Jonathan Mair - First year BA (Hons) Social Work student (2023)

I wanted to have a positive impact on the community

Becoming a social worker was a long time coming for me. I haven’t really had a linear work path, and because I had kids young I sort of just fell into work. I didn’t really find a calling until later on. I toyed around with the idea of doing social work for years, but it never really worked out that way. My mum worked as a SENCO at a school, so I always had that element of helping children with learning disabilities, because of this I spent a lot of time in that environment. It was actually moving down to Devon and experiencing proper community that made me strengthen my resolve and decide what I wanted to do, and that was to have a positive impact in the community.
I grew up in London but it wasn’t until I moved to Devon that my eyes were opened to how different the community feel was. Working at a Café in Dartington, being part of that community there, was quite inspiring. It was interesting to be exposed to people who are more community minded, and it helped me become more self-aware, really made me feel like a part of it all.
I was a bit of a tearaway as a teenager, and if it wasn’t for the loving support of my wife and parents, I would be in a very different position to what I am in now. I know that I am so fortunate as a lot of people don’t have that, and that is something I know I can offer other people. This is the driving force for me, and I want to help people improve their lives and work alongside them. I love working with people and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

The benefits of nature

My ‘Readiness for Practice’ days are with a organisation that works with a diverse range of people with the ethos to ‘prevent suicide’, we have been working on a regenerative project at a local zoo. The cohort we have been working with are people with learning disabilities and people with mental health issues. People have the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and be more present in their lives through meaningful activities. We’ve also been doing animal enrichment through activities such as animal feedings and zoo tours. The aim of this is to get people slightly out of their comfort zone, in a team environment which can aid general wellbeing. There are lots of studies confirming the positive benefits of being outside in nature, and this project has been set up off the back of this.
Feeding an animal at Dartmoor Zoo

Behind the scenes of social work

We have been taking part in shadowing within a local authority setting. I’ve been with a children’s services initial response team, which I have found really interesting. A lot of the work happens at the drop of a hat, being 'initial response', and the kind of work I have been doing has been very engaging. I have been involved in multidisciplinary team meetings, legal planning meetings and strategy meetings.
These experiences have been incredibly eye opening for me as you really get to experience behind the scenes work of social work, and to see the amount of support Social Worker's offer each other in practice. 
I have also had the opportunity to shadow an age assessment of an unaccompanied child asylum seeker. This was a tough situation, as the person in question had fled their country of origin. This experience really opened my eyes to what statutory social work can look like, and all the different avenues that you can go down.

Stepping into the role

Within my Local Authority shadowing opportunities, we were in a multidisciplinary meeting, which included head teachers, police, solicitors, social workers and so on, and at the end of the meeting the Social Work Manager came to me and asked “So what are your thoughts? What do you think about it all, Jon?”. You build up ideas of the scenario at play but you’re only observing, yet when they asked me that I felt like a real colleague. 
A lot of people have a preconceived idea about what social work is, and I feel the course breaks this down well. The more I learn the more I feel like I am really stepping into the role.
Jonathan Mair - BA (Hons) Social work student first year (2023)

Straight into practice from day one

I quite like the idea of getting us straight into the practice from stage one. Theory is very relatable to what we would be doing in the real world, but the early practice experiences enable us to experience the reality of being in the field with real service users. I believe it to be important for first years to get this experience as it can feel quite daunting for some people. I’ve come into this at the age of 30, with three children and a bunch of life experience and I feel quite comfortable speaking with people, but I know that’s not widely felt across the course. 
I feel the University has a really good approach to getting people ready for practice. The University also bring real service users into the course, and this is a great way to break barriers down as you come to learn that these users are in fact just people. Once you realise this, it makes life so much easier.

The importance of relationships in social work

The importance of relationships is paramount to be a good social worker, as it’s very much a person-facing role. 
Building your knowledge base around theory work and how it relates to practice is also an incredibly important skill to have. The one thing they have really been helping us with is building a tool box of social work skills that we can rely on as and when we need. I think the course offers a lot of work around your ethics and values, and I have found that I have been morally questioning my past decisions and my own character in a positive way to help build me up to become what I deem is a better person. It can be tricky as it makes you answer some very hard questions, however self-reflection is a tremendous skill to have.
Jonathan Mair - Year 1 BSc (Hons) Social Work Student (2023)

Managing your wellbeing

I would definitely recommend that you come into the course with your eyes open, ready to learn not just about the profession, but also about yourself. I believe a social worker's greatest resource is themselves. A big take away from my practice experiences so far is 'how are we supposed to take care of other people if we can’t take care of ourselves?', so being really hot on your own sense of wellbeing and being able to manage that is really important. You are exposed to a lot of second hand trauma in the role, so being able to do this is a key skill.

Help every step of the way

The teaching staff are all brilliant, and the Writing Café at the University has been a big help for me. I have dyslexia, and I feel they have really been able to help me hone down my essay structuring and my waffle, and allow me to be critically reflective of my own work. I would recommend them to anyone who was thinking about joining Plymouth.
Want to make a rewarding and positive contribution to society? Social workers support children and families through child protection procedures, fostering and adoption and youth justice to name but a few. They also support adults with issues including disability, drug and alcohol dependency, mental health, homelessness and safeguarding. You'll spend over 170 days on real-life placements with adults and children so you graduate ready to start your professional career.

Study BA (Hons) Social Work 

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