When advocacy leads to friendship

What gets former Livability service user Michelle up in the morning is trying to help disabled people like herself to beat social isolation and get the most out of life.

Michelle is a disability advocate for Wales and set up a friendship group 10 years ago which is now 90 people strong!

Michelle says: “My personal experience of disability has made me passionate about making life better for other people. I want to give something back.

Michelle Changing communities LDA Leaders' List 2018

“I’ve always been quite outgoing and back in 2006, I helped to set up a friendship group as part of Conwy Connect – a local organisation for people with learning disabilities.

“We organise all sorts of activities, like meals out, karaoke and trips to London shows. We block-book tickets and arrange transport, meaning people can book through us.

“There’s over 90 people who are part of Conwy Connect now. We have ‘connect buddies’ for people so they don’t worry about coming on their own. If you live at home, it gives you a chance to get together and get a break from your parents!”

Advocating for others

The Conwy Connect work led to Michelle being elected as a representative to the National Council of All Wales People First, which meets in Cardiff.

Michelle Changing communities LDA Leaders' List 2018

With other representatives, Michelle discusses issues affecting the everyday lives of people with disabilities.

Michelle was also asked to speak at the national conference in 2016. Speaking on this experience she said: “I was a bag of nerves the first time but I’ve spoken in public many times now.”

When asked why she gives so much time to her advocacy work and Conwy Connect, Michelle said: “Because socialising makes people happy and when we get together in Conwy Connect, I can see how happy people are.

“My goal is that people get more confidence and go out and mix. I feel I’m making a difference here – the friendship group would not be going if not for me.”