Q & A with social work co-op director Walter Young

Walter Young, a former social worker, started out in a local authority and went to work for 10 years in the independent sector before setting up not-for-profit fostering agency Fostering Team. Now he has teamed up with social economy consultant Dr Guy Turnbull and social and community enterprise expert Carol Bell to start one of England’s first social work co-ops, a not-for-profit recruitment agency.

What is a social work co-op?

Social workers will have a share in the not-for-profit agency and a say in how it is run. All profits will go back into the services and there will be no external shareholders. It will not be commercially aggressive, and local authority fees will be waived if they take on staff permanently.

Why did you set it up?

We didn’t want to set up a coventional recruitment agency and are trying to do something different to make social workers feel valued. There is a recruitment crisis now, especially following the Baby P case, so we hope this will go some way to attracting people back into the profession. The sector is currently at risk of losing a wealth of knowledge and experience and we want to stop this happening. The co-op will also provide a new way of working – social workers could become ‘permanent temps’ – going into a variety of roles if they wished. We hope to offer people the chance to play to their strengths and revitalise their careers.

How is the co-op funded?

We got a £60,000 loan from the Social Enterprise Loan Foundation, a charity which helps organisations that have a social impact. We will offer social workers at competitive prices.

How has your previous experience helped you set up the co-op?

Working in the independent sector inspired me as I found I was not working under the same set of pressures as in a local authority team. In 2001, I set up Team Fostering, a not-for-profit fostering agency. The money it makes is invested back in services for children.

What are your future plans for the co-op?

We are currently looking to recruit 30 social workers for children’s and adults’ services for our first co-op in the North East, and if this is sucessful we will look at rolling it out in other areas of the country. The response so far has been encouraging.





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