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People :: Alumni :: Alistair Gaw

alistair gaw

Alistair Gaw

Diploma in Social Work/CQSW 1988

Graduated: 1988

I grew up in Glasgow and like most 18 year olds I wanted to live and study in new environment. I’d always loved Edinburgh as a city so it was a natural choice to go to the University as an undergraduate. I graduated in 1983 with a degree in Politics. After a short, failed, attempt at a career as a musician I got a job in 1984 in a bank. It didn’t take me long to realise this was not for me and, having researched options, decided social work fitted better with what I wanted to do with my life. I was living in Edinburgh, volunteering at Canongate Youth Project and had got to know people working in community work and social work. The post-graduate course at Edinburgh University had a good reputation so it was my first choice and I was delighted to get a place. I’ve never regretted it.

I can genuinely say I enjoyed just about every minute of the course. On day one, I realised I had found my vocation. After working in a bank, pulling pints and driving buses, I was going to spend two years studying human growth and development, psychology, sociology, social policy, the law, mental health ... and spending time on practice placements. I was getting my fees paid AND a grant to live on. I was privileged.

My first placement was at Galashiels Area Office with the supposedly redoubtable, but actually very kind, Ann Jenkins. This was a great place to start as the staff group were welcoming and Ann ran a practice teaching unit so there were always few students from a variety of courses around. I spent the summer of 1987 at Hawthorn Children’s Centre at Mayfield with Jane Ramage who in recent years has been a valuable colleague. My final placement was at Dalkeith Psychiatric Day Unit, an annex of what was Rosslynlee Hospital. I can genuinely say I enjoyed just about every minute of the course. On day one I realised I had found my vocation.  After working in a bank, pulling pints and driving buses I was going to spend two years studying human growth and development, psychology, sociology, social policy, the law, mental health ... and spending time on practice placements. I was getting my fees paid AND a grant to live on. I was privileged.

I can genuinely say I enjoyed just about every minute of the course. On day one I realised I had found my vocation.  After working in a bank, pulling pints and driving buses, I was going to spend two years studying human growth and development, psychology, sociology, social policy, the law, mental health ... and spending time on practice placements. I was getting my fees paid AND a grant to live on. I was privileged.

My first placement was at Galashiels Area Office with the supposedly redoubtable but actually very kind Ann Jenkins. This was a great place to start as the staff group were welcoming and Ann ran a practice teaching unit so there were always few students from a variety of courses around. I spent the summer of 1987 at Hawthorn Children’s Centre at Mayfield with Jane Ramage who in recent years has been a valuable colleague. My final placement was at Dalkeith Psychiatric Day Unit, an annex of what was Rosslynlee Hospital. The practice teacher went on to do great things – none other than Edinburgh University’s Ruth Forbes. I look back on these two years at Edinburgh with great fondness. We moved house a year ago and when emptying the attic, I found my old notes and essays. I spent the rest of the day and most of the next in some useful revision! The course prepared us well for professional work and I went into my first job as an area team social worker with a fair degree of confidence.

Thanks to my choice of Social Work and not least my time at Edinburgh University I’ve enjoyed hugely rewarding and varied roles in local and central government. I’ve been a practitioner, practice teacher, manager, inspector, civil servant and in recent years worked as a Head of Service and Director. I’ve worked all over Scotland and am now with the City of Edinburgh Council where I’m responsible for a range of services, including children and families social work. Although I’ve been a manager for many years I regard myself first and foremost as a social worker and I was honoured to be President of Social Work Scotland, the leadership organisation for the profession in Scotland, last year. For me the most important thing about my social work education was that it has allowed me to get up on a Monday morning knowing I was doing something valuable. What can be better than that?

There would be no social work profession without rigorous standards of learning and it is vital we maintain high quality practice, teaching and research. Universities and employers must work more closely together to make sure this is achieved. The next generation? The skills at the heart of social work, building and utilising great relationships, are invaluable life skills that are an asset to any organisation in any field. So the impact social workers can have in making the world a better place is limited only by our imagination.

Source: own contribution (11.1.2017)