“It wasn’t strategic, there was no business plan and there still isn’t one,” says George Julian, co-founder of the Social Care Curry Club, reflecting on how far the scheme has come in the last six months. The idea for the club came from a chance conversation on Twitter between Julian and Matt Bowsher about who they would like to take for a curry. That turned into a night out in Birmingham – which has quickly developed into a series of events held across the country. “This is the most organic development I’ve ever been involved with in my life,” says Julian. “It’s a grassroots initiative.”
The club’s only ground rules are that you must love social care and curry – and you must leave your sales pitches at the door. Beyond that it can be whatever its participants want it to be. Above all, the aim is to provide a dynamic and sociable space for people involved in social care to meet, whether it’s to network or just enjoy each other’s company.
“There’s a lot of negativity about social care from the wider world, either from people working within the system or from people on the outside looking in,” Julian explains. “It’s a very difficult job to do and morale is so low in the sector at the moment. This is supposed to be a positive thing; we wanted to create a space where people can come and just meet.”
Once Julian and Bowsher planted the seed, the idea took on a life of its own. People all over the country have been signing up to be volunteer hosts in their local area, and, while the pair continues to promote the events on Twitter and through their blog, it falls to the local hosts to book the table and settle the bill.
From that first meeting in Birmingham in July, the idea has made its way around the country, even crossing the pond to Vancouver where two so-called “eat-ups” have been held. The global interest is testament to George’s mantra of inclusivity and her insistence that everybody must be made welcome. “There’s no hierarchy. That’s really important to us. There’s a whole mix of people, from students and newly qualified social workers to university lecturers and service users – and that mix is what makes it special.
“Someone once asked whether he could come, given he is ‘just’ a newly qualified social worker. A service user came back on Twitter saying ‘well, I’m “just” a service user and I was made to feel very welcome’. It’s exchanges like that that let me know it’s working.”
The lack of hierarchy means that a senior manager can sit down side by side with a frontline social care worker or a student, which Julian describes as “very levelling”. Even care minister Norman Lamb has been approached to host a curry club event.
Because there’s no hidden agenda, the floor is wide open for everything from professional networking, revolutionary scheming, new friendships and even the odd bit of flirting. So is a Social Care Curry Club wedding on the cards? “I don’t think there have been any Curry Club romances yet,” says Julian. “But I’ve already said that if there are, I’ll buy a hat…”