Personal experiences which have influenced the lives and
opinions of those involved in social care.

Extensive involvement in European social care has been something
of a life changing experience for me. I came across social care
outside the UK by accident some 20 years ago when a last minute
invitation to act as rapporteur at a European conference on
volunteers in social services resulted in a splendid week in a wine
growing area near Geneva. It was a lively event – the French
participants stormed out half way through for “ideological” reasons
– and I learned to my naive surprise that other countries often did
things differently and better than we did in the UK.

Subsequent experiences have strengthened my early interest in
social care throughout Europe. There was the excitement of being
involved in Spain in the early days of the post-Franco democracy, a
country largely denied social services under the fascist regime. At
an old people’s day centre in Barcelona an elderly gentleman
explained to me with great pride and emotion how he was at last
able to associate freely with his friends – previously forbidden.
The holistic approach to day centres for older people in Spain is
impressive, with their mixture of services and rich cultural life.
They seem good places to meet regularly with your mates. The
Spanish word jubliada for pensioner conveys a more positive view of

During a week at a campus for older people in the former
Yugoslavia in the 1980s I was impressed by both the range of
facilities, such as shops and a cinema, and the living and care
provision in one place for all levels of capability and dependence.
In the UK we still tend to shunt older people from one area to
another as their dependency level increases.

I also attended one of the first social work conferences in
Russia after the collapse of communism and became caught up in a
Machiavellian struggle in Moscow for control of this fledgling
profession. The head of the college that had previously trained
young communist party leaders wisely wanted to change tack and
asked me to fax our social work syllabus on my return to the UK. I
heard nothing more from him.

Working at the University of Kent has enabled me to develop my
interest in European social care. Ten years ago we established a
European Institute of Social Services (EISS) to help social care
providers and their users benefit from greater European integration
– including the countries of former communist Europe. This work now
includes publications, arranging study visits and designing
multi-national social care projects. From an almost accidental
beginning in Geneva 20 years ago, I have had a (mostly) very
enjoyable working life, made long-term friends in other countries
and made some contribution to what is now becoming the rapid
Europeanisation of social care.

Brian Munday is a former director of the European Institute of
Social Services, University of Kent.

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