Chair's Blog


BASW Branch Activity

I had planned to decorate my flat in August but a few things got in the way, not least our work in connection with functions and resources of the College of Social Work. I did get as far as a bit of uncluttering. This included throwing out an enormous pile of New Statesman magazines, which I had subscribed to for a few years after it incorporated the social affairs weekly New Society. This proved to be quite time-consuming, as it was hard not to leaf through them and become absorbed in some of the articles.

I enjoyed coming across one by David Brandon, who when the article was published in January 1996 happened to be chair of BASW. David became something of a hero of mine after I read one of his Guardian articles in the mid-1980s, when he was the director of North West MIND and based in Preston, my home town. I found his writing fascinating in its directness and iconoclasm, and it fed my developing interest in progressive approaches to mental health work. I fell in love with his book Zen And The Art Of Helping, and I was rather pleased when one of my social work lecturers was dismissive of it, the conservatism of my lecturer only heightening David’s radicalism in my eyes.

So later, when I was a member of the BASW Derbyshire Branch committee and involved in organising quarterly seminars with Derby University, and David became chair of BASW, I invited him to be one of our speakers. He agreed straightaway and when the night arrived I went to pick him up from the railway station. His train was late and by the time it pulled in I knew there would already be a roomful of people waiting for his talk to start. So I was feeling anxious and pressed my foot quite hard on the accelerator, whereas David was anything but and just talked away. And he could talk. When I mentioned we had Preston in common, David immediately commented that it was a town built on killing. Slightly unnerved by this (I love the place!) it took me a little while to grasp that he was referring to a nearby base of the military section of British Aerospace. His opinions continued to flow, including quite unguarded ones about notable social work names and I have to confess that as an impressionable young social worker I was entranced.

When we arrived at the university, David declined my offer of a drink or any time to settle himself, leapt from the car, followed me into the building, walked into the packed room and - as soon as I had introduced him as he had requested, as a teacher, practitioner and service user - started talking. And he kept talking nonstop until we were all in the pub after the meeting and it suddenly struck me that it was rather late. I asked him what time his train back to Cambridge was and he had no idea. It turned out the last train had long gone and so he ended up sleeping on my sofa. When I got up in the morning, I came downstairs to find David buried in my current copy of Community Care. He immediately voiced his disapproval of the article he was reading, starting to go into detail about why the authors were quite mistaken, while I retreated into the kitchen to make us both some breakfast. After I waved him off at the station I went in to work to have a little rest!

And now it’s my turn to be asked to speak at a BASW branch meeting as BASW Chair. I am delighted to have been invited by the new Merseyside branch to join them on Wednesday 14th October for their first formal meeting. From what I hear from Joe Godden, who has assisted with the setting up of the branch, and from the emails I’ve received from the social workers involved, there is clearly lots of energy and commitment there and I am very much looking forward to my visit. Encouraging member participation and supporting branch activity is very much a part of BASW’s 2020 Vision, and Merseyside is one of several areas where this has been developing recently.

While I can’t pretend I will be able to reach the oratorical heights of David Brandon - one of the most inspiring speakers I ever heard - I look forward to sharing experiences of social work and ideas about its future development. And the organisers don’t need to worry that I’ll be suddenly be looking for a sofa at the end of the night, as my brother lives in Liverpool and there will be a bed ready for me at his place.


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