J U L I E M A N N
I can still remember distinctly the feeling of having ‘found my home’ professionally when I started out as a trainee social worker in London more than three decades ago. That feeling has never gone away and despite the hard times social work has gone through and is currently facing, have always been proud to call myself a member of this profession. Currently I am a Lecturer in Social Work at Plymouth University. I love working with the students, learn so much from them and find them continually refreshing and reinvigorating (usually!) I hold the Practice Teaching Award (remember that?) and have co-led training for Practice Educators for several years at the university.
I chose Book stand because…
… as a trainee social worker one of the first people I ever worked with was a young Black lad who was in trouble with the police. I had to write a report on him for the court and accompanied him there for the hearing. When our work together had finished and I was saying goodbye to the lad and his family, he presented me shyly with a book stand, which he had made himself. I was incredibly moved. I know we are not allowed to accept presents, but it would have been completely disrespectful and discourteous of me not to do so.
For me this book stand and the person who made it represent all that social work is about. Despite the reason I had come into his life, the lad and I made a connection based on mutual respect and humanity. The family’s poverty had shocked me, but the warmth they displayed to each other and to me, humbled me and made me, the rookie, realise that (most) families try their hardest to make the most and best of what they have, even when that is very little. The fact that this lad had taken the trouble and had the skills to make the book stand showed me that everyone has their own take on the world, their own feelings, strengths and aspirations, you just need to make sure you see them. It was also the beginning of my awareness of structural inequalities and racial discrimination.
The gift of this book stand and all that it represented offered me a foundation on which to build my social work practice. I have literally carried it with me through several house moves and also metaphorically through my social work career and will never forget that young lad and his family, who taught me so much.