Public exhibition launches to provide a voice for social workers

Image of the Experiencing the Social Work World exhibition launchA public exhibition that depicts the lived experiences of social workers through a series of artwork opened at the People’s History Museum in Manchester this week.

Social workers support and help vulnerable people, however they are often demonised and misrepresented in the media. Silenced by confidentiality, they are often unable to report on the work that they do or discuss the struggles they face in trying to do their work. The new, powerful ‘Experiencing the Social Work World’ exhibition gives social workers a visual voice, displaying artwork created by social workers as they tell their stories of how it feels to be a social worker in the current climate.

The exhibition was borne out of a project of the same name, led by Dr Jadwiga Leigh, Lecturer in Social Work in the Department of Sociological Studies, along with Dr Lisa Morriss, Senior Research Associate at Lancaster University, and arts expert Matthew Morriss from the University of Salford.

The project team held arts workshops with eight social workers, using a range of creative mediums including mono printing, wire and clay to visualise how they felt about their roles and perceptions of these roles.

Speaking at the exhibition launch this week, Jadwiga Leigh said: “We think that this may be the first exhibition of this kind to be hosted in the UK.

“Lisa and I both recognised that social workers aren’t able to report on the practice that they carry out with children and adults and as a result, their voices are silent and missing from public debate. I think that’s given room for other people to move in and fill that space, mainly the media. The reputation and standing of our profession has deteriorated in recent years, so we wanted to put this project together to have a think about what that meant for social workers.

“We hope that the findings from our project, which you will see at this exhibition, will provide the public with a different perspective, hopefully giving social workers a voice to express how they feel.”

Throughout the time that the exhibition is running at the People’s History Museum, there are number of events lined up, which it is hoped will take visitors on a deeper journey into the social work world.

On Friday 12 may 2017, “Annie”, a birth mum with extensive experience of the child protection system, public speaker, social work trainer, and writer of “Surviving Safeguarding: A parent’s guide to the child protection process”, will bring the perspective of the service user to the exhibition and describe, through art, how it feels to be a parent caught up in a punitive, unforgiving, and relentless system. Annie will explain how her recovery from many years of mental health problems has allowed her to gain the strength to find peace and forgiveness, to rebuild her life, to constructively challenge and to launch the first parental advocacy service to bridge the gap between social workers and service users in child protection. Free tickets can be reserved here.

On Friday 2 June 2017, Kathryn Littlewood, former child protection social worker, author of ‘Cultivating Mad Cow’ will speak at the exhibition and interpret the social workers’ narratives and artwork on display at the exhibition by discussing her own experiences of social work practice. Free tickets for this event can be reserved here.

The Experiencing the Social Work World exhibition is now open to the public and will run until 18 June 2017.