Victoria Coker

Social Work BSc (Hons)

After working as a Nurse, Victoria decided to return to university to study Social Work. She thrived on the course, happy to finally do something she was passionate about. After graduating, she worked her way up the ranks in the industry, before returning to BCU to work as a Visiting Lecturer, where she is now inspiring the next generation of Social Workers.

“Before arriving at BCU, I studied Nursing at a polytechnic in the South-East, but after working as a Nurse, I found that I just didn’t enjoy it and knew that I needed to do something different.

I wanted to give social work a go, so I started working for social services as a Trainee, which gave me lots of different work placements before deciding to go back to university. Going back as a mature student really helped me, as I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.

Universities were very different back then. I remember going into a group interview the once, and there were only two black people in attendance. I went for an interview at a southern university, and I’ll never forget what happened. The man conducting it told me that ‘You people don’t do very well in this field’. We were only halfway through the interview, but I picked my bag up, told him that I was born to be a Social Worker, and walked out. The very next day, they sent a letter apologising, but by then, I had applied to Birmingham Polytechnic and within two days, I had been offered a place on the course.

I started at BCU in 1977, graduating in 1979. I only attended for two years, as back then, if you had attended university before, you only had to study for two years as you already had academic ability. The Social Work course was very different then though. The classes were small, and there were much older people than me, as well as already well qualified people including managers from local residential homes who were keen to get onto the course. There was a real mixture of people and academic levels.

At the time, Social Work was the course that you studied if you were a really caring person. We were a bunch of genuinely kind people who had also done a lot of voluntary work in our communities too. As a Trainee Social Worker, I was actually earning about a third of what I was earning as a nurse, but I wanted to do something I was passionate about. I found that I was constantly kicked down before, not able to express my views and my opinion not listened to. However, this gave me so much more determination when I was starting my social work career. I wanted to fight for people that need to be protected and those who didn’t have a voice, and to be able to make real change.

After graduating, I soon returned to BCU to complete an MA in Collaborative Community Care, as I really appreciated the importance of joint working, as ultimately, everybody needs to pull together for the interest of the individual that we’re looking after. I eventually went on to study Social Work Management too, so that I could go for the management roles in various organisations.

After completing my studies, I went straight into working in residential homes. I worked as an Assistant Care Manager, dealing with children and young people that have been abused physically and emotionally. That really opened my eyes. I then worked with adults for a long time, and eventually secured a management position. I managed to make the workplace a lot more diverse, which I was really passionate about doing as in the early days of my career, there just wasn’t many qualified social workers who were black, and at the time, I was the only one in my workplace.

I eventually became a Team Manager in Ladywood. My good work there was noticed, and I was asked to move to the management position in Perry Barr, back where I started my journey as a social worker at BCU’s City North campus. I became a Senior Manager there, because I was keen to have more influence, and to challenge the decisions being made. Many times, I was isolated in my views. But that never stopped me because I knew what I wanted to achieve. After working as an Operational Manager for a while, the opportunity to return to BCU came around, so I started doing some occasional lectures to Social Work students.

When I decided to retire, the Head of Department at BCU attended my retirement party and told me that I’d made a really good contribution to the university and offered me the opportunity to become a Visiting Lecturer. It’s been a job which I’m able to do in my own time, which suits both me and the university, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Outside of work, I now live in the countryside. It’s a small, beautiful village, and everyone knows each other. It’s a relaxing place to live, and I spend a lot of time gardening and looking after my grandchildren. I also love going out and about. But the role of a social worker never really goes away, I still find myself helping anyone I can. In fact, I’m sure I have ‘Social Worker’ written on my forehead, because I often have people opening up to me about their problems just in day-to-day life, even on the bus, and I try my best to help them. During COVID lockdowns, I would often offer to help with neighbours shopping and if they needed me at all. Being a social worker is so much more than just a job!

My advice to current Social Work students would be to really research what Social Work is all about, and to consider if it is definitely something they want to do. A lot of people study social work nowadays, but it can be a very complicated job and you need to be ready for that. You also have to read a lot and be open to learning all the time, especially whilst you’re doing the job too.

My other advice is to strive for the management roles and to push yourself to achieve more. That’s the way to make change and have a real impact on people’s lives. To be a social worker, you need to be passionate about helping people, and have the desire to want to make change too.”