Podcast Episode: Freshly Squeezed: Trisha Hall
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
TH - Trisha Hall
MD Hello and welcome to Freshly Squeezed, an Iriss podcast which aims to squeeze information and inspiration from key influencer in social services in Scotland. Today, I’m speaking to Trisha Hall, Trisha was born in the Netherlands and has worked with and for Children and Families for over 40 years. Since coming to Britain from the Netherlands in 1987, Trisha has worked in residential child care in West Yorkshire. After completing a degree in social work in 1993, she then worked in statutory social work services in the North East of Scotland as social worker, Team and Area Manager, and subsequently from 2003, in the voluntary sector as Regional Director and Head of Evaluation and Research. Trisha has been a British Association of Social Work member sine 1991, she took a post as National Director of the association’s Scottish component, The Scottish Association of Social Work in September 2013. Trisha welcome to Freshly Squeezed.
TH Good morning.
MD So, you have a long history of working and representing those in the social work profession and have made quite a contribution over the years. Tell me, did you always want to work in social work?
TH No, absolutely not. I always wanted to be a teacher, even when I was still very young. People used to say I was very bossy, my mother’s never let me forget that I once had on a school report: 10 out of 10 for talking. And you know it really was something that I always wanted to be a teacher, that was my dream and that is what I was for the first 11 or 12 years of my career. My mother was English and she married a Dutchman so, I did a degree in English and then the post qualifying degree that we had at that moment in time in terms of being able to teach in secondary education and I taught, I would say about 6 or 7 years and then progressed to do a 2 year, in the Netherlands in order to become a guidance teacher you had to go on day release for a day a week for 2 years to do vocational guidance and youth counselling so, that was another kind of post-qualifying qualification. So, I was school counsellor as well as still teaching English for a wee while and then moved on to kind of other work and I think in the Netherlands it was very much the case in those days that working with children and families and working with children, was really number one, your subject was 2. So, it wasn’t so much the subject that determined what you did, it was you know forming that relationships with children and young people and I thoroughly enjoyed that. When I moved to Britain, I did have all my qualifications assessed, I went to look at a couple of schools and to be very blunt I thought, “I’m going to die here.” Cos it was so, so different.
TH And I’d also … I mean I had a little bit of time because even in those days, not just in terms of the school counselling and the scenarios that I got involved in, at that time the representation of the big … it was a very big school and college in a big city in Utrecht in the centre of the Netherlands, the confidential doctor system was the child protection system whereby children would come to somebody and you would contact a confidential doctor in order to start a kind of investigative process. So, I’d had kind of some experience of kind of social work type processes but also the teaching English in those days it was very much the case that you know teaching materials, books were, Chapter one was The House you know with all the kind of different names for what different things were called. Chapter 2 was usually, meet the family, Chapter 3 was you know because it was always a boy and a girl, and they were usually called David and Judy for some bizarre reason. In Chapter 3, David goes to University and in Chapter 4 Judy gets engaged. So, a lot of the young people were going, “This is so incredibly boring.” So, I wrote a lot of my own material, together with young people and we had a compilation of that material published after one of the people that I was practice teacher for in the university was saying, “Why do you not get it published?” The Netherlands had quite a problem with young people who through no fault of their own, because they’d been involved in really difficult circumstances, often in families and things like that were not able to complete their education so, there was a kind of investment into approaches and methodologies to get young people on a ladder to some kind of career and I worked, in those days, in a very big vocational college which was to do with floristry and horticulture which obviously the Netherlands was quite big on. So, we had a project with 14 members of staff whereby all the young people that came to the project had their own programme. And the programme was designed around their needs and their aspirations and we also got them placements for one or 2 days a week in either a big garden centre or a florist shop or whatever. The course took about 2 years and we got 95% into long term work so, it was incredibly successful, about 200 young people over the 3 years that we ran it. So, I was already very, very interested in kind of social issues or human rights issues, whatever you want to call it so, after spending some time in … after I’d met my husband and I moved and part of that was also connected to this project because the government in the Netherlands had seen the project was really successful so they decided that it needed to be more prestigious and they put some thresholds in to get kind of young people that maybe had some more qualifications already so, I kind of went, “But that’s completely defeating the object.” You know?
TH So, I resigned on principle. I could still afford principles in those days and decided to go to Britain although my husband was going to come and join me cos I lived in a group for the best part of 10 to 15 years in the Netherlands so, but I decided I wanted a new start so I came to Britain and that’s as I said how I ended up in residential care as, “Well, I’ll try that for a bit.” And it was fascinating, I really enjoyed it then was Depute Manager in a semi-secure unit in West Yorkshire somewhere, was acting Depute Manager for about 6 months in 19 … oh god … 89 I think, something. So, I did the job for 7 months and then it was advertised, and I was told I couldn’t apply because I wasn’t qualified, so I thought, “Fine, I’ll go and get qualified then.” So, that’s when I went to university of Huddersfield and did my second degree in Social Work. It was the very first dipsw in Huddersfield, the diploma in Social Work, was fascinating, it was really good.
MD What an interesting journey into social work.
TH Yeah, yeah and also then experienced … I mean not necessarily by design more by default, what it is to have absolutely no money and to be really be in circumstances that unfortunately so many people that we end up working with as social workers. In my first year when I was on the dipsw, my husband lost his job, the industry in Yorkshire was completely shutting down around us, in Halifax, was interesting, it really was and horrendous. All the engineer shops and mills and things … just, you know one after the other, enormous amount of people unemployed. I then found out I was pregnant, I then found out I was having twins and I had incredibly understanding people at the dipsw, lecturers, who said," Just take a year out." And I’m thinking, we had absolutely no money so, we borrowed everything under the sun. They very conveniently arrived in the summer holidays between year one and 2 of the course and you know, I went back because I need to go to finish so I could get a job.
MD Oh, absolutely, yeah.
TH But no, was an interesting time to say the least and very pragmatically, the reason we moved to Scotland, I think a. because it was rather depressing where we were in Yorkshire although my husband’s kind of born and bred there, but b. there was a very realistic issue that as a newly qualified social worker, you could earn up to £4000 a year more in Scotland than you did in England so, we thought, “Fine, we’ll try Scotland.” So, that’s why we ended up there.
MD Brilliant. So, you’re saying you’re quite a principled person so, I imagine you’ve got quite strong motivators. What really motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
TH I think, still trying to do something about injustice. That sounds very pompous, but it is that the world is still a place whereby there are so many inequalities and it just is a lot that I think people could do, even if it’s by you know taking small steps. I happen to have the most wonderful job in the world, you know I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last 5 years in post and trying to say to people who are social workers, you know, you’ve got power. You’ve got, as a social worker, you are registered in your own right, you’ve got your own code of ethics, you’ve got your code of practice, although you might work for a local authority or for another big body, you know you can actually make a difference and trying to get that across to people and support them you know because there are many, many social workers who in my opinion do an absolutely fantastic job and trying to be able to, you know, to support people … advocate on their behalf, you know trying to make small differences that then together can make a big difference. It’s an absolutely fascinating job as well cos no day is ever the same so, you know from that perspective as well and it’s really, really good to work, I think, in an environment whereby partnerships are very strong, I think we’re reasonably well placed in Scotland, it’s not the paradise that sometimes people think it is and you know it’s interesting obviously working for a UK organisation trying to reflect the Scottish reality within a UK context where I think it’s fair to say can be much more hostile in some of the other countries but as I said before it doesn’t necessarily mean that therefore everything here is wonderful. Sometimes I think there is a little bit of a kind of rhetoric of we are much more forward thinking in Scotland, you know we can do a lot more, I also know that there is a reality from what our members tell us of people who are really, really struggling with the demands made upon them and the emphasis on paperwork and targets and processes as opposed to the forming of relationships and all that kind of stuff that you get at every conference whereby you know, we’re all agreed that that is what matters and then unfortunately don’t always do that much about it. I do think there are really good processes in Scotland and that makes the job and getting out of bed really important and really you know much more preferable as well to a kind of 9 to 5 job that is you know maybe more prescriptive.
MD Sure and as National Director of the Scottish Association of Social Work then, what does a typical day look like for you?
TH Like I said before, there isn’t as much as a typical day but I tend to get the train just after 7 o’clock in the morning from the station near Stirling and get into the office about half past 8, it then depends very much what’s on the agenda, you know, we can … I mean I can be in Edinburgh but I can also be in other places in Scotland, it can be about … certainly the first hour’s quite often dealing with email and I think it’s one of the greatest revolutions that, you know certainly when I worked in the North East, the phone would never stop, now it goes maybe once, twice a day but you know you go on holiday, you come back to hundreds and hundreds of email so, you know try and deal with that, liaise with colleagues, sometimes it’s answering requests that members have made, sometimes it’s about planning events, seminars, CPD opportunities, liaising with colleagues UK wide, sometimes travelling down to Birmingham for you know head office meetings and meetings with colleagues, writing/submitting consultations to Scottish government, trying to get people’s views, to inform the consultations, being interviewed sometimes if, you know, there’s yet another unfortunate scandal of investigation whereby either a child has been, well lost it’s life or another horrific incident whereby things are not as they should be so, you know it’s never the same, you know, every day is different but utterly fascinating and really enjoyable.
MD Never a dull moment.
TH No, and it’s really lovely that we are independent, a lot of our time also goes into trying to explain to people how important it is when you’re a social worker to be part of a professional association, you know a lot of people say, “But I’m already in the union.”
TH Well great, you know everybody should be in the union, absolutely but I also think there is not just, you know we have a social workers union as part of our offer but I think what’s also very, very important is that social workers can unite together, it fascinates me that RCN and college of OT’s and all that have much higher membership because people automatically do that whereas in social work that is less the case and we try very often to say to people, if we are together and we can be a collective voice and a strong collective independent voice, cos the more members: the stronger the voice obviously
TH So, we spend a lot of time on that as well and trying to find out from our members, from social workers across the country what is it that really matters. It’s being part of a profession that’s world wide, you know that we try and kind of reflect as well.
MD Yeah, absolutely. Do you have a motto for life?
TH Never go back, I’m very … no, I’ve never done that, I mean sometimes there is a kind of temptation to, well what about revisiting X, Y and Z or going for something else again and … nah, been there, done that, I don’t go back. You know it’s not a good idea to repeat something that you’ve done before so.
MD Nice and simple.
MD Don’t go back.
MD I like it. What book or blog would you recommend to listeners?
TH Oh dear, there are so many: it’s really difficult. I’ve been a life long fan of John Berger and I mean he’s had that book, I always get the title wrong, it’s And Our Faces, my Hearts, Brief as Photos. I love his philosophies on life and there’s and there’s an article in that particular book about migration which I find utterly fascinating in terms of somebody who, you know as I said, my mother was born in England, she’s back in England actually after my father died she decided to go home, half of my family is in the Netherlands, the other half is here, my mother was evacuated in the war, to Wales as a child so, there’s been a lot of kind of going into different countries and the whole idea of migration and what it does within the world, he writes very, very eloquently on that as well as all his stuff that he’s done before in terms of art criticism. I think closer to home, I loved Jo McFarlane’s recent book. You know the Edinburgh Jo poet?
MD Yeah, I know Jo. She’s amazing.
TH Yeah, I thought it was absolutely fascinating. I hard nut to crack is her latest book and I would thoroughly recommend it to anybody. We are at the moment, well my life has been kind of taken over by organising the MHO … the Mental Health Officers conference in Scotland and thankfully Jo’s agreed to come and present there.
TH And be part of a panel as well but I think it’s very brave and it’s also extremely well written so, I would highly recommend that to anybody with an interest in mental health.
MD I don’t know whether you like music or not …
MD … but do you have a particular music for motivation?
TH No, I don’t … not so much, I mean it really depends on the mood and the day, etc. It’s very varied, I hasten to add, I think if you’re tired or you know, there’s still very little to replace Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece album, you know I mean that goes back years and years but I absolutely love that. I also like Beyonce, you know the Lemonade album I thought was fabulous and I mean I do get … well living with some younger people maybe also helps, my son’s very good at identifying music so, one of my favourites is a guy called Gregory Alan Isakov whose an American singer but it’s lovely, you know it’s really, really nice to listen to but it depends very much on the mood. There isn’t something that is specific kind of you know … sometimes classical music is …
MD Yeah, that’s quite an eclectic mix, Van Morrison to Beyonce.
TH I haven’t mentioned (… unclear) & Famous, they’re a brilliant band.
MD Okay, so who or what are your inspirations in your career? Would that be a person, a project, presentation?
TH I think, well certainly as I said you know very early on the (… unclear) project, you know the project that I worked in, in my last job in the Netherlands you know because so much emphasis was on what the young people actually wanted and they were so much more articulate than we’d ever thought and it really kind of taught me that you know it’s about trying to find the way in as opposed to deciding, “Well these are obviously young people that aren’t really able to speak for themselves.” So, that’s always stayed with me. I think there’s almost been too many inspirational people, my practice teacher, Christine Partin was fabulous, I learnt a lot from her. Aberlour Childcare Trust, I have to say the best manager I had very temporarily, was Stella Irvinghome who was absolutely revered within the association, she’s extremely good social work manager. I think that’s probably …
MD That’s quite a few, isn’t it?
TH Yeah, that’s probably … I mean, there’s been too many, I’m too old.
MD Okay, so what one piece of advice would you give to those working or considering working in social work?
TH Take time for yourself, you know. Sometimes … don’t keep chasing targets and deadlines and thinking, “I must just do this.” Because you’ll find you can’t do it unless from time to time you actually take a step back, sit down whether it’s mindfulness or any other kind of form or just thinking about what am I actually doing and what do I actually need cos I still think there’s something within the profession that people sometimes get on a treadmill and they feel, “I have to keep going, I have to keep going.” You can’t keep going unless from time to time you take some time for you so, it’s really, really important to look after yourself and to care for yourself and if you get stuck get in touch with somebody as I said, we’re here for social workers, you know for people to talk to but just taking that step back sometimes and taking a wee bit of time for yourself can be about reading up on things, it can be about reflection but you know I think it’s really, really important that people realise that you cannot keep going unless you take yourself seriously as well.
MD I think that’s some really good advice there, excellent. And if you were cast away on a desert island, what’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
TH Oh dear, probably my Nespresso machine, I’m pretty addicted to …
TH … coffee. I mean one ought to say something about the family and things like that, maybe mementos I don’t know.
MD Oh I quite like the idea of things, yeah.
TH Yeah, yeah but no, that and I always thought if I got stranded somewhere I’m re-read The Golden Notebook, you know Doris Lessing’s book cos it’s my one kind of: I might do that when I finish work, you know just think that’s what I’m going to re-read again but no certainly coffee I can’t do without coffee so.
MD Coffee it is okay grand. You’ll know this Freshly Squeezed podcast is all about juice, how do you like your juice? Do you like it with smooth or juicy bits?
TH Oh no, I don’t do … juicy bits absolutely.
MD Juicy bits all the way?
TH Yeah, yeah, yeah, good.
MD Trisha, you’ve been freshly squeezed.
TH Okay thank you.
MD Thanks for your time today.
TH Thanks very much.
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