A Knight’s Tale (82: Queens Park Family Service Unit)

It was part of my management role in Westminster Social Services Department to chair various meetings, such as those of the Area Team, Child Care Reviews, and Child Abuse Case Conferences, involving numerous other agencies.

I was also appointed by the Director of Social Services to represent the City on voluntary committees such as the Queens Park Family Service Unit (FSU) and Beauchamp Lodge Settlement.

FSU grew out of Pacifist Service Units formed in 1940, initially by conscientious objectors who wished to engage in socially useful work. By 1942 there were 14 units staffed by 82 men and women based in London and other cities across the UK. FSU formally came together in 1948 with the primary aim of helping families in difficulty in the aftermath of the war, particularly those affected by evacuation. Its concern was to promote the welfare of families and communities and the agency is identified with a specific method of working focused on ‘casework’ with individuals and families. 

My Area team enjoyed a cooperative relationship with the Queens Park unit which was located on our patch in Harrow Road. The voluntary organisation’s policy was for the staff and clients to relate to each each other on a day to day basis in a normal way, in addition to the casework mentioned above. A greater understanding of each other was developed, without blurring the boundaries of their roles. I liken this to parents who have positive friendships with their children, whilst remembering that, although equal human beings, they don’t hold quite the same positions in families. Committee members mingled in a similar way on social occasions. Thus I got to know personally some clients of my own Social Workers. I am pleased to say that this, although a delicate balance, was often helpful, as long as we all realised that they were not my cases.

I was from time to time asked to join interview panels for new staff appointments. On one occasion I was surprised to discover that one silent member was the then Director’s lapdog, normally occupying her shopping basket. This had not fazed the successful applicant.

Several times I illustrated the covers of Queens Park FSU’s annual reports. Because I had handed over the original drawings I had kept copies of neither these nor the documents themselves.

Sam as cover 1981

One summer, in the early part of the 20th century, I found myself walking past the said FSU and popped in to see if they had a spare copy of a particular publication. I was told that the unit was moving the following week and I could help myself from a box of annual reports that were about to be binned.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I found exactly what I was looking for. This was the annual report for 1980-1981, featuring toddler Sam reaching for a daisy being handed to him by Jessica. Our son is on the back, with the two hands on the front. The drawing is taken from a black and white photograph produced late in 1980 in the Owl House Garden at Lamberhurst in Kent. The Annual Report is a bit grubby and I have left it that way.

The move had been prompted by FSU being taken over by the Family Welfare Association in 2006. Two years later this much larger organisation was rebranded and now bears the name Family Action.

Later, I thought I had lost my copy once more, and found it again in May 2014 sandwiched between two history books.

Whose Chair Is It Anyway?

Robert's HouseSam and I walked to Lyndhurst and back this morning.  The return journey was via Mill Lane where we had a brief chat with Robert whose yellow tractor was perched alongside the Mill Pond, some of which was draining into one of the streams under the rough track.

I needed to visit the bank in Lyndhurst to order some euros to take to France at the end of next week.  We did this and for three hours put the world to rights.  Sam’s contract with the London Olympics Committee having come to an end we spoke of interviews and their processes.  This reminded me of two jobs I had not landed.  The second was my last interview before going freelance, because I realised I had gone as far as I could in Social Services.  This was in 1985.  I had applied to be head of fieldwork in a London Borough.  There were only two of us in the waiting room.  The other candidate was an internal employee who was to retire in two years.  He told me he hoped I would get the job.  Why was there no-one else?  I wondered.

It was some way into the interview before I found the answer.  I was asked what would be my reaction should they reorganise the department in two years time and effectively demote me.  Rather naively thinking this might be something to test my mettle, I replied that I would consider that they didn’t want someone of my calibre and get a job somewhere else.  This appeared to be the wrong answer.  The other man was appointed.

Something similar happened during my first team leader interview with a different London Borough.  This time, in 1972, I was faced with a distant semicircle of interviewers in a vast council chamber.  Each of eleven members of the inquisition had a sheet of paper on which the questions were presumably written.  One person read out a question I had just answered.  I apprised him of that fact.  Without a shred of embarrassment he then read out his own allotted question.  In this vast arc of people all seated on a much higher level than me I could not see them all at once.  Two elderly women to my left continued fairly loud conversations whilst I was trying to answer their colleagues’ questions.  They were out of eyesight, even if well within earshot. Eventually I turned to these people and asked them to keep quiet as I couldn’t concentrate.  They seemed to have taken offence at that.  I was unsuccessful. However, the next day the Director of Social Services telephoned me, explained that I had blown it, made it clear that she wanted me, and told me to reapply when it was readvertised, and be more careful.

I took the advice and reapplied.  This time the interviewers were on a stage in front of me.  I was the solitary spectator in the stalls.  I was asked a question which was going to flummox me.  At that point the tea lady came on from stage right.  A break was taken.  The question was forgotten.  I got the job.

After lunch today Mat and Tess joined us.  We had enjoyable afternoon together until Jackie and I took Sam to Hamble where he was to participate in a sail training course.  Our son and daughter-in-law shared Jackie’s sausage casserole followed by rice pudding with us.  Red and white wine was imbibed.

Oddie on my chairBefore dinner I engaged in an interesting competition with their Jack Russell terrier, known as Oddie.  Most dogs who sit at your feet staring longingly are after your food.  Not Oddie when gazing up at me.  He is willing me to leave my chair so he can dive into it.  I, on the other hand, am determined to stay in it long enough to keep him out.  This went on until Jackie moved into the kitchen to prepare our evening meal.  The kitchen being down the hall, Oddie had a problem.  How could he keep an eye on both the chair and any possible perks that may be available in the kitchen?  He couldn’t of course.  That meant constant anxious to and froing between the two rooms.