The Annual Event was my first time at a Fellowship event. My route to becoming a fellow was through the Firstline programme, which I completed in July 2017. I think that there is a really progressive, optimistic and purposeful feeling to Firstline and I was really impressed with how the Fellowship felt the same.
The learning, confidence and inspiration that I took from being part of the Firstline programme had diminished whilst back in the land of local authority social work but the Fellowship reignited the flame. It reinforced and built on what had gone before, which for me was the development of a well-defined purpose and enjoyment of my role as a social work manager (all helped by realising that I am actually good at aspects of it despite the ‘daily grind’ sometimes making me feel that I am not!).
I like to regularly ‘switch off from work’ so I don’t normally spend time with colleagues or attend work related events outside of working hours, or even watch social work programmes on tv. But this felt different. Four of us attended from my local authority. Friday night was great: brilliant venue, drinks and food – with the Fellowship team setting the scene and Lemn Sissay’s speech being as inspirational as ever (if I wasn’t already a social worker he would make me want to be one!).
Afterwards there was a chance to socialise. And for anyone unsure about this, as someone who is not the most socially confident, let me reassure you – because of the strength of the shared purpose, it is easy to talk to anyone. I once heard a quote (CS Lewis maybe) that said “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” I said that a lot during the Annual Event.
Saturday’s workshops were plentiful, allowing choices for everyone. What was really evident was that there was a real chance to listen to others but also to put forward and discuss your views with others and feel listened to. Links started to be made between people from different roles in different areas of the country facing similar challenges. Whilst I still have a way to go to master the role of social work manager in a local authority, I was inspired by a newly qualified worker saying to me “I wish you were my manager”. I had been talking about the challenges that social workers face and ways that I try to manage this with the people I supervise. I think that her current experience of management is very poor and exactly what Frontline, Firstline and the Fellowship are trying to change.
I met other people who have recently left roles as social workers due to lack of support or completely unrealistic work demands. This illustrates how far there is to go still. This made me think about the Fellowship being the centre of a ‘collective resilience’ that we can all both contribute to and take support from, no matter which stage of your career you are at or where you are based in the country. This, amongst many other great things, is something that I feel sure the Fellowship can achieve – that we can achieve as the Fellowship.