Simon Cauvain

Social Work BSc (Hons)

After arriving at BCU as a mature student, Simon thrived on the Social Work course and in his work placement opportunities. After graduating, he progressed in his academic career, completing a PhD, and working as a Lecturer in Social Work. Nowadays, Simon is Head of Department of Social Work, Care and Community at Nottingham Trent University, thanks to the skills he picked up at BCU.

“At school, I didn’t really get out of it what I could have done. I went straight into a job as a bricklayer’s labourer and then worked at a local foundry. I then moved into office work for the Civil Service. Growing up, my Mum was a Social Worker, and I’d always been interested in what she did. She would talk about Sociology, Psychology and Law too. I was hooked, but didn’t want to admit it, it seemed uncool to do the same thing as my Mum.

I eventually ended up working for an agency that provided home care in Lincoln, and then I became a Community Care Officer for Lincolnshire Social Services. After doing some voluntary work in Lincoln with young people on the periphery of crime, I gained good insights into the kind of work that Social Workers do. I just knew it was something I wanted to do more of. So, I headed back to night school so I could get the qualifications I needed to get into university. I did it the hard way, but it was worth it.

When I was looking at Universities back in 2000, BCU was always an option. I was living in Lincoln at the time, but my parents had moved to the Greater Birmingham area. I made quite a big sacrifice and decided to live with my parents again as a mature student.  I never thought that I’d be going back home again! But knowing that it would be incredibly likely for me to get a job straight after university convinced me that it would all be worth it. Birmingham was a fantastic city to live and study in. I remember being really impressed with the university and the course had a really good reputation too.

I have fond memories of my time at BCU. One would be the Paternoster lifts at the City North campus, they were terrifying! Teaching wise, it was a great experience. I was in a large cohort of about 100 students; it was a really popular course. It was also a great diverse student group. Growing up as a white male from Lincoln, I realised very quickly Birmingham was this great, diverse melting pot of a city. Working alongside students of colour was something that gave me loads of opportunities to look at myself and consider my prejudices. I really got to understand concepts of privilege and how I have potential to discriminate and oppress others. The course was such an empowering experience, and the support that we had from our lecturers and other students was amazing and life changing.

Work placements were an important part of the course too. Our time was split across two different placements in different locations. I was in a children's home in my first placement, working with young people who were looked after by the local authority. The children were there for their own protection, and the next stop for them was a secure unit. I saw a lot of happy things, but also a lot of sad and challenging things. It was a very positive learning experience for me.

My second placement took me into professional social work. It was a child protection placement, which gave me great opportunities to immerse myself in what social workers actually do when they're qualified. It was a case of just getting out there into communities, working with people and families with a view to supporting them as best as possible. We had to intervene in the interests of children where it was necessary. I was able to apply theory to practice and carefully consider how to uphold anti-oppressive principles and the social work value base.  That really gave me a good foundation to go into the world of professional practice within that same team, where the responsibilities stepped up.

After graduating in 2003, I went on to do my PhD at Sheffield Hallam University and continued my Social Work practice alongside it. In 2006, I started to lecture at Sheffield Hallam too, and after six years there, I moved to a Lecturer role at the University of York. In late 2015, I moved to Nottingham Trent University to work as a Principal Lecturer, then progressed to Acting Head of Department. Nowadays, I’m still at NTU, as Head of Department of Social Work, Care and Community.

I'm responsible for a range of courses including qualifying Social Work. We have around 60 staff and 600 students within the department. It’s very similar to BCU in a way and is a popular university. I feel like I’ve been on a real journey since BCU. But what I learned on the course and as a student representative, I can still apply to my job now. I know first-hand what students feel and experience. I'm very fortunate to be in a position where I can shape and influence and shape that positive experiences for the students within my department.

I've come to appreciate that Social Workers are arms of the state. We serve the government at the time, and that can be an interesting experience from a social worker perspective. So, under New Labour, for example, Sure Start centres were popping up. There seemed to be money around to support families in places where it was most needed. To see that then be stripped away by successive governments has been disappointing and challenging. Social workers appreciate how politics shapes society and how social policy supports and sometime hinders social workers in doing their job. Since I graduated, the fundamentals of the work are the same though, like anti-oppressive practice, working with people and having a strength-based approach, as well as relationship based and humanistic approaches. The theories that we covered on the Social Work course are still as relevant today as they were then.

Outside of work, I’ve always been passionate about music. Living in Birmingham for me was always about the live music and being able to enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I was fortunate to see Nirvana in Birmingham, and Oasis back in the early days, as well as Radiohead and The Verve, all of what I still enjoy listening to now. I’ve settled in Nottingham and enjoy what the city has to offer, including live music and theatre. I have a lot to thank my BCU degree for! It’s led to a range of jobs that have given me the opportunity to be a homeowner and the sense of security that brings.

My advice to current Social Work students is to do as much as you can to ensure that you are ready and prepared for life after university. Embrace the discipline of reading. Be ready to throw yourself at it and be prepared do everything you need to do. Of course, giving it 100 per cent isn’t always possible, but when it is, just go for it. You also need to be ready to experience personal change and development. Be prepared to look at yourself in the mirror, and consider your values and prejudices, because you’re going to have to work through them.

When it comes to being a Social Worker, it really is so rewarding. It’s also one of the most powerful jobs that you can ever do; a positive power. It involves challenging structures, humility and the wellbeing of people, so having self-knowledge and the ability to reflect, grow and change through experience, is really important.”