Sometimes it is not one thing that makes an organisation a great place to work, but several factors that make social workers want to stay and work for a particular local authority.
A culture of openness and support at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) has helped to not only retain social workers and senior leaders but also reduce the number of agency staff.
After an ‘inadequate’ rating by Ofsted in 2021, changes in leadership and vision are beginning to make a positive impact on children and families.
The report of a recent Ofsted visit, published in September 2023, said: “All social workers spoke very positively about the direction of travel, visibility and accessibility of senior leaders.”
Cathi Hadley, executive director of children’s services since January 2022, says that Ofsted has made many monitoring visits and recognised the hard work staff have put in to improve services.
She says: “Our vision is not just our vision. It’s everybody’s vision. It’s a vision that has been worked with, worked out with children and young people and staff. And so we own it collectively. And central to that vision is putting children and young people central to everything that we do.”
Kerry started at BCP as a temp, in a business support role, in children’s services. She loved working there so much that she trained as a social worker three years ago, and has not looked back. Having worked in a few different teams, she is currently in the private fostering team.
“BCP has been a very encouraging and supportive organisation. There’s a real culture of openness and [people] genuinely wanting to listen,” she says.
One factor that sets BCP apart from other local authorities in the south of England is the pay. The authority carried out a pay review and a contractual supplement was put in place for social care practitioners.
The Ofsted report praised this and said: “The introduction of more competitive terms and conditions has had a positive effect on recruitment and has helped the local authority to take further steps towards achieving a more permanent workforce.”
Gemma, a newly qualified social worker in a safeguarding team, was pleasantly surprised when she got her first payslip as the supplement was reviewed just as she qualified.
“I started on a wage that I wasn’t expecting so that was really nice. That was a really nice bonus after a year of being on a bursary and expecting one number and then it being more when I started.”
Kerry thinks that the increased pay is a great incentive for social workers to come and work at BCP.
“We are well paid for what we do and I appreciate that. I think the review was necessary, not only to attract the best talent but also to retain those who want to stay here because it is a beautiful part of the UK.”
Other than being paid well, there are many other things that Kerry likes about working at BCP. These include the nine-day fortnight, agile working and the convenience of being able to buy more annual leave.
Emphasis on wellbeing
Kerry also used the health and wellbeing service BCP provides when she was having a particularly tough year. She was then signposted to further services.
“My experience at BCP has got better and better since joining and, as a big organisation, they are listening. They’re taking on board [what we are saying] and they’re prioritising staff wellbeing, which is a must.
“The manager I have now is probably the best I’ve had. She prioritises wellbeing, telling us to take back TOIL (time off in lieu) as soon as possible so we don’t burn ourselves out.”
Although Kerry is from the area, she lived away for some years, but the beauty of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole pulled her back home.
Kerry says: “I really enjoy the work I do and I’m sure I could enjoy it elsewhere, but you’d be hard pushed to beat what we’ve got on our doorstep. It’s lovely you can have that kind of work-life balance.
“It’s doable for me to finish work and to go for a quick swim because the office localities are close enough to the coast, a short drive and you’re there.”
Joseph, a former teacher, retrained through the Step Up to Social Work programme at BCP. He is in the middle of his ASYE (assessed and supported year in employment) in the assessment team.
“I love living in BCP. It’s a really beautiful place to live – wonderful beaches. It has really good transport links. It’s a lovely, quiet place to live, it’s also got stuff to do at night, and lots of social stuff in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole,” he says.
Training and support
Gemma and Joseph both agree that the workforce development team has really helped their learning.
Joseph says: “We’ve got a fantastic live training programme here called Practice Fundamentals and we get the opportunity to learn about specific areas of practice. So we’ve got Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture awareness coming up soon and we also have specific learning around areas like working with sex offenders, making sense of autism and early permanence planning.
“They’re just a couple of the different sub trainings that we can do and that’s an opportunity for us to learn from our peers and study best practice.”
Gemma is also doing her ASYE and feels very supported.
“I feel really part of the team and I’m aware [that] that’s not the case across the country. We all help each other and that’s really nice. You can go to anyone. I work in the office quite regularly, there’s always someone available for a chat, to put your heads together and so that’s really nice.
“I like that everyone I meet is really passionate about what they do. It’s quite infectious. So while you know the nature of the work, people are stressed, people are tired, but people still are really passionate,” says Gemma.
Kerry agrees that it’s the friendships and support at work that makes her job so great.
“My team’s lovely. I am in a very small team and for me, the team makes it. I think as a general rule if you’ve got supportive management and you’ve got close supportive peers, that makes all the difference, and I have that.”