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BASW UK conference and AGM 2019 – review

The Titanic Belfast hosted BASW’s UK conference and 49th Annual Grand Meeting

CEO Ruth Allen opened BASW's 2019 AGM on Friday 21st June with a summary of the organisation's successes and impact in 18/19, evidenced by significant increase in active member involvement in branches, groups and events; complete modernisation of our articles of association and the introduction of diversity and also environmental sustainability strategies that will shape the association significantly.

In addition, a major increase in professional development offers; new research and action on working conditions and the publication of key enquiries, notably ethics and practice in adoption and social work in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

BASW CEO Ruth Allen opens the AGM
BASW England member Alex Greenchester voicing a motion

Key developments coming out of 18/19 and continuing this year include research into developing social work in the digital age, an overhaul of how we support independent social workers and the importance of continuing to develop our vital advice and representation service.

Allen also  highlighted how our CPD offer will “transform BASW’s profile” over the next few years.

BASW chair Gerry Nosowska oversaw the business of the AGM

The full outcomes of the AGM motions are available to view.

BASW UK conference 2019

The BASW UK conference opened with BASW member Jude Currie joining BASW Chair Gerry Nosowska, to call on social workers to be bold and aspirational about their future.

BASW chair Gerry Nosowska with BASW member Jude Currie

Nosowska said BASW could help achieve this by providing a “vision of what transformative social work looks like”.

She called for unity amongst social workers “to make social work more visible and more effective as a change agent”.

 “This requires us to join together, build our relationships and live our values,” she added. “In this complex world where there are a lot of boundaries and borders social work can be the voice and the presence of helpfulness and hopefulness.” 

Alex Kane, a political commentator from Northern Ireland, gave an interesting speech reflecting on collaboration and division in social work, pointing out social works’ challenge with their ‘image’.

He then presided over a panel discussion comprising Albert Heaney, Director of Social Services Welsh Government; Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department of Health; Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Adviser, Scotland and Sean Holland, Chief Social Worker at Department of Health NI.

They discussed the role of social workers in promoting cohesive and integrated societies. Revitalising “good old-fashioned skills” like group work and community development methodologies was top of the agenda for Holland.

Romeo urged social workers to “step up and become the leaders that lead organisations”.

She added: “Take charge, become the leaders, as it is our passion to value and support people that really matters.”

The UK's social work leaders together on stage

Later in her closing speech, Allen praised the coming together of the panel, saying “it is very rare, and very important, that social work leaders from all four UK nations are in the same room debating with each other”.

It was followed by a co-delivered presentation from Barnado’s and Extern, which highlighted the life-transforming work of their refugee support program in Northern Ireland. This was powerfully evidenced by a speech from Nour, a Syrian refugee who grew up in and survived the war in her home country.

One of 1,496 Syrian refugees relocated to Northern Ireland, Nour told of how she missed her family terribly but nonetheless had forged ahead with her new life by learning English and excelling in education and the voluntary sector.

Despite missing six years of education she is now close to going to university. She finished by thanking the crowd, Barnando’s and Extern, before receiving a standing ovation.

An inspiring moment followed with a performance from The Northern Trust ‘Reach for the Stars’ Choir, comprising people with a range of abilities including people who have autism and learning disabilities.

The audience was treated to three songs and was encouraged to stand and join in the singing and choregraphed dancing (videos of which are available on our Twitter feed).  

The Northern Trust 'Reach for the Stars' choir

A range of workshops followed lunch, including an educational and informative presentation entitled Gypsy and Traveller awareness raising, delivered by Tom Tom Hendry, Rhiannon Jones and Sonia Dixon.

The group took us through a journey of misconceptions, myth-busting and frank discussions about Gypsy and Traveller histories, identities and current challenges.

Amongst the top tips for social workers working with Gypsy and Traveller communities were: ditch the suit and dress informal to distinguish yourself from enforcement professions, be aware of approaching a female alone if you are a male (take a female colleague with you if possible) and always, always accept a cup of tea if offered – it’s one of the biggest tests of trust.

Snap! Delegates showing support for social work

In another workshop – BASW England charter for disabled adults and social workers – the audience heard that it’s management and systems that need to change, not social workers who have always had a rights-based approach.

Those were the words of disability rights campaigner, Reshma Patel, who also said that every practitioner who has supported her over the last 30 years worked within the social model of disability and treated her like a person rather than a “tick box exercise”.

She added: “My disability comes secondary to me in my life and social workers have recognised it.”

However, she said, “budget pressures from management” had sometimes been a barrier to social workers acting out the values embedded within their profession. “Most social workers promote independent living, but their hands are tied by their managers. Sometimes they are only given half an hour to draw up a care plan.”

All together now! The room joins in with the choir

After the workshops finished, Iona Colvin launched a new report, Social Work Across the UK: Legal and Policy Differences from a Scottish Perspective, available here.

The brief guide outlines the principal legislation that affects the statutory delivery of social work services in Scotland, placing it in the context of policy and comparing it with the equivalent other three jurisdictions of the UK.

Allen wrapped up proceedings reflecting on an impactful day and thanked everyone involved in pulling together a successful AGM.

The Titanic Belfast grand hall

Further information