I grew up on a council estate in Glasgow in the 1980’s and fondly remember, with nostalgia, the freedom we had then in the absence of saturation with technology. Born in 1979 I am what was then termed one of Thatcher’s children.
In early life my greatest role models and constant carers were my grandparents. Both survived The Blitz in Glasgow and even in early childhood I was fascinated with their starkly different experiences because of contrasting family structures and religion. I loved listening to my gran tell stories of her mischievous antics as a child, centred around the room and kitchen in a Glasgow tenement she shared with her parents and 12 siblings. My grandfather, a more privileged one of two, was a great raconteur who would tell wild tales of his travels with the Navy. Mostly I remember their kindness to others, especially neighbours and complete strangers. I realise this came from their experiences of the war and having to pull together in order to rebuild their homes, communities, social and working lives. During the long periods spent together in air raid shelters class, status or beliefs did not affect the collective experiences amongst people who shared: conversation, song, food, fear, hope, strength.
It was instilled in me from an early age to be kind to others, and share, even if this might not be instinctive. I learned to show respect and listen regardless of opinion, to help others without expectation, to be honest, not to judge and never to speak ill or gossip a most fervent message. From an early age I learned about the fragility of life and circumstances, and the spirit of altruism. These are foundational experiences which I carry with me in Social Work practice, and everyday life.
My Road to Social Work and Trade Unionism
Personally, I was an underachiever who did not attend school from the age of 13. I was allocated a Social Worker as was out with parental control. In hindsight I feel I have done remarkably well, I certainly did not die in the gutter as a teacher once told me (because my dissent and rebellion were a challenge to others). As a young adult I continued to be anarchistic in my outlook and ideals, mostly regarding societal inequalities, however I found a harness for my energy through political activities with the Scottish Socialist Party. I began to absorb life learning from the comradeship I discovered with more experienced socialists and trade unionists, who I listened to speaking about ideologies and actual community needs and issues. I was encouraged and inspired to more decisively challenge oppression and inequalities faced by those socio-economically disadvantaged, often because of personal characteristics to include status. I found a sense of belonging, strength and focus, and solidarity in campaigning for equalities with others irrespective of personal backgrounds or beliefs.
Throughout my working life I have always been affiliated with a trade union. I have been a workplace rep for two larger generalist unions however in 2018, I decided I needed to belong to a specialist professional union for Social Workers and joined SWU. Soon after I became a SWU Union Contact and sought to inform other practitioners, and direct them to the Advice and Representation service when needed.
Career and Development
In the late 90’s I fell into health and social care work and began contemplating becoming a Social Worker whilst working with Action for Children. I spent 5.5 years as a Project Worker in an outreach and respite service for Children and Young People aged 4-18 diagnosed with learning disabilities or difficulties. Our team provided dedicated support for social inclusion, learning and development, and carer breaks. I discovered my ability to tune in to the emotions of others, to listen and observe and be empathic. I became skilled in sensitively interpreting non-verbal cues and using augmentative communication to interact so to include children and young people in developing their own assessments of needs and care planning. We worked closely with parents, Social Workers, Education, and Health colleagues as an MDT and even at this pre-integrated service point, I understood the need to embrace interagency work so as to achieve best outcomes for individuals. This role enabled me to become a highly dedicated person-centred practitioner, and advocate. I was inspired to become a Social Worker and cannot express how crucial this job was to my development in to being an effective and resilient Social Worker. A number of more experienced colleagues were absolutely right when they said if you can do this job and thrive you can do anything.
Since qualifying in 2008 I have worked in many roles mainly in adult services, with several dedicated teams supporting people experiencing mental health difficulties. All services I have worked in have provided support to people marginalised because of biological factors such as learning disability, age or health conditions. The majority likely disadvantaged and at greater risk of being subjected to prejudices, discrimination, and extreme poverty. Sometimes hardships have been compounded by institutions or organisations tasked with helping.
In all QSW roles I have been a strong advocate for the people I am working with and supported them to achieve their personal goals, which has at times brought me in to conflict with organisational policy objectives and managerialist approaches. At such times I have drawn heavily on past experiences of working challenges, working under inordinate pressures with insurmountable risks sometimes with limited support, and the positivity of some of the most creative and talented leaders and colleagues who directly influenced me. Their words of wisdom and inspiration still resound in my ears.
Retrospectively, looking back at my early qualified career, I know I was incredibly fortunate to work with teams like Manchester Assertive Outreach, or Blackburn with Darwen Complex Care and Treatment Team, and more laterally Rotherham Vulnerable Persons Team. These teams provided me with invaluable support and nurturing from experienced dedicated professionals and set the benchmark for good practice in inter-agency work. They maintained cultures which supported and encouraged the creativity of multi-disciplines of workers, where leadership set examples of challenging unjust government and organisational policies and promoted staff spending time with people in need of support and safeguarding so as to personalise interventions and achieve good outcomes. These working experiences have enabled me to be an effective and skilled Social Worker, leader, and Trade Unionist.
On Becoming Assistant General Secretary
To loosely quote Martin Davies, Social Work should be a vehicle for change and accomplishment not an instrument of oppression. In my view Trade Unionism and Social Work are markedly intertwined as social movements, both are concerned with the challenge of inequalities while seeking change and improvement by redress of power imbalances. Both effort to empower people individually and collectively, pursuing social justice and equality through challenge or campaign for fairer policies and legislation. Suddenly my teen dissent, rebellion and anarchy seem purposeful. As a Social Worker I am committed to improving living conditions for people marginalised and impoverished in society. As Assistant General Secretary I will actively work with SWU, BASW and contemporary professional bodies to seek address of issues such as impact of austerity and poverty. I am eager to work with and learn from much respected General Secretary John McGowan, all of SWU and BASW staff.