  If they said they were going to do something, they did it and they did it to the best of their abilities.  They are a wonderful group and they’ve done really well for themselves and I’ve seen them develop in confidence over the years. 

“I wish them well – and the management committee and the staff.”

Generally, his Advocacy role had not felt like hard work.  “It’s been a pleasure, really.  Coming from my background in the police I never ever thought I’d be involved in an organisation like Advocacy – but the more we looked at it, the more interested I became.”

Paying tribute to the Advocacy workers, he said: “It’s a difficult job.  It seems to be uphill all the time but it’s great to see that staff have stayed with us. 

“A big thank you to the staff who joined us and also Cathy Ann, who’s been with us a long time.  We’re grateful to her for taking up the leadership of the organisation 12 years ago.”

He added: “I’m really grateful to the management committee for the work that they’ve done.”

Cathy Ann said: “A huge thank you to Ernie.  While we (Advocacy staff) were busy standing up for clients, Ernie was busy standing up for us, putting his head above the parapet.”

New chair Emelin said: “Ernie has been an absolute stalwart.  I hope I can do half the job that Ernie’s done.” While Advocacy was a strong organisation now, Emelin said it had been “very hard” to get it to that point. 

However, the strongest testimony on the day arguably came from service users themselves.  A report of client feedback circulated at the AGM, showed a hugely positive response. 



Point and Sandwick Trust general manager Donald John MacSween with Advocacy’s outgoing chair Ernie Garden and new chair Emelin Collier.

Pictures by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos Photography.