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

“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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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