Skip to main content

People :: Alumni :: Steve Gowenlock

Steve now

Steve Gowenlock

CQSW/Diploma in Social Work 1988

Graduated: 1988

When I undertook my undergraduate degree at the University of Dundee (History and Philosophy), I was involved in voluntary work, primarily supporting Chilean refugees who were re-settled in Dundee after General Pinochet’s coup in September 1973. After graduation and a year or so of travelling and low-paid jobs, I ended up with an unsatisfactory, but reasonably well-paid, civil service job. After a couple of years of struggling with the tedium of this job, I left to take up a post in a residential hostel for young adults with learning difficulties. This was a really formative experience. All the staff lived in and shared community life with the residents. It was a very intense, challenging and creative environment. I am still in touch with several of the staff team and still see some of the former residents (who are now well into middle age!). It was a wrench to leave this job, however, I realised that I was at the stage of needing a professional qualification. I applied to both Moray House and Edinburgh University and was accepted onto both courses - I chose Edinburgh. In those days, candidates were advised to have at least one year’s experience in residential care before being accepted onto the course. There was no mere paper selection process either! We had an individual interview and were observed by 2/3 staff participating in a group discussion with about 8 other candidates.

Despite the time lag my memories of the course are still fresh in my mind.  We had an extensive grounding in child development, courtesy of Judith Brearley - I still have vivid memories of watching the Robertson’s films* of children’s hospital experiences in the 1950’s and 1960's and the strong reactions our student group had to these films. Community social work and the Barclay Report** were the current flavour of the moment. As a cohort, we were, at times (as most students need to be), critical of the input we received, but looking back with the benefit of time, I am grateful for the teaching we received on direct work with children, social work skills (we were videoed in action), group work and all the input on human development. All of these areas continue to influence my ongoing practice.

We were fortunate to have three full placements, which I definitely needed. I had my first placement in a social work nursery in Glenrothes with a link to the local area team. Apart from the long journey by train and then bus through a cold winter, I have positive memories of my first real experience of supervision from my practice teacher, Anne Parry; being thrown into facilitating a parent’s group, and really learning how to communicate with small children. It was a fairly intensive period of time, as my wife was working (and we were living), in one of Penumbra’s first supported accommodation flats for people moving out of longstay psychiatric hospital. A later move to a cottage in East Lothian provided a much better life/work balance for me for the rest of the course!

My second placement was in a generic social work team in Craigentinny, where I had a caseload that encompassed supporting one older person move into residential care, working with a woman with learning difficulties who was a passionate lover of all things to do with the Royal family, and working with a ‘hard-to-engage’ teenager.  A real varied caseload! My final placement was at the Smith’s Place Group, a consortium of small voluntary agencies in Leith. This provided an ideal mix of community development with the Sikh community in Leith, direct work with children and families and group work with children. I was very fortunate to be supervised by Nita Brown who was a skilled and intuitive practitioner and possessor of  a sharp, analytic mind. Nita was then at the forefront of thinking about anti-racist practice in Scotland as well as a passionate advocate for the needs of children. This placement really brought together all my learning on the programme and so much of this has stayed with me.  

I have worked in different agencies over the years. Eschewing the wisdom of the time (which was to first work for two years in the statutory sector), I made a conscious decision to pursue a career in the voluntary sector, as I felt it was where my heart and skills lay. I have kept in touch with social work education throughout my career, being a CCETSW- and then SSSC-Unit practice teacher for a while. I have been a member of programme assessment panels and exam boards at Edinburgh University so I have maintained contact with the programme as it has developed over the years. I currently head a medium size voluntary agency, Multi-Cultural Family Base (MCFB), which works with children and families from new migrant, refugee and asylum seeking communities. The agency is also a training agency for social work students from programmes across Scotland, so I continue to be in contact with social work education.

I feel fortunate to have a job that feels both challenging and creative. I am very keenly aware of the real positive differences that we make to children’s lives. Given that not everybody can find that in their job, l have a lot to be grateful to Edinburgh University for!

Source: Own contribution.      


*James and Joyce Robertson worked at the Tavistock Clinic in London. They made a series of films in the early 1950s and into the 1960s that documented for the first time the adverse impact of parental separation on young children. These black-and-white films are available to purchase online and excerpts are free to view on Youtube. For more information, see

**There is more about the Barclay Report of 1982 on the Timeline on this website.