Linda makes a flying visit

Star quality took on a new meaning for Newham social services
department last month when TV actress Linda Robson came to call.
Robson, who starred in the BBC’s hit television comedy series
Birds of a Feather, spent a day treading the boards in
east London by shadowing Aydin Mehmet, a social worker in the
learning difficulties team.

The day was part of Community Care‘s Care in the Capital
week, now in its second year, which aims to focus attention on the
recruitment and retention problems facing the social care
profession and, importantly, to draw attention to the positive
difference social workers make to the lives of vulnerable

Mehmet was approached about the job shadow after giving a
testimonial supporting recruitment in Newham. She was keen to be
involved from the outset even though, at that stage, she did not
know the name of the celebrity.

Her passion for her work is plain and she cannot imagine being in
any other discipline. “I’ve worked with older people and children
but have always come back to learning difficulties – I love the
diversity of it,” she says. Her career in social care started as a
clerical officer in a day centre for people with learning
difficulties. “From the day I stepped into that day centre I knew
that I wanted to work more closely with people with learning

But Mehmet later realised she would need a qualification and
started a Diploma in Social Work course in 1995, qualifying in
1998. Her work at Newham involves supporting people with learning
difficulties who are living, or have been living, with older

For her part, Robson knew little about what social workers did. She
says: “When I think of social workers I think of bad reputations
and bad press. All you see in the media is reports of children
being abused or killed by their parents and what you don’t realise
is that social workers work with many sections of the

Robson devoted most of the day to the job shadow, arriving at the
offices at 10.30 in time for a chat about her work and an overview
of the day ahead.

“Before her visit, we had thought about who I might introduce her
to,” Mehmet says. One was Jeffrey Morgan who has recently moved
into semi-supported accommodation after his father and brother died
within a month of each other.

Morgan’s situation called for some creative problem-solving as he
has severe epilepsy and needs a high degree of support at night.
“We put in quite a high package of support which is allowing him to
enjoy semi-independent living sharing with two other young men,”
Mehmet says. Robson was impressed by the work that has been done on
his behalf, and by what Morgan has achieved. “The house wasn’t
depressing, as you would imagine it might be, it was really
lovely,” she says.

The visit was a high point for Morgan and his friends who, Mehmet
says, are big fans of Birds of a Feather and spent a lot of time
asking Robson questions about her career and the programme. “It was
great for them. They really enjoyed meeting Linda and even dug out
some videos of the programme for her to sign,” she says.

Next stop was St Mark’s community centre, one of Newham’s Nulife
centres which offer community-based day services. Here Robson had a
chance to meet the service users. She spoke to Anthony Lawrence, a
service user who also works at the centre as part of the admin
team, and Thomas Lawley, who is involved in putting together
Nulife’s newsletter. Lawley took the opportunity to put Robson on
the spot and asked her a few questions for the newsletter.

“She was great with the service users, really natural, and they
definitely appreciated the chance to be involved,” Mehmet says.
“For me, one of the best parts about this day was seeing the impact
it had on the service users who were so excited, and got such a lot
out of it.”

For Robson too, it was the people who mattered most: “The highlight
for me was meeting the group. It was lovely to see them. Some of
them knew who I was, and some of them didn’t have a clue, but it
was great to provide a bit of excitement for them all. The
excitement of the ones who knew me seemed to rub off on the others.

“I’ve been in the business 37 years so the chances are you’ve seen
me somewhere along the way whether you’ve wanted to or not!”

The exercise has also given Robson cause to reflect on both the
work that social workers do and how disabled people are portrayed
on television. “I think it has opened my eyes to lots of different
things,” she says. “I didn’t realise that there aren’t many people
with disabilities on the soaps or acting on other things on
television when there is that opportunity to bring these people in.

“Today I have seen all the other sides of social care and I take my
hat off to them. It’s a very hard job, especially as it is a
profession that doesn’t receive much thanks for the work it

Could she do it? “No. I would find it too difficult to go home and
switch off. I think Aydin is doing a good job and it’s obvious that
she has worked hard to build up good relationships with her

Kathryn Hudson, Newham’s social services director, was pleased to
support Care in the Capital. “Taking part in the ‘celebrity
shadowing’ exercise gave us the chance to dispel some of the myths
about social work and show the public what it is really about,” she

“There is so much good work in social care that people never hear
about and it was a pleasure to focus on the positives. It also gave
us a chance to show the quality of the services we are developing
in Newham.”

Mehmet hopes the day will prompt people to think again about social
work and social workers. “I am hoping people will have a different
perception of social work when they read about this.”

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