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BASW’s outgoing chair Guy Shennan talks campaigning and activism

BASW’s outgoing chair Guy Shennan urged social workers not to forget the historic roots of the profession lay as much in campaigning for social reform as supporting individuals.

Shennan told delegates at BASW’s annual general meeting that promoting social change and a fairer society was part of the job of social work.

He highlighted BASW’s 100-mile Boot Out Austerity walk from Birmingham to Liverpool last year as an example of this in action.

In his final speech after four years in the role, Shennan said: “Originally social work had two aspects. It was as much about campaigning and reform as individual practice. It is about both. It is important we work toward social change and individual change.”

While acknowledging it can be difficult for practitioners to do this in their day-to-day work, he maintained it was possible.

“It is not simply for a professional organisation to campaign outside work time,” he said. “We need to find ways to bring working towards social change back within social work practice itself.

“It is important that BASW is a campaigning organisation and encourages involvement of social workers in this.”

Campaigning and activism could take many forms, said Shennan, from “marching on the streets to lunchtime discussions at work”.

BASW’s size afforded “strength in numbers” in such work, he said, and emphasised the importance of building alliances, particularly with service users and carers, as well as social workers in other countries.

The association is currently in the process of enabling service users and carers to be part of its governance process.

Shennan said the association also had a key role in improving social work practice through research. He praised an enquiry commissioned by the association that looked into adoption from a social work perspective.

“This is exactly what BASW should be doing. Enquiring how we do social work through a lens of ethics and human rights.”