A charming fixer

    Terry Philpot looks at the life of Robin Huws-Jones, a driving
    force behind advances in the 60s and 70s.

    There is a particular poignancy in the news of the death of
    Robin Huws-Jones at the age of 92. He was appointed to lead the
    National Institute for Social Work Training at its inception in
    1961, which will be replaced in October by the Social Care
    Institute for Excellence. Robin was also an active member of the
    Seebohm committee whose progeny, the social services departments,
    now look, to many eyes, doomed.

    Robin’s heyday in social work was when it was beginning to
    enjoy a self-confidence and almost anything seemed possible.
    Seebohm, whose central idea of “one door on which to knock” may
    well have to be rediscovered when the results of the present
    planned anarchy of providers and commissioners bears fruit, was the
    most ambitious example of this.

    The idea of a staff college came by a chance lunchbreak remark
    at a meeting of the Younghusband working party on social work
    training, of which Robin was also a member. He was at first
    reluctant to take on the role of principal (a title which two of
    his three successors held) because he lacked a social work
    qualification. But he was to steer NISWT from 1961 to 1972 (it
    became NISW in 1973). It trained social work teachers for the new
    Younghusband courses and senior staff, developed international
    links, set up a library, and generally became a centre for debate
    and research. It also drew to together managers, practitioners and
    academics from health and social services. Robin lived, literally,
    above the shop and NISW’s collegiate atmosphere had very much
    his stamp on it.

    As a Seebohm member he was the fixer – he briefed the
    chairperson, held the ring, negotiated, supported and smoothed
    ruffled feathers.

    Born in Corwen, north Wales on 1 May 1909, Robin’s mother
    died when he was two and his father, a draper, took him to live in
    lodgings in Liverpool. He left school at 15. While working a
    14-hour day at a Liverpool YMCA centre, he took an external degree
    at London in economics and sociology. His later master’s
    thesis was on the chronic unreliability of school doctors’
    assessments of malnutrition, on which entitlement to free school
    meals was based. It gained him election as the youngest fellow of
    the Royal Statistical Society and deeply influenced the shape of
    the school medical service by providing scientific standards for
    assessing malnutrition.

    After university teaching in Liverpool and extra-mural teaching
    in wartime Oxford, he became director of the social science courses
    at University College, Swansea in 1948. While at Swansea, Robin
    promoted the Lower Swansea Valley project which over 20 years
    turned a bleak, toxic and redundant industrial landscape into
    parkland with 500,000 trees and many amenities.

    As associate director of the then Joseph Rowntree Memorial
    Trust, he pioneered retirement communities, developing the Hartrigg
    Oaks Retirement Care Community in York. It was here that he and his
    wife Enid were to spend his last years.

    Robin was a committee man whose charm, persuasiveness, political
    gifts and seductive flattery found a socially productive outlet. He
    once described to me a mutual friend as being as “cunning as a
    serpent, and yet as harmless as a dove”. The same could be said of
    Robin.

     

     

     

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