Social workers praised for 40 years of ‘outstanding’ support to some of UK’s poorest communities

Rachel Carter visits community social work champions, Bob and Annette Holman, as they receive the 2015 award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Social Work’

“We did something very significant in this community for those first three years, there was something that people were touching, that they realised was different.”

Ian Monteague is sharing his memories from the early days of FARE (Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse) – the community hub set up by social worker Bob Holman, 25 years ago, to work with some of Glasgow’s poorest communities.

It’s busy here this morning. Monteague, the longstanding chairman of FARE, and many other supporters whose lives have been changed by this organisation, have gathered to see Bob and his wife Annette receive the 2015 award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Social Work’.

When Bob arrives, he’s quick to introduce Wullie Palmer. Wullie was sent to prison at just 16-years-old for stabbing another boy in a gang fight. “I used to think fighting was better than going to clubs,” he says. “FARE gave me somewhere to go.” Today, Wullie educates primary school children about the dangers of knife crime.

“When you see people like Wullie Palmer come through it, come through from a slashed face and all the rest of it – that’s riches,” Annette tells me.

‘Live with the poor, not the rich’

There are no regrets for Bob and Annette – the couple who, as Monteague puts it, have walked the talk. Nearly 40 years ago, Bob made the decision to quit social work academia and the couple moved, with their young family, to work and live within some of the UK’s most impoverished communities – first in Southdown, Bath and later Easterhouse.

“Prevention was coming to the fore and it needed to be in the neighbourhood,” Bob says, “As a Christian, I also felt you should be close to the needy – my wife agreed.”

“Your wife agreed?” Annette’s not completely convinced about that. “I had a bit of a wee struggle with it,” she recalls. “I thought Bob also had a lot to give on the academic side of things and I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. But it was what he wanted to do.”

There was always gain though, Annette says. The house on the Southdown estate was the nicest she’s ever lived in. An old doctor’s surgery, it was originally owned by market gardeners and the land at the back was designed as a traditional market garden.

“It was right on the edge of this estate and it had a wee greenhouse. The youngsters used to come and make themselves a cup of tea or coffee in there,” she says. “We had a lovely note off one of them recently saying she was sure she would have been glue-sniffing if she hadn’t had that opportunity, just to come in and make herself a cup of tea.”

“It seems such a little thing, but for those youngsters it just made a complete difference to the way their lives were.”

The house remained the base for Bob’s community project for a number of years and this had its benefits too. “There were three workers that worked out of the house – when you have a young family, the children are at school and you work in Bristol – [it was good that] there was always somebody there,” says Annette, who was working as a social work lecturer at Bristol University at the time.

“It also meant that Ruth and David [the couple’s children] had another three adults in and out of the house when they were teenagers that they could relate to.”

‘Working together’

After nearly a decade in Southdown, the family relocated to Annette’s hometown of Glasgow. The couple have remained here for the last 26 years – 16 in Easterhouse and the last 10 in Mosspark to be closer to their grandsons. “We came up here and were living in the community, trying to do something not dissimilar,” says Annette.

It was at this point that Annette says she took more of a backseat – “in Bath I was the receptionist, the janitor, the ‘this, that and the other’ but here, not so much. There wasn’t as much time to get involved here.”

She started work as a training officer in the Strathclyde region and, when her parents became unwell, spent a lot of time travelling to and from the hospital. “The hospital they were in was on the far side of Glasgow,” she says. “I would leave the house at 8am and sometimes not get back until 8 at night.”

This ‘absence’ is what Annette believes makes her undeserving of the joint award. “I was astonished that my name was on it, I really don’t think I deserve it, I’ve just been in the background,” she says. But Bob would beg to differ. “She’s invaluable,” he tells me.

He also points out that she does more now – presumably referring to the changes to his life as a result of his diagnosis of motor neurone disease. Annette’s right though when she protests “you’ve done plenty”. While she was out at work, bringing in the steady income, Bob was working with the Easterhouse community to establish FARE.

The project operated out of a shop front for a short time before Bob and his colleagues took on an old block of six flats, which the housing association could not let because a group of adults suffering with drug addiction had died inside them. “We took them on, did some remodelling inside and were there for about 12 to 15 years,” Monteague says.

‘A role model’

A story I hear more than once this morning is the one about the trip to the bowling alley. Bob took a group of lads bowling, many of whom had been in jail and were “down in that sense” and Jimmy Wilson, now manager of FARE, came along to give him a hand.

“We’ve never had any alcohol in FARE, that was a decision we made from the beginning,” Monteague recalls. “But they are at the bowling alley, Wilson looks around and all the lads are drinking. It’s getting to the point where Wilson thinks it’s going to explode any minute.

“Bob just says ‘it’s where they are at the moment’. And here’s the telling point – when he tells them to get their coats, all these ‘hard cases’ they just respond, no hassle.”

Bob still visits the centre once a week but it’s his turn to take more of a backseat now. In our interview he can’t tell me everything he’d like to – the motor neurone disease means he’s losing his voice. But one final story stands out. “Two weeks ago we had a party for FARE’s 25th birthday, there were 200 people here,” he says. “Wullie Palmer lifted me up, thanked me and kissed me about four times. I knew then it was all worthwhile.”

More from Community Care

8 Responses to Social workers praised for 40 years of ‘outstanding’ support to some of UK’s poorest communities

  1. Steve Rogowski December 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    A well deserved reward for an excellent academic and practitioner.

  2. Stuart. December 2, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    I’ve never been too keen on the concept of a ‘social worker of the year’ ‘award’, but since it exists I’m delighted to join in the congratulations – I don’t think a more deserving recipient could be identified and only wonder whether something more like an obe or at least a bem might be as much in order. Well done and thank you very much Bob and Annette. I hope you have loads more happy years ahead – maybe in retirement….

  3. Kate Pryde December 2, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    Bob and Annette Holman have inspired many social workers through their teaching, but primarily through their belief in communities and the strength within them. We need to remember that as social workers.

  4. Peter Durrant December 3, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    Bob and Annette. I much remember your kindness when I visited you many years ago and we spoke to the local social work dept. about community social work. It’s good to see this concept still alive and well in Scotland but, sadly, Social Care, Childrens and Families depts, (which seem to be travelling separate routes these days..) still seem unable to join in in a dialogue around social enterprises, family group conferences, post-credit unions/community banking, pro-active networking, transferring power et al. Although we are still plugging away, in my retirement, like yourselves with groups like which now have some exploratory Big Lottery monies and a more radical approach to ageing. Sad how community development/community social work, and Anne’s comments reminded me of my time on the CQSW course in Berkley Sq, Bristol, seems unable to, in the South at least, to challenge traditional approaches and take on some obvious community-based challenges. In cameraderie to you both, Steve and rest of us who owe so so much in terms of keeping our dreams alive… Peter Durrant.

  5. Roselyn Thompson December 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Congratulation to Bob on behalf of all Social Workers with similar understanding of individuals’ needs, you and your wife deserved the recognisantion. This is social work at the best well done for the life you and your wife save from the life of wrong doing.

  6. Ruth Martin December 8, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    I remember Bob as an inspirational Professor of Social Work at Bath University in the 1970s. He was never too busy to take a keen interest in his students. I’ve often bumped into people in Bath who mention his work in the community decades later. I’ve followed his progress with great interest over the years; well done Bob and Annette, richly deserved.

  7. Mary and Marcus Braybrooke December 8, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    ,we remember so well Bobs decision to leave academia.he had recently attended our parish fellowship.i am glad it was after I completed my CQSW as a mature student. We have followed his work ever since and what a credit to social work it has been.congratulations to him and Annette.
    We have often quoted them.
    Very sad to learn about the MND! Bob and send both of you our love and thanks for your wonderfu lives. I did social work in hosptals latterly and have worked forv50 years until I was 74 and Marcus and I have continued working internationally with people of faiths for more peace and justice

  8. Mary and Marcus Braybrooke December 8, 2015 at 11:22 pm #

    Lovely to hear such good news. Congratulations to Bob and Annette and so well deserved
    Bob decided to leave academia shortly after coming to one of our parish fellowships in Bath.
    So very sad about the MND. I retired from social work at 74 and am glad Bob left after I got my CQSW but was always glad to read about Holman happenings