Podcast Episode: Freshly Squeezed: Ian Welsh
Category: Freshly Squeezed
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
IW - Ian Welsh
MD Hello and welcome to “Freshly Squeezed”, an Iriss podcast which aims to squeeze information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. Today I’m speaking to professor Ian Welsh OBE. Ian was previously Director of UK Services for the Rehab Group, leading charities working in care, supported employment, rehabilitation and training. In his time as Chief Executive and Board Member of Kilmarnock Football Club he led the club through business and footballing success building a number of innovative community programs. He also served as a non-Executive Director of Glasgow Prestwick Airport and as Executive Director of Human Resources and Public Affairs. He has spent time in politics as an Elective Member leading first to Kyle and Carrick District Council and then South Ayrshire Council, before serving briefly as MSP for Ayr. Ian is currently Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland. Ian, welcome to “Freshly Squeezed”.
IW Hi Michelle, pleased to meet you.
MD I’m pleased to meet you too. So you have a wealth of experience of working in the public and private sectors. Tell me, did you always want to work in social services?
IW No, I mean from the earliest time that I began to think about it I wanted to be a teacher. I really had no other ambitions than to go into teaching, so that’s what I did. I became a teacher and in fact, I mean, that’s what I still think I am really, but no wide desire to be anything other than a good effective teacher. I spent almost the first half of my career in teaching in Ayrshire, but I guess along the way on reflection I picked up many, many issues around the poor application of social services, the need to develop better more compatible and more inclusive approaches to children with special needs for example, and I guess in that context I was a teacher. I then took on wider pastoral responsibilities as I was promoted through the system and over the years, you know, have had to deal with a wide range of issues with children that would more properly be accommodated now within the debate about adverse childhood experiences, looking back.
MD So what took you then to the Rehab Group?
IW Well it was a, my career is an interesting career. I had a parallel career in politics to teaching, so I was advocating, I’d done a Masters in Educational Management at the same time as I was becoming an Elected Member. So I was politically active. I had taken a wide interest in the local community, and I’m talking about the 80’s here. I taught in an area that was heavily involved in the miners’ strike. I think Michelle you’d have been in Ireland, but that was a seismic event for mining communities in Scotland. Very polarising time in Scotland and especially in working class communities, and so I guess I was more and more alert to the need to reform public services, and that took me into, the politics took me into different areas. At the same time as that was happening in the 80’s I was married and became the father of 2 boys, one of whom was disabled, and that was a key strand for me as young parents trying to come to terms with the fact that we had a child who had Cerebral Palsy, and therefore trying to deal with the whole range of issues that impacted on him through the 80’s and 90’s was another major political thing for both my wife and I. I guess another key dimension to the situation was I had been leader of Kyle and Carrick District Council, whose functions were leisure, were business development, but in the mid 1990’s in Scotland we went through a period of local government reorganisation and we became unitary councils, and I was the first leader of South Ayrshire Council and at that point came into direct service contact with social work services, its relationship to health services, its relationship to education, and I guess at that point I would have been much more alert to things like the children’s services planning. Very conscious about the distinctive culture around social work to be honest with you, sometimes in my view not altogether a positive culture to be frank, but sometimes a very overly inclusive culture, and so I guess those 3 strands that the politics, being the father of a disabled son, being exposed to the requirement to govern services that had social work dimensions and health dimensions would have prepared me I guess for the last 17 or 18 years of working in broader social services.
MD What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
IW I’ve always been a self-starter. I’ve always been quite a driven individual in that sense. So nobody’s really ever required to kick-start me in that sense. I have a very strong public service ethos and a very strong desire to see things done. I’ve got a low threshold for inaction and I like to see things accomplished. So, but making things better for individuals has always been a strong driver for me. That would have applied to my school days. It would have applied to my early days in politics, and to put that in context I’d represented the area - I came from a council estate in Prestwick and I represented that estate on the council, and the casework that was involved in that was far-reaching, and getting a result for an individual, an older person who needed a new house or a support package for a disabled youngster, all of those things would have been important ingredients for me. That was the same in all the work that I’ve done. Getting a result for an individual is really important for me.
MD Mmmhmm. And what does a typical day look like for you?
IW Well nowadays I’m part of The Alliance. The Alliance has now got a fantas-like Iriss, has a fantastic 10-year pedigree in connecting work across the sector, doing fantastic work to try and bring home the importance of personal outcomes for individuals. So I’m more like a, you know, a cowboy nowadays. I bring the herd roughly West, and the individuals here are all strongly motivated self-starters. So I steer, I encourage, I cajole, I connect, and part of my role is to work closely with government in different things. So like I sit on a range of programme boards. I think the other thing that keeps me moving is I think it’s crucial for everybody in this game to have some hinterland, some other things. I support Kilmarnock Football Club, I …
MD Do you play football yourself?
IW I was a footballer. I was a young footballer a long time ago with Kilmarnock. One of the proudest days of my life was pulling on a Kilmarnock jersey but, you know, I read, I help run a theatre in Ayr, and I encourage all my staff to be having that approach to life. So I live my life 24/7 Michelle, and that’s the way I like it.
MD Mmmhmm. Have you got a motto for life?
IW I’ve got a whole range of favourite quotations. Commonly I scribe to Gandhi but probably more properly I scribe to nobody really. Live every day as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever, and that’s how I see it. Seize the day. I’m a bit older now but I’m pleased to see the morning, but I’m also pleased to learn about the past to inform the day ahead. That’s the way I see it and again, you know, I would encourage, certainly all our staff are encouraged to be looking to a learning opportunity in everything they do.
MD Sounds like a good motto for life.
MD Mmmhmm. Do you have a book or blog that you would recommend to listeners?
IW There is a myriad of blogs in the sector here but I’d certainly recommend Audrey Birt, former colleague, Alliance Associate Director. Audrey writes sincerely and empathically about her world, and Chris Creegan from SCLD writes enormously honestly about his life and life and times. So I would always read those with interest. I just read a fantastic blog from Dr Jennifer Jones who was at UWS where she details her challenges with mental health and her move through her PHD. I’d recommend colleagues to read that as well, but I find most of my solace in the ancients, the classicists, Sophocles, Socrates. Poetry as well, Burns, Seamus Heaney. Anywhere that Shakespeare, anywhere where you can see as through a prism your own life, your own experience. That’s what I would do, but for most of my sustenance I read history. That’s my great passion I guess.
MD Excellent. Okay. I know you like playing, you’re interested in football and have played some football. I don’t know whether you’ve got music for motivation?
IW I’m a big fan of singer songwriters as you’d expect. For a 64-year-old guy like me you wouldn’t be surprised to know that I’m a great lover of Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, you know, the maestro of the macabre as he is. So that’s where I find my best times, although I again over the last recent times I’ve become remarkably open to contemporary bands. I love “First Aid Kit”, but I also like classical music as well. I’ve never ever answered a question on classical music in “University Challenge” yet, but I do like classical music as well.
MD Great! Grand. So who or what are your inspirations in your career?
IW Yeah, that’s an interesting, you know, I’m not sure I have that many inspirations in that sense. I’d certainly have inspirations when I was a young lad arriving at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock to play football. There was a guy called Frank Beattie who’d signed for Kilmarnock in 1953 - year I was born - and Frank had broken his leg - this is 1970. He’d broken his leg, he was returning to the last year of his career and I’d trained with him over that period to get him fit, and the interesting thing about Frank Beattie is he’s a Kilmarnock legend. In the first 8 years of his time at Kilmarnock he would go down the pit, down the mines for his shift. He’d finish in Stirling. He’d get on a bus to get to Kilmarnock. He’d do his part-time training and he’d go home, be home around midnight and be up the next morning to do the same thing. So that’s the start coalescence of how different the game is then from now.
IW But Frank was a big inspiration to me as a man and as a player, but I have other political inspiration points as well. Local people. Ex-Provost Danny MacNeill in Kyle and Carrick, guys that I grew to love through politics and respect through politics, that they are a cornerstone for who I am, and I guess finally the big international figures that you would expect, the big politicians but, you know, I’m a Labour Party person Michelle. I’m not deeply in love with the party at the minute, but I’m too old to be leaving and a lot of my heroes are political heroes from the old days.
MD So what one piece of advice would you give to those working or considering working in social services?
IW I hesitate to offer anybody advice or maxims for their lives, but this is a deeply rewarding area to work in. It’s a hugely unequal area to work in if you’re a social care worker and we need some kind of commission in this country to resolve how we address the issue of social care working, but you will get huge satisfaction from delivering really good direct outcomes to people who are in need, and if that’s a driver for you then this is the area you need to come into.
MD Great! And if you were a castaway on a desert island Ian what’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
IW Well, you know, I might have said chocolate at some times but I’ve been off chocolate for a while now! I couldn’t live without the company of my family first of all, but beyond that it would be books. I was just reflecting the other day how I’d forgotten how much I loved the local library in Prestwick, and walking down the mile and a half or so from where I lived to the library every night almost to get some loan books and take them back up home to get a window into the world, and books are still that for me. They’re still a window into the world and…
MD Could you pick one book?
IW Yeah I could, I actually probably could pick one book. I loved a biography of John Adams. John Adams was the second American President. He succeeded George Washington, was one of the original Founding Fathers, and John Adams had a remarkable life as a Lawyer, as a Diplomat, as a traveller, and he had a remarkable life really after the presidency as well, and he was the father of a President, John Quincy Adams his son became President, and David McCullough’s biography is the epitome of fantastic first primary source in writing at a hugely important epoch in American history, and if I’d to say one thing, it throws into stark relief at the madhouse that the American presidency has come to today, but that’s the book I’d recommend if you were asking.
MD If you’d to pick one. Great, okay. And my final question then, as you’ll know this podcast is called “Freshly Squeezed”. Your juice, how do you like it? Smooth or with juicy bits?
IW I like my juice smooth, I don’t like juicy bits, no. I’m teetotal largely and I like my juice smooth.
MD Great stuff. Ian, you’ve been “Freshly Squeezed” today. Thank you for your time.
IW Thank you Michelle.
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