Shall I start with how I got involved with social work, how I got interested in social work to start with? I left school when I was eighteen and at that time the war had finished and there was a lot of thought being given to how we wanted to change society, both politically and also socially, with the Beveridge Report, the development of the health service, education and so on. My family had been affected by the depression in the 30s, by ill-health, lack of money, having to take jobs where you could and so on, so on the one hand I was interested in where society might go with all these changes and so on, but also recognising the problems that people had of actually making a living, needing to have more support education and some sort of steady income when they were in poor health. So that’s where I started from.
I was fortunate in finishing my education in the London County Council which was a very go-ahead authority at that stage and so I managed to get a grant for university and I went to Leicester where they had very recently started a Diploma in Social Studies course at the University College then and that was, what shall I say, a mixture of theory but also a great deal of practical work involved. Previous courses I think that I had been looking at then, like the Degree courses at, say, Birmingham tended to be much more on social administration, economics and so on, but I was very interested in the Leicester course because it did put a lot of emphasis on actual working with voluntary organisations during vacations and so on, and a practical approach, so there were lots of visits and observations to factories. It varied from sewage works to psychiatric hospitals so that gave a very broad introduction, I think, to work. That was a two year course.
When I finished there I got a job as an Assistant House Mother in a residential home for children in Essex. I think we had about twenty children and that was interesting in that, at that time, the Home Office were pursuing a course for residential social workers and the House Mother, the person in charge of the Home, had done that course so she was quite go-ahead, but there was also the pull in the opposite direction of trying to get other members of staff to go along with her ideas of a bit more of a progressive approach to childcare. I suppose there was a lot of administration from Essex County Council which at the time we felt slowed us down a great deal. You had to account for every child’s sock you threw out!
A lot of bureaucracy then?
Yes, a great deal of bureaucracy at that time which was a great shame because you’d got these people with ideas on the one hand and yet . . . .
. . . . red tape?
. . . . red tape on the other and although I think we did quite good work I think with the children in providing them with the sort of home that one would like them to have with stimulus and play and helping in the kitchen and all that sort of thing. I suppose the work didn’t go very deeply with their problems of being suddenly isolated from their families and so on and we had very little contact with the parents at that stage. One or two visited but not very much and we never really . . . .
So were the children placed in there by the parents then?
Via Essex County Council yes, it was usually breakdown or unmarried mothers who couldn’t manage any more and so on and so forth, and some teenage girls who were very difficult to cope with.
So was that in 1951?
Yes, I was there for about two and a half years I suppose. Then, where did I go from there? I got a job with Barnados then and that was in Kent, and I think my title then was Boarding Out Officer which was supervising children that had been placed in homes, in private homes, a bit of preliminary adoption work, i.e. going to see people that were wanting to adopt, usually at that stage a baby in fact I can’t remember anybody having other than a baby but the main responsibility for adoption was taken by an adoption officer in Barnados headquarters so my role there was merely to talk to the adopters about the pros and cons of adopting or see their accommodation, and so on. One of the interesting things at that stage was that Barnados were doing supportive work for one parent families by giving a weekly grant to them to enable them to keep their babies with them which I thought was exciting work because previously it was if the family broke down then the child was taken into care rather than trying to keep the child in the family. So that was good and I enjoyed doing that work.
I did that until I got married and we moved to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire and then I worked for London County Council for a while, for about a couple of years I suppose, again doing childcare in Bethnal Green. That was interesting. Although I wasn’t involved with that particular area of work the County Council were doing more, I suppose again, family support work going in and actually helping families to deal with their own problems whether it was getting children to school or looking after the children or whatever so it was very practical. It was very much based on a service started by the Quaker organisation, family support or something like that where the social worker would actually go in and work with the family practically as well as doing ordinary social work, case work. So again that had implications for our work but it was a very exciting thing that was going on within the office.
So I worked there until I became pregnant and then one of the children that I’d had on my caseload and was in a school in Kent. His foster home had broken down some time before and he was a bit in limbo so he became our foster son during school holidays. So he stayed at the school in Kent but came to us for holidays so he was number one of the family and then I produced a couple of little girls after that so that was a time when I didn’t do any social work.
So how long did you take out for the pregnancies?
It must have been about seven years I suppose, but I got involved at that stage when we were living in Cheshunt . It was on a brand new estate and we’d all got our little brand new houses and so on, but the men had started a club at the local pub on Friday nights and they used to go and talk about gardening and cars and all those sort of things and somebody suggested why wasn’t there a women’s group. So there was only the pub there so, for some reason or another, I got the job of going around the estate pushing my prams with the babies in them saying to all the women “Would you be interested in a club for the women?”. And it was so interesting at that time, being a Guardian reader myself and very much interested in women’s rights and all the rest of it, women were still saying, “Well I’ll have to ask my husband”. I was absolutely amazed at that, but anyway we got the club going and we used to meet once a month at the pub and I got lots of interesting things I thought happening, amongst things like how to make jam and so on and so forth. We got the Matron of the local hospital to talk about children going into hospital with their mums and that was a very new idea at that stage – with mums going into hospital to accompany the children if their children had to go into hospital – and she couldn’t see the reason for that at all. So that was interesting, and what other sorts of things did we have, oh I can’t remember now, but those sort of activities that I hoped would produce a bit more of a rounded view of life for some of the women there.
Then we moved to here. I was very miserable at Cheshunt because there was nowhere to go, there was no social life apart from the pub and so my husband got a transfer here to Norwich. We came along and the children were still pre-school at that stage, the oldest one was three and the baby was still in the pram and I bumped into a lady down the road here who said “Oh, your children must be about the same age as my little girls”, so we started cups of tea and playing together and so on and so forth, and that led to our starting a playgroup in Old Catton which must now be about forty years old and still going strong I understand. And that was interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed that work with getting the playgroup going both of encouraging children’s play and social interaction with one another but also involving the parents because at that stage the legislation was very, very limited that one had to have. There were no grants of any sort, so all the mums or dads or anybody that was available had to come and help on a rota basis. We had a teacher in charge of the sessions but there always had to be two other mums there so it was very much a self-help group and that was great fun. We had to make the equipment. One of my birthday presents from my husband was a fret saw! We had to make jigsaw puzzles because we couldn’t afford to buy them.
A practical present!
Yes, very practical! And that occupied my time and from our Old Catton group it sort of spread and so I was going to other groups of women to talk about how you started a playgroup, what a playgroup was about, getting them to use sand and water and clay so I’d load the car up, go off to some village hall in the evening and then mums would have to play with the equipment that we hoped they would then get for their playgroup and also of course the reason why children needed to play together and so on. I remember sitting here giving a long lecture on the need for children to have play and how they learnt through play and discovered to my horror afterwards that the person I was lecturing was in fact a psychologist!!! That was okay.
Then some time along the line I had discovered an organisation called ‘Part-Time Social Workers’ and they did a little magazine every month or quarter or something so I joined that and thought well perhaps one of these days I’ll get back to social work. Anyway, from that a lady from Norwich Council contacted me and said “I see you’re a part-time qualified social worker. We’re desperate to find somebody, how about coming back to work?” By that time the youngest was just on the point of starting school so I went back on a part-time basis. She was a very interesting woman. It was the Welfare Department at that stage and it had responsibility for homeless people, for blind and deaf, I think, and physical disability. I think those were the main areas and she had just done some research here in Norwich on people with physical disabilities so she wanted a social worker to work with those sort of people.
So I started working there and that was interesting because it was again starting from scratch and working up. It was interesting from two points, one that we were looking at helping people manage better in their own home with aids and so on, but also encouraging them to get out of the home, we started a work centre in Norwich and a lot of the people, although they came and earned perhaps a couple of pounds a week or whatever, it was very much on a part-time basis at that stage because there were more people who wanted to come than we had places for. It was much more the social life that they got from it then meeting other people and just having a laugh and a meal and so on. But from the personal point of view I got quite a lot of stick because here was a woman who called herself a qualified social worker and some of them were not qualified, and they found that a bit hard to bear, but also a woman with children and why wasn’t I staying at home looking after the children? As much as I said, well they were at school and they didn’t want me all the time and I was only part-time and could get home and see to them and so on, but they found that quite hard, some of the men. The only other two women working there were both spinsters so they were alright, they were acceptable but a working mum at that stage was still a bit risky!
So I stayed doing that work until the Seebohm Report came out and that meant that the Social Services was set up which amalgamated mental, childcare and these other bits and pieces that had been in the Welfare Department and at that stage more work was required for the under fives. They suddenly found that they had a responsibility for under fives playgroups, childminders and so on. So, with my previous interest in playgroups and working mums and the problems of the childcare, I got a job doing that. That eventually got me working for the whole of the county, inspecting playgroups and childminders and so on so you can imagine I was charging around, driving all over the place which was interesting in that I met a lot of people. And playgroups came very much to the fore and we got grants, we could set up a forum for playgroup supervisors and training courses and lots of things were happening at that stage. And also getting, which was more difficult at first, getting the childminders involved, getting them to think in terms of insurance, training and what they provided for the children they were looking after. So that was an interesting time.
I did that I think for about three or four years and at that time there was a lot of talk of social work becoming more united so that people were encouraged to see that although they may be, say, dealing with elderly people, they might also be thinking in terms of the mental health implications and so on, so it was a much more rounded approach and there was an opportunity to do another course for the Certificate of Social Work. For those of us who had been experienced in social work over a number of years, it was a part-time course for I think two years and then a one year full-time course. I did it in Ipswich and I requested specialism in mental health because that was an area that I hadn’t any knowledge of at all. So I had great hopes that I was going to come back understanding things like schizophrenia and so on and when I’d finished the course I really felt that I had no more knowledge than when I’d started in that area. It was a great disappointment!
So I was still working with the pre-school children at that stage, living here but based in Great Yarmouth and we did have some other social workers dealing with the under fives at that stage so I didn’t have quite so much charging around the countryside. So, because I still felt that I had no knowledge of mental health, I decided to join a voluntary organisation to see what I could get from the other end as it were and it was rather a choice between MIND or a fairly new organisation called the National Schizophrenia Fellowship. So, as I felt that schizophrenia was quite un-understandable, I thought that that would be the one I’d get involved in which, again, I found myself going along to, to get information and then getting drawn into the organisation. Somebody just said “Can’t you just find us a room to meet in?” and so I became the Voluntary Coordinator for the National Schizophrenia Association in Norfolk. And that again was a very interesting time in my work and I’ve only recently given that up but, in the meantime going back to social work proper, I decided as I’d got elderly relatives all over the county at that stage, I thought it would be best if I focused in Norwich and had more set times of work so I got a job then as a Social Worker in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Again, very interesting, I covered one of the children’s wards, A and E and eventually I took on work in the Oncology Department. So again, a great variety of work there but then I found that, well two things, one that the needs of my elderly relatives were becoming a bit more than I could cope with just at weekends and after work, so I went part-time, but also I was finding that a lot more emphasis was being put on nurses doing the follow-up care of, say, the oncology patients which did leave me a bit struggling to find where my role was if they were taking it. I mean they had a great deal of knowledge of the actual physical care of the patient and they were able to get out and meet the social work teams, which I as a social worker in the hospital couldn’t. So, I suppose after a bit, apart from A and E work, the work in the hospital ceased to be quite so interesting, so I went part-time until I eventually took early retirement and stayed at home and did a bit more with the National Schizophrenia Fellowship and that developed. We had a monthly meeting when anybody could come and we used to have speakers, psychiatrists, one thing and another and other social workers and so on. It was interesting in the first instance when you said to, say a psychiatrist, you know here you are, you’re talking to a whole heap of family members, they really couldn’t put it together, they couldn’t see where their work linked in with families. I used to think that sometimes they never knew what a carer was! They didn’t know what the word meant. I was being very rude to them! So we used to have that meeting when anybody could come.
We also had a meeting once a week for carers on their own. They would look into their problems in more depth. A specialist retired nurse led that group. There was another group which was very much limited to the users themselves, people with schizophrenia themselves and we used to have a luncheon club and social activities and so on and we also had what we called a ‘weekend’ which was a monthly trip out in a minibus to parts of the county and they’d say where they wanted to go the next month and it was my job to get the minibus organised and where they were going and so on. But we had great fun and they still talk to me about how much they enjoyed that and wished they could still do it but I’m a bit too old for that now!
We had some good times and then a group came up which was called VOICES which again was part of the same organisation which was very much run by the members themselves. Really they were all sort of dictated by the members themselves but that was run as well by them although I was hauled in to be sort of general dogsbody!!! The sort of person who could somehow get a minibus
You looked at the logistics of the operation?
That’s right, yes, and for those who were a bit nervous too of going out on their own rather than being taken somewhere by the family I think I was perhaps a bit of a support in that respect, because there were one or two who had always been taken around by the family rather than doing things on their own. Anyway, that group decided that really, what they wanted, was somewhere they could go during the day, every day that would be their own place where they could meet other people, they could have a social activity and so on, and it was decided that we’d ask the Director of Social Services to come along and meet this little group which, dear man, he did and we said this is what we wanted. And I had been required previously to type it all out with my one-fingered typing and so he said “Yes, that’s a good idea, why don’t you get it going then, have a day centre” and from that our local Bridges set up which is a day centre . I don’t know what they call themselves, yes I suppose they call themselves a day centre here in Norwich and it serves I think a very useful purpose. It’s been very much organised by the members although they do have professional people, staff members and so on and that’s going great guns. And then having got that bit the service users part involved, I got left then with doing a bit more for the families, the carers and at about the same time of course I was still sort of seen I think as the person who knew about the National Schizophrenia Fellowship locally. The National Services framework was being set up, that would be about 1999, I think, something like that, just before the turn of the century and I was asked to represent the carers on the local implementation team which I stuck for about four years until that became quite well organised and I felt it didn’t need me anymore! But I think by that time the carers and the needs of carers was a bit more recognised by the professionals.
So, after that, nothing!!
Excellent, you got to enjoy a bit of retirement!
Yes, something like that. So that’s the end of my professional story.
Do you mind if I ask you a question or two?
When did you stop noticing the discrimination in the work place as a working mum? Was that always something people looked down on you for or was there a point when it became more acceptable?
I think it had more or less disappeared by the late ’70s I would think. Problems, in that I mean by that time my own children had grown up so I didn’t have that particular problem myself, but I think, thinking about other young …, I think the employers very often saw their requirements as a principal one that the worker should be dealing with rather than having to juggle two jobs as mum and as a worker, so you know the employers wanted that priority for their bit of the work. I think perhaps now it is gradually changing. I’ve been amazed how many single parents have managed to get promotion and so on. I was thinking particularly of one woman that I shared an office with, I mean she was a very intelligent woman, very well qualified, but she did manage to climb the ladder quite a bit. Don’t think by the time she retired that she’d actually broken through the glass ceiling but she’d got within sight of it I think!
That’s interesting and you said that you used to get frowned upon as well for being a working mum and you should be at home looking after the family. Did your husband get some stick for that as well, you know, letting his wife go out and work?
He did strangely enough from my father. My father couldn’t understand why, if I was married, my husband didn’t support me financially. I mean he did, we never starved but the money that I brought in provided a few of the extra things. I mean when I first went out to work we didn’t have a telephone and that was one of the first things I think that my money provided for and, you know, those sort of things. And did we have holidays? Yes, I think we did.
So, you did your job for you rather than for the financial benefit?
Social work has never been particularly well paid and I think doing say part-time work and having all these other interests there were always things that my money should be spent on rather than just keeping me. No, my father couldn’t understand why I wanted to go out to work for my own benefit.
So did he support you through your education when you went to university?
Well, you see, I think it was my mother and a few other people that she came into contact with who encouraged her to say that as a girl I should have education that was available. I was also living in London where they were very good with grants. My father didn’t actually have to pay out for me to go to university but I mean obviously I suppose at nineteen I would have been perhaps still living at home and bringing money into the home had I not gone to university and been a hungry student all the time, but I don’t think he actually supported me in that way, but he wasn’t hostile by any means but he didn’t sort of see the need for it.
He was an old fashioned man?
Yes, a good dad.
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