Social Work Book Group – My First Experience

Today we hear from Becky Lyons, a first year MA student at Sussex who offers her experience of attending the initial meeting of a Social Work Book Group, reading ‘Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg. Social Work Book Group was started by Amanda Taylor a Senior Social Work Lecturer at UCLAN and has grown into a national movement as evidenced here:

Following Becky’s student perspective and in the run up to the next meeting on February 11th, we will also hear from Janine and Sian two social workers in their ASYE year. Watch this space! Follow the Departmental Book Group on @USSWbookgroup Or the Dept on @USSocialwork #swbk

A student’s perspective: 6 weeks into my first year of the MA social work course at Sussex University, my tutor invited me to join the social work book group she was setting up. Although I had consumed many different pieces of literature over the last two months, I had never been more excited to start a piece of reading. Academic social work articles are interesting and crucial resources for a master’s level course, but the idea of a novel filled me with instant relief. My undergrad had been in literature, it is a form I feel truly comfortable with and which, most importantly, I enjoy. I enjoy literature because it is an exploration of people; an insight into someone else’s perspective. Reading a novel is an exercise in empathy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of reading a piece of literature and recognising yourself in the prose; a thought or feeling you have once had, and coming to the realisation that someone else has shared this; you are not alone.

The dynamic of the book group is a new and interesting idea. It is a national project. Every few months a host university decides on the book and live streams a discussion to other universities across Britain. The listening groups are encouraged to connect via Twitter, posting their views on the novel and topics discussed. This week the host university was Lancaster and the novel was Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg, a novel which deals with some very relevant themes, such as ageing and dementia and which centres on a mother and son’s relationship in the latter stages of life.

As this was the first run of the book group, we did have some hic-ups in setting up and getting connected. Four of us turned up, myself (a student), my tutor and two newly qualified social workers. I have to say, I felt quite out of place on arrival and a little apprehensive. After all, I was the least qualified and least experienced in the room. I looked at the two NQSWs in almost a state of awe; they’d made it, I’m right at the beginning. However, this state of anxiety didn’t last long. My tutor and two new social work contacts (networks!) created an atmosphere in which I felt comfortable to give my opinion and just have a chat. It became clear very quickly that we were all there with a common interest; we are all social workers (or, in my case, want to be social workers) and we all share a mutual love of reading.

Another reason I love literature – it stimulates conversation.

In all honesty, the online book group really just sparked our own discussions around the novel. And some of that discussion was pretty great. The impact it had on me was it actually opened my eyes to some new truths about the line of work I have decided to go into. We discussed the “Romanticisation” within the novel. We spoke a lot about films, television and books, which treat social work subjects in a similar way. Then Denise, my tutor, said something I probably won’t be forgetting for a while, she said “it’s the visceral aspects of people’s lives, the bits you leave out of novels that social workers deal with”. This led us to another thought, perhaps the reason people can act quite stand-offish when you tell them you’re a social worker is because it reminds them of these “visceral bits”, the things we don’t want to recognise in our society. Is this the cause for “that face” people pull when I tell them I am studying social work? It is a face I have discussed many times with my colleagues on the course.

Novels are often a Romanticisation of the past; how we want to remember something. This often leaks into our everyday telling of our past, or present, situation. People only depict reality as far as they want to show you. We can end the novel, or we can roll the credits, before someone has deteriorated beyond our comfort zone, but in reality we do not have this control. A social worker’s role is to see beyond this comfort zone, beyond how someone wants it to be seen and into the visceral reality of people’s difficult situations.

The social work book group facilitated conversation around what social work really means, both to the professional, the service user and wider society. I left with a new perspective. A great achievement on my first ever session. I will be back!



January 21, 2016. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.