Diploma in Social Work/CQSW 1980
Sitting in my house on the girls' compound in a small village in Nigeria (Etinan) wondering about my next steps in life, I thought about social work. I was a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) teacher - learning more than I was teaching - and I knew I did not want to do school teaching in the UK. I thought social work was about promoting positive changes in people's lives and I was attracted to this. My scepticism about VSO started before I'd left the UK - I had wondered about working in an oil-rich country and who benefited from this, so I had become interested in fair trade. The threads of combating injustice and promoting fairness seeemed to be ones I could follow through social work. I was attracted to Edinburgh because - to be honest - it was near the sea and I had a surfing boyfriend at the time! When I started the social work course, I was also part of RVA (Returned Volunteer Action) and, with friends, we started Campaign Coffee.
My memories of my time at Edinburgh include cycling up the Mound to the university after an evening of packing Campaign Coffee (imported from a factory in Tanzania) with other ex-Volunteers I lived with. While on placement at the Leith Area office, the unfortunate social workers were dragooned into drinking this (at that time) not great coffee - but the solidarity was more important! I was interested in community work and my very supportive tutor (Gill Michael) assisted me to have a great placement with Crossroads Youth & Community Association in Govanhill, Glasgow. This introduced me to urban regeneration and working with community groups to campaign for better living circumstances. I do believe that social work courses - now - need to have more of a focus on political issues and how to assist communities to lobby for change.
My first social work role was with the Leith Area Office, where Denis Rowley (practice teacher/senior social worker) was a great influence, and I worked with him in a small community social work team. This involved working with a range of community groups - Asian women who wanted access to childcare; tenants' groups who wanted improved housing; parents who wanted less segregated settings for thier children with disabilities. Also we started to offer student placements, so my ongoing interest in education found an avenue with social work students. This led to co-leading a practice teaching unit with Mike Tait at Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations' Council - a great experience with over 40 different voluntary sector organisations in the city and beyond (while also being a mother to my two children). After a range of work in social work education, I am working as the Practice Learning and Development Manager with Midlothian Council, responsible for all the mandatory, CPD and qualifications for social services staff - so the thread of education has continued.
Looking ahead, I would say to future students - get involved in the communities you are placed in, see people's lives from the inside, understand the politics of the time and pressures on people so you can signpost assistance as well as using yourself as an agent of chnage. Social work needs to reclaim the idea of being agents of positive change - I feel.
Source: own contribution (22.1.2017)