D U D U Z I L E   S O K H E L A

126 Duduzile Sokhela   126 Food

I’m a social worker and published author of Why Urban Rural Under-developed Communities Will Never Develop in South Africa. Mooiplaas Informal Settlement: A Relevant Case Study. In the Front Lines. I’ve served my people working in different non-profit organizations in South Africa. I was inspired by my late sister and my living mother’s altruistic causes in the community I grew up in.


I chose Food because …

… throughout my career in social work serving humanity, I have witnessed and worked with people living in abject poverty, need, want and social exclusion, and one of the direst needs is a basic commodity: food. For each community I enter, hunger is visible.

Box of spanners

  M A L C O L M   P A Y N E

125 Malcolm Payne   125 Box of spanners

I came into social work in the 1960s, starting as a probation and after-care officer and then moving into social services departments when they were set up in 1971 following the legislation that enacted the Seebohm Report. Originally I was attracted to social work at university by the chance to learn about people and society, in a broad social science course including economics and law as well as sociology and social policy. All that offered a completely new take on what had been a very restricted world of a conventionally educated north-London grammar school boy.

I was able to include a lot of variety in my career too. About half my career was spent in agencies and management jobs and half in academic posts. I worked for the Council for Voluntary Service in Liverpool, mainly on community projects for unemployed people, in the 1980s, then developing residential and housing projects for mentally ill people nationally, and for the last ten years of my career worked for a large hospice, St Christopher’s, in south London near my birthplace. So I had the chance to get involved in all sorts of social work. In between these, I worked for the University of Bristol in the 1970s and as head of a very broad applied social science department at Manchester Metropolitan University for 15 years until 2002. I’ve also had part-time posts at the University of Helsinki, Opole University in Poland and the Comenius University of Bratislava in Slovakia, so I’ve had the chance to see social work up close in several different countries.

I chose as my object this box of spanners. I took the photo in the hardware tent at a country fair in the Lake District a couple of years ago.


I chose Box of spanners because …

… it reminded me of a trend in social work that I have my doubts about: developing ‘tools’ for practice.

I first came across ‘tools’ when I worked in palliative care in the early years of the 21st century, the government was promoting three ‘tools’ for practice: the Liverpool Care Pathway, the Gold Standards Framework and I understand the wish for clear guidance and comparability in assessment or intervention. But I don’t like the image of tools, because it implies that instead of seeing the whole person you are working with, you are concentrating on making some mechanical change in some nut or bolt in their make-up.

Then I looked at some of these so-called ‘tools’. The Liverpool Care Pathway, it turns out, is basically a tick-list of things to do when someone’s dying, to make sure you make appropriate decisions and consult people who should be informed and involved. I would hope that, knowing that you are with a person who is dying, you are thinking about what they are experiencing and experiencing it with them. I met a coordinator in a local hospital whose job was to introduce the Pathway, and she went round training staff about the issues, and giving them tick-lists to use to make sure they had done what policy told them to do. I would rather they sat beside people, spent time with carers and relatives, thought about what they might need. It does not surprise me that the later Independent Review of the Liverpool Care Pathway found that people were ticking the boxes routinely when they made the decisions, but didn’t go into the human business of consulting and talking things through with people.

I also looked at the Preferred Priorities for Care document. It is basically a questionnaire. A good thing about it is that it’s short and it has lots of white space. It asked three questions: In relation to your health, what has been happening to you? What are your preferences and priorities for your future care? Where would you like to be cared for in the future? Duh! You mean, people were not asking this? And a questionnaire is not a tool, it’s a questionnaire.

The final straw for me was when I looked recently at the Skills for Care document that promotes dignity in care. It’s called a toolbox. It consists of some introductory conceptual material, and it sets out seven principles for dignity in care. For each one there is a separate document, which contains a brief explanation of the principle, some case examples, a brief case study for you to think what you might do in that situation, and some inspiring quotations from people about the issue. It’s an OK training package but in what way is that a ‘toolbox’?

For me, social work was always a human process. I know that’s difficult, and it’s sometimes hard to bring your humanity with you to sit alongside someone who is suffering or who’s pissed off with you and the world and the social services. But this is another human being here. You can be another human being. Throw away the toolbox, and don’t degrade your humanity by claiming that a social work spanner is the best way of sharing someone’s humanity.

Letter opener (poker?)

     J I M   M O N A C H

122 Jim Monach    122 Letter

At the end of the 60’s we did our degrees, in my case sociology, then whatever we fancied for a bit while we thought about the future. Jobs were readily available, and one could just go travelling if nothing better turned up. For me, there was a spell on psychiatric wards as an assistant nurse, fired up by the writings of Laing, Goffman, Szasz et al. Then a job at London Zoo in pursuit of my lifelong fascination with the natural world. During a quiet lunch hour in the zoo canteen, an advert for a job as social work assistant at the Bethlem & Maudsley Hospitals caught my eye.  I gather there was quite a stir amongst my future colleagues when told the new appointment was a man [to an all female department] currently working as a zoo keeper! The people I worked with as clients and colleagues in adult mental health and addiction services soon convinced me that this was the way to go. Masters at the LSE, then the overland route to Australia, and my ‘career’ in social work began in earnest.


I chose Letter opener (poker?) because …

… not long qualified, I was working in one of the newly-created ‘Seebohm’ teams (a community team of generic social workers). We moaned then at the disappearance of the old specialisms; child care, mental health, old age etc. However the more sensible team leaders managed to make the best of a multi-specialist, community focus by trying to ensure allocation of cases recognising the special expertise and interests of the workers. As some-one with a growing concern for matters of mental health, this meant that I could be allocated a family case in which Mum had a long standing history of serious mental illness with repeated and prolonged admissions to psychiatric hospital, whilst her two boys, 13 and 11, were in long term care in [separate] children’s homes. The boys were in very stable situations, and had been doing well for a number of years with staff who knew them well and cared for them greatly. On the whole they wanted me to leave them alone, but make sure Mum was OK. They made this clear at reviews.

There was one extra colleague in the guise of a hospital social worker who still tended to look after the needs of long-term patients both in and out of hospital, but we could and did liaise closely.

Mum could be very violent, neglected herself, and was severely psychotic. Nobody was welcome in her house, very dilapidated on a run-down estate. But, whilst she had accepted for a long time that they were best off in care, she cared intensely for the welfare of her boys, and woe betide the professional who messed with them. My role was therefore to keep a close eye on everyone, and alert colleagues to any problems, helping Mum and boys as I could.

Out of the blue one Christmas, Mum, gruff as ever, appeared at her door. “Yes, I’m fine. Wait there.” She produced a roughly wrapped parcel. “Here, an opener for all them letters you get. Taraa”.

It turned out to be a fire poker! She wanted no thanks, and did not welcome me trying to discuss it later; but I treasured that acknowledgement that even though the system did little to help her, and she had so little, she could still want to say thank you in her own way for someone’s help, who I like to think she saw as caring towards her and her kids. I’m not sure what the rules about accepting gifts might be now, but know there would have been hell to pay if I tried to refuse it. I have the poker (pictured) 40 years on.


Z A N E T A   S E R K S N I E N E

121 Zaneta Serksniene    121 Puzzle

I came to the field of social work in 2006 when I started my BA at VMU, Lithuania. During four years of studies I didn’t find a place where I could realize myself as a social worker. I have practised in various institutions and I felt that it is not the right place for me. In 2010 I started my MA at the same university, VMU, and then I was involved in group work by one of the teacher. At the same time I got a job at a secondary school with children who have special needs and also I initiated groups where I could teach social skills for kids as well.


I chose Puzzle (as a whole picture and as a piece of puzzle as an individual I am working with) because …

… when I started to work with children I realized that they all are like pieces of puzzle: different shape; color; individual place in the picture; different amount of connections, etc. I see a whole puzzle picture as a result of group work in the end of sessions which I usually have 20-25 during the year with one group. And all the participants for me look like pieces of puzzle, who in the beginning may not “fit” in that place but during our searching or group working we all together find places for everyone. Children are different and, as with puzzle pieces, they are making connections with two, three or four others in a group and by making connections we are making one whole puzzle picture. For me the process of working in a group and putting the entire puzzle together looks similar because in both you have many moments of frustration, impatience and anger and also you have joy, excitement and satisfaction.


    S U E   T A P L I N

Mitten 2016

As a student of Modern Languages in the late 1980s, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Russia and to travel extensively in central and Eastern Europe. This experience gave me an invaluable insight into the difference between merely surviving and truly living, and how a spirit of adventure and creativity, combined with qualities of integrity, kindness and generosity, can help people to overcome privation and difficulty, and how a focus on our common humanity can transcend boundaries of politics, language and culture.

In retrospect I think it was this experience that motivated me to choose social work as a career, and to bring that belief in the power of the human spirit into my practice as a palliative care social worker.


I chose Mitten because …

… I became fascinated by it on my first visit to the Foundling Museum in London. I am sure that most visitors to the museum do not notice Tracey Emin’s tiny bronze, an original baby’s mitten, found on the streets by the artist, then rescued, cast and painted and now ‘waving’ from the railings behind Thomas Coram’s statue[1]. I only noticed a postcard of it in the Museum gift shop, and asked a curator whether it was still in situ. I was delighted to discover it, so small and vulnerable, and so obviously apart from its owner and its other half, being originally presumably one of a pair. But in this very isolation there was hope – someone had indeed rescued it, had taken the trouble to make it strong enough to stand on the railing, thus giving it the chance to be reunited with its owner or, if that was impossible, at least to be visible, to be noticed, and not to be swept away with the rubbish and other discarded or lost items that do not have the chance to be found.

For me this is the true essence of good social work practice – to take notice of the lost and vulnerable and to give people a second chance (and, through so doing, also ourselves). We cannot always bring back what is lost or cure people’s physical or emotional wounds – but we can show that we value that individual or family by being with them, by listening to them and by helping them to become strong and visible, in whatever way is possible for them.

[1] I read the history of the Mitten in Gill Hedley’s unpublished essay from the catalogue ‘Songs of Innocence, Experience, Ambivalence’ (February 2010).

Hour glass

    G R E G   T U L L Y

Greg Mark Joe Carol Chinatown – Version 2    110D Hour glass

After many years as an athlete, in my early twenties I began to coach young athletes. I decided that I wanted to affect the lives of individuals and communities in deeper and more impactful ways than sports coaching; I wanted a career that addressed values like fairness and justice, so I made the transition from athletics to social work and went on to attain my masters and doctoral social work degrees.

My professional practice covered counseling and advocacy work with individuals, families, groups, and communities. It included working with: child victims of sexual, physical and emotional violence; women victims of rape and family violence; families victimized by the deaths of family members through violence; and communities addressing violence occurring in their environments. As a tenured professional at a U.S. university, I currently teach and advise many graduate and undergraduate students studying at all levels (micro, mezzo, and macro) of social work.


I chose Hour glass because …

 … it is an object that measures time passing unstoppably until time runs out. Indeed, I am beginning to fear that time is running out for social workers and other helping professionals; time running out to deter the developing crisis of global mass victimizations through shootings, bombings, and other methods that are happening increasingly in the past decade in the global community. Throughout our history, social workers have contributed to the confrontation and defeat of hateful and destructive social and political forces, but in recent years we have seen violent attacks increasing in frequency and scope without any clear sign of a path to relief or resolution.

While social work is an absolutely necessary component of the arsenal with which we must confront violent global forces, my concern is growing that social workers and other helping professionals cannot slow the passage of time running unstoppably toward the triumph of these violent global forces. Do social work professionals have the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to confront and conquer these violent global victimizations that seem, like the hour glass, unstoppable?



Green cup

S T E V E N   M.   S H A R D L O W

110F Steven Shardlow   110F Green cup

I chose Green cup because …

… this type of Staffordshire Green cup and saucer could have been found in many local authority offices in the late 1970s. Brought out for meetings it was differentiated from the individually purchased mugs found, as often is the case today, on a not always too clean brown tray in a corner of the office. The green cup symbolised the formality of the meeting, the equality of participants’ contributions and the corporate nature of the information sharing and decision making processes underway during the meeting. Tea or coffee served in the green cup was strong, uniform, no concession to the spawning variety of tastes encouraged by the emergence of the barista.

I had imagined that the green cup had gone the way of the steam engine, a relic of a bygone local authority era now replaced by a corporate business-focussed, enterprise culture in shiny new glass and chrome buildings. Well, so it may be. This particular example of the green cup was glimpsed not on active service in a corporate context but locked in a representation of the past – at Southwell Work House. This workhouse, owned by the National Trust (UK), takes the visitor through a series of rooms, each designed to demonstrate a different experience of the nineteenth century workhouse resident. For example, the separation of male and female at reception, workrooms and yards, rooms for meals and dormitories. Almost the final room that the visitor encounters is a surprise: this room breaks with the previous rooms, which are laid out to illustrate the workhouse in the nineteenth century. This room is laid out as a 1970s bedsit used to provide temporary accommodation for homeless families. A green cup in the room symbolises the attempt to create a homely environment yet with a reliance on officially available household items.

The image of the green cup in this room recaptured early professional experiences in the late 1970s when working as a social worker with homeless families. It was something of a shock to see that world recreated, not least because it was encapsulated in a workhouse! Working as a trainee social worker in then-titled Social Services Department of a London Borough, the offices were located in a late Georgian building. In the same building was a homeless families unit also run by the local authority. Close working relationships developed between the social workers and the housing officers. Referral to a housing officer of a family known to a social worker in need of emergency housing was always face-to-face and the response was speedy, usually emerging in the shared discussion.

My memory, although doubtless rose-coloured by time, was of a responsive and immediate service, based on good inter-professional working relationships and managed through light-touch paperwork. How different this now seems to a world of constructed formality, outsourcing and financial constraint.