After leaving school at 14, I struggled until 30 in a rag-bag of
occupations. Then I answered an advert in social issues magazine
New Society for a course. But the idea of becoming a social worker
was slow to emerge.

In the 1960s, Frank Field was the first Child Poverty Action
Group director and Ann Shearer, Peter Moss and the rest of us began
working on a “campaign for people with a mental handicap”. The
radical social worker journal Case-Con was being published
regularly, the physically impaired, mental health patients and
unemployed workers unions were radical, and the Seebohm Report in
1968 argued for joint working, insisting that alternatives to the
status quo were possible. Then throughout the 1970s and 1980s the
National Institute for Social Work, and the much missed Gerry
Smale, was challenging us to think about community social work.
This was backed up by Roger Hadley and the Barclay Commission’s
minority report in 1982, encouraging us to consider
grassroots-upwards work, networking and street-wise

However, the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 and the Children
Act 1989’s top-down management systems became dominant. Immersing
us in care plans and packages, at-risk registers and the rest, the
gap between “us and them” re-asserted itself. Forty years on social
work seemed to be in a cul-de-sac and trapped by a lack of

But gradually we began to rethink where we were at, that our
life skills and experience still had a great deal to contribute as
redundancies and early retirements became commonplace. We began to
find ourselves thinking about the possibility of other routes. We
saw that credit unions and community banking might have some new
credibility. They were joined by the Phone Co-op, Poptel, the
Co-operative Commission and, increasingly, other social economy
strategies beginning to reshape what had become known as social
care. In addition, there were sharper hands-on analyses from
contemporary groups such as the New Economics Foundation and Social
Firms UK.

John Pierson, in his recent book Tackling Social Exclusion, has
identified the possibility of a transitional phase which might open
the way to those of us who still want to travel to fulfil some of
those earlier dreams. It is essential reading as we find
progressive routes forward such as direct payments, the
re-discovery of neighbourhoods, “enquiry and learning”
interventions, circles of support and mutuality. And nicely timed
too, with the Neighbourhood Renewal and Regional Co-ordination
Units’ thinking on collaboration and co-ordination in area-based
initiatives and the Department for Trade and Industry’s social
enterprise strategies published in July. So stay with us you
younger generations. Your, and our, time might at last have

Peter Durrant is regional development manager,
Development Trusts Association (eastern region).

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