How is it for you?

    Mandy Burnett
    Mandy Burnett has always lived in London. She was born in
    Camberwell, and spent her early childhood in Tulse Hill near
    Brixton, moving to Worcester Park with her family when she was
    five. Unlike Tulse Hill, there were few black families in the area
    and Mandy and her brother were the only black children at their
    school.

    “Growing up in that area I had a good insight into what it’s like
    to be in a minority and to sometimes feel marginalised.”

    Burnett didn’t want this for her own children – now aged 19, 17 and
    nine – and so chose to live in the more multi-cultural area of
    Mitcham. Her mother and friends live nearby and the office is just
    a 10-minute drive to Carshalton, past its picturesque ponds, where
    she works for the London Borough of Sutton as a social worker in
    the referral and assessment service for children and families. She
    has worked for the council for 10 years and has been in her current
    job for two years.

    “The industry we work in is very stressful and if you are able to
    have a life outside of that, London has something for everybody
    whether they want a place of peace or somewhere to
    socialise.”

    Her place of peace is the gym which provides her with time to
    collate her thoughts. Burnett describes herself as “a real liver of
    life”. “I work with a lot of sadness and it makes me see that I’m
    one of the lucky ones. So I make the effort to get out there and
    see people I care about and what is in my environment.”

    She feels her children have benefited by living in London and
    having easy access to all it offers, from museums and cultural
    attractions, to cinemas, theatres and parks. Burnett feels her
    salary as a qualified social worker is adequate for life in London,
    but as a lone parent she has had to learn to budget. “This is no
    bad thing because it sets a good example for my children and my
    clients.”

    Jessica Gahan
    Canadian Jessica Gahan has been living and working in
    London for a year. Before coming to the UK she had just qualified
    as a social worker in Canada. “I came over here because of the job
    opportunities. It was a learning experience that I wouldn’t get at
    home, and it gave me the opportunity to travel.”

    She works for the London Borough of Brent’s referral and assessment
    team which is her first social work post since qualifying. Based in
    Wembley, she works in a multi-cultural environment – something she
    wouldn’t have experienced back home in Edmonton, Alberta.

    “I have my moments of being homesick, when I’m ready to go home and
    continue my education, and then I have other moments when I think:
    what better hands-on education could I get?”

    Gahan is a locum worker, and although she has been asked to become
    a permanent member of the team, that would mean less money. She
    says the team tries not to talk about money, but acknowledges that:
    “If I had been in the job for 10 years and a locum who had just
    qualified came in and was earning more money than me, I would be
    upset by that.”

    As it is, although she doesn’t know her salary (“I have an hourly
    wage and haven’t been bothered to work it out”), she earns enough
    to sustain a comfortable life in London.

    Gahan is making the most of London living and is a frequent visitor
    to the theatre, restaurants, bars and pubs. She’s also determined
    to see as much of mainland Europe as she can with several weekend
    trips abroad under her belt and a two-week trip to Croatia and
    Hungary on the blocks. She admits that there was a culture shock to
    overcome when she arrived. Although Edmonton is a city, it is
    quieter, cleaner, smaller, and with far less traffic than
    London.

    However, the job opportunities aren’t as good, she says, so the
    advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

    Gahan lives in west Hampstead and has an easy half hour train and
    bus ride to work. The London bombings were a shock though and have
    made her think twice: “It was initially disheartening when you
    heard people saying we should just get on with our lives and they
    were diminishing the fear factor we have. I feel a bit safer,
    perhaps misguidedly, not traveling into central London. But I am
    more aware of who is around me.”

    Moving to another country is a daunting prospect, especially to a
    city where you could feel isolated, but Gahan hasn’t had any
    problems making friends. Her colleagues are mainly Americans or
    South Africans in a similar position so they all socialise.

    One thing she hasn’t got used to is the renowned reticence of
    Londoners. “In Canada we make eye contact and smile. The first day
    I was here people stopped me, saying: ‘what are you smiling for?’ I
    don’t do it as much now.”

    Laura Baker
    Laura Baker was born near the Old Kent Road and has spent
    most of her 14 years as a social worker working in London. For the
    past five years, she has worked as a social worker at the renal
    unit at St George’s Hospital in Tooting where she is employed by
    the London Borough of Wandsworth and funded by the unit.

    The job is demanding – she is the only social worker on the unit
    dealing with 16 in-patient beds, 300 people who have had
    transplants, 200 patients on dialysis, plus those waiting to go
    on.

    Baker lives in south west London and has a half hour drive to work.
    After commuting by train to Victoria for previous jobs, she feels
    her current shorter journey contributes significantly to quality of
    life. When she’s feeling particularly energetic she has been known
    to cycle – or even run – to work. “I used the run as training for
    the London marathon. It takes about an hour to work this
    way.”

    She thinks her salary “just about” reflects the cost of living in
    London. “There are a lot of single women in social work, especially
    in hospitals and it’s hard work to keep everything going like
    mortgage and bills.” As a result, she finds she is not quite able
    to afford to make the most of living in the capital and trips to
    the theatre, comedy clubs and eating out don’t happen as often as
    she would like.

    To get the right work/life balance, Baker likes to do things that
    are nothing to do with social work so “goes out with friends and
    laughs a lot”, runs and goes walking. She recently walked across
    northern Spain. She previously worked in Nottingham and says,
    although London is comparable to living there, “the cultural
    diversity in London is amazing, it makes my job far more
    interesting and challenges you more as a social worker”.

    Although a Londoner, if Baker had children she would probably move
    away: “I’d want a house with a garden and I couldn’t afford that in
    London; I’m living in a tiny flat.”

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.