Freshly Squeezed: Viv Cree

Iriss.fm, Episode 209
Published on 2 Aug 2018

Freshly Squeezed is an Iriss podcast which aims to 'squeeze' information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. 

Michelle Drumm from Iriss 'squeezes' Viv Cree, Professor of Social Work Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Viv Cree and Michelle Drumm
Viv Cree and Michelle Drumm

Viv has conducted research in a number of social work-related fields over the last 20 years, focusing mainly on qualitative research that aims to improve social work services, and hence, the lives of those who use services. 

Within this, she specialised in research on social work history, feminism and gender in social work, HIV and children and young people affected by parental illness.

Before coming to the university, Viv worked for 16 years as a professional social worker and community worker in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. She is an accredited practice teacher.

 

Date of recording
Audio transcript

MD - Michelle Drumm
VC - Viv Cree

MD Hello and welcome to Freshly Squeezed, an Iriss podcast which aims to squeeze information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. Today, I'm speaking to Viv Cree who is professor of Social work studies at the University of Edinburgh. Viv worked for 16 years as a professional social worker and community worker in both the statutory and voluntary sectors and is an accredited practice teacher. She has conducted research in number of social work-related fields over the last 20 years focussing mainly on qualitative research that aims to improve social work services, enhance the lives of those who use services. Within this she has specialised in research on social work history, feminism and gender in social work. Viv, welcome to Freshly Squeezed.

VC Thank you.

MD This year marks the 50 years of the Social Work Scotland Act and social work at Edinburgh is 100 years old this year so, it's quite a big year for both yourself and for social work really in Scotland and you've made a significant contribution to social work over the years. Tell me to begin with, did you always want to work in Social services?

VC That's a good question because the honest answer is, no I didn't. I actually started off in youth and community work, I had this idea that I wanted to be close to the people that I was working with. I knew I wanted to work with people, I wanted to be close to the people I was working with and I thought the best way to do that was through youth and community work rather than social work so, my first professional qualification is in youth and community work. I did the one year post grad course at Jordanhill college which was then a separate college of education and found myself as a community worker working in Fraserborough, in Aberdeenshire, I was responsible for the Buchan area and did a lot of running about in a mini visiting youth clubs and community organisations and actually at that time felt that I still had very little to do with social work. It was very much community work and I guess what I've done is taken that community work approach into social work because at a later point I left Aberdeenshire and came down to Edinburgh to work in the North of Edinburgh in a council housing estate called Muirhouse where I was working with 12 to 16 year old kids in what used to be called intermediate treatment and intermediate treatment was a way of working with kids who'd fallen foul of the police or they had problems at school and at home and instead of sending them away you worked with them in their communities so, it was very much the most troubled and troublesome kids in the area at the time and so this was by this time the late 1970's and while I was working there I thought, "hold on a minute, I would really like to be able to focus in more because one of the problems with community work is that you're dealing with problems and issues at a kind of community level and I guess through the work with kids in Muirhouse, I became more interested in working with individuals and families. So, that took me into applying to Edinburgh to do the social work one-year certificate course as it was and so, I'm one of the people who has both a social work and community education, youth and community work qualification. There's actually surprisingly quite a lot of us, I've discovered over the years that there's quite a lot of people who started in one area and moved into the other. What it brings is, is the best of both worlds because you really do understand the individual in context in their social context, not just in their family context in a way that you wouldn't have that lens in quite the same way.

MD So you've sort of moved much more into academia, I suppose in social work you know being a professor of social work as well, so, that journey of starting really in practice working with people and families, did that continue for a number of years from the '70's and then ...

VC Yes.

MD ... went to academia ...

VC Yes.

MD ... what was the draw for that?

VC So, what happened was I worked after my time in Muirhouse and the social work qualification, I went back to Muirhouse after I did the social work qualification and then after that I got a job with a voluntary organisation which was called family care and my job was to work with single parent families. It was extraordinarily interesting, important work that we did then. It was working with woman who found themselves pregnant and for some reason being pregnant was something that was an issue one way or another. So, some of the woman that I worked with at this time went on to have abortions, some went on to give babies up for adoption and some became single parents but it all started with, "I'm pregnant and I don't think this is going to be easy for me one way or another." So, working with family care, I had the privilege of helping some woman through the incredibly difficult process of making a decision to give a baby up for adoption but I also worked with women who went through, in the 1980's, the trauma of having an abortion when actually maybe they had told nobody that they were even pregnant and it wasn't at all uncommon at that time for somebody to actually hide the pregnancy from school teachers, parents, family members so, you as the voluntary sector, social worker might be the only person who actually helped them through that journey. The other thing that happened at family care is that when I was at family care I did 2 other things which brought me into academia, to answer your question, the first was I started supervising social work students in the work place setting so, what's called a practice teacher in social work terms. I did it part time, practice teaching, while I was still a senior social worker in family care but then I became the family cares practice educator. So, actually most of my work at that point was supervising students rather than working with families myself. So, that was one of the things that brought me into the academic world, but the other thing was that I started a PhD and this happened completely by accident. So, the story goes that I was in the building, in Castle Street, in our office one day looking for an envelope in the stationary cupboard and I was looking for a big envelope and I was stretching in and I came across a book at the back of the cupboard and the book at the back of the cupboard, I pulled out, had it the front of it: National Vigilance Association (Eastern Division Minute Book), dated 1911 and I thought, "This is a bit weird, why has family care got a minute book going back to 1911 called the National Vigilance Association (Eastern Division)?" and I discovered when I spoke to the Director of the organisation, Janet Lusk, who was on of social work's really important figures over the years and I'll definitely say a little more about her, I discovered from her that the organisation which at that time, by this time it's the mid 1980's, was called Family Care, it had begun as the National Vigilance Association (Eastern Division) and it's job had been at that time was to ... I'm going to quote from the minutes, was "to save women and girls from the perils and evils of the white slave trade.

MD Oh my goodness.

VC So, the perils and evils of the white slave trade, what on earth is that and of course it's what we would call trafficking, today. The organisation began as part of a world-wide movement to protect women and girls from trafficking and so, that's how it started and so, my first degree is a history degree, I've always loved history. I thought I would love to tell this story so, my PhD started on a part time basis while I was still working at family care and my first book was called From Public Streets to Private Lives: The Changing Task of Social Work, and the point being that social work began out there in the streets saving fallen women, or saving women who were at risk of falling. I know, it's funny terms.

MD Interesting terms, isn't it?

VC Interesting.

MD The language barriers, yeah.

VC Wonderful language. 

MD What kind of motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

VC Well the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, it's interesting, it is an alarm clock and one of the things I've written about over the years is how people learn and how people learn best and I know that my best work is always done in the morning so, even if it wasn't an alarm clock I would be up because I wilt by about 9 o'clock in the evening so, you know I'm always up by 7, even at weekends and even in holidays. And that's a time ... I quite like actually to start the day with my porridge and something to read which is mine. When I say "which is mine" it could be a magazine it could be a newspaper but it's likely to be something which is slightly work related, a journal, a magazine, something work related and it kind of gets me into the groove really.

MD That was my next question actually, what does a typical day look like for you?

VC Well I think academics don't really have typical days, in my experience anyway, this university it's likely to involve some teaching, some work with either Masters or PhD students as far as I'm concerned, I have also been a tutor for undergrad students in the past but every day is likely to involve some student contact and if it didn't I would miss it but also I think all of spend far too long on email. I cam in this morning for 8:30 thinking I had 2 hours before my first appointment of the day and that should have been an opportunity to do some reading and some writing perhaps but actually I spent it doing email. 

MD So, what would be your motto for life?

VC My motto life, it's probably going to be as cliched as the next persons but it's something to do with, you know I sing in a choir, it's one of the things that's very important to me and has been important to me through lots of my life because being in a choir is a place where I'm not Professor Viv Cree, I'm just an alto and nothing else matters. You're accepted for the contribution you make to the choir and again, I haven't got the strongest singing voice in the whole world. I used to have quite a good singing voice, it's not nearly as good now but what's good about me in a choir is that once I've learned a tune, I never forget it so, that makes me a very useful choir member and people who've got much stronger voices than me, lean on me in the choir because I've remembered the part that we've been taught which is definitely useful, anyway to come back to that, one of the songs that we sing in the choir has got the words, "the past is history, tomorrow is a mystery but the present: the present is a gift." There's my motto so, trying desperately to be in the present while I love a plan, I love planning, I love making things happen, I'm a terrible problem solver so, I'm always going to be thinking of the next thing but the message I give to myself is, try to be in the here and now, yeah.

MD So, music then is obviously quite important to you ...
VC Yes.

MD ... as well, you talked about being in a choir. So, what would be your music for motivation?

VC I love all different kinds of music and it depends on ... I think music isn't just for motivation, it might be for relaxation, it might be for switching off, it might be for dreaming, it might be for any number of things but I think my best way of describing it is, the choir that I sing in isn't a formal choir so, we have performed ... we have performed in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but we only ever did it once because it was so ... if you're preparing for a concert and you rehearse and rehearse and rehearse the same pieces again and again and again you can lose the love of what you're doing and I guess that's what I mean about being in the moment. So, the choir that I sing in we're called The Jammies and we're called The Jammies not because we wear pyjamas but because we jam. So, often what happens is somebody starts to sing and maybe they've heard some music on the radio and it's brand new, it's not always old stuff, some times it's absolutely brand new and so they start to sing and then everybody else piles in and there's only maybe 15 of us on a good night but everybody starts to throw in their tuppence worth into creating this sound. So, some of the songs we sing are actually properly choreographed, I don't think that's the right word, by the person who leads the choir and so, she teaches us parts and we sing parts but that's what we do for the first half of the evening and the second half of the evening is literally someone starts to sing and everybody else joins and we jam.

MD That's fantastic. So, what book or blog would you recommend to listeners?

VC I'm going to talk about a book which isn't a social work book at all but is something which I'll always go back to as being important to me and that is Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I think that his ... really important for anybody who is working in an academic sector to think about the challenge to the idea of a banking concept, the idea that students come here, and our job is to feed them, our job isn't to feed them at all. Our job is to help them to make their own journeys and learn their own things and actually that's the kind of spirit that I really probably took into social work practice as well and it takes you right back to the beginning for me in terms of community work and a community work way of looking at things is that we're not experts in people's lives, they're experts in their own lives and it's our job to walk alongside people and so, I think that book is probably one of the books that stands out for me over a lifetime of reading and writing.

MD Fantastic. So, who or what are your inspirations in your career?

VC Oh, my inspirations in my career. One of the people I'm going to talk about is Janet Lusk, Janet Lusk was a woman who when I first met her, she was introduced to me as Miss Lusk, and you would understand why that was important if you'd known her. She was sadly killed in a car accident on the A9, lots of years ago now, it could be 15 years ago, I'm not sure, long time ago but she was somebody who taught me an awful lot about social work and about childcare. She was the Director of Family Care until she retired and she was just somebody who inspired respect really just for her background and her experience and everything that I learnt from her really of what does it mean to be a professional social worker.

MD What one piece of advice would you give to those working or considering working in social services?

VC I don't think I'm going to say anything particularly special here but it's something about trying to be honest, be honest to yourself and be honest with the people that you're working with. Don't pretend to be somebody you're not, at the end of the day you are you, faults, warts, skills, everything is who you are and if you can kind of value that and hold on to that then you'll be somebody who is experienced as having integrity and that's it really.

MD Okay and if you were cast away on a desert island, what's the one thing that you couldn't live without?

VC My one thing would probably ... I'm going to be really soppy, it would have to be my sons, you see. They're grown ups now but they're living their own lives and I'm delighted that they are in very, very different ways but I've always said that they were the best part of me. 

MD Right, okay. Good to take away on an island with you as well cos they'd be able to sort of look after you wouldn't they? Forage for you, fish for you. So, everybody's asked at the end, how do you like your juice? Do you like it smooth or with juicy bits?

VC Oh, I'm going to say both. I've got to say both, but in a way that fits with everything that I've said to you. I'm a both and kind of person, I'm not an either or person and that's got me in some trouble over the years but actually I would much rather be a both and person.

MD So, a mix of smooth and juicy bits ...

VC Yeah.

MD ... together.

VC So, don't ask me to be definitive about anything, I think life is full of complexity and I love all of it.

MD Brilliant and Viv I know that you're retiring from University of Edinburgh at the end of September is it?

VC Yeah.

MD So, on behalf of Iriss and myself, just like to wish you all the best going forward. Viv, today you've been freshly squeezed, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for your time.

VC Thank you.

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