Alumna and Professor of Social Work Studies Viv Cree talks us through her career to date, explains how history is vital to our understanding of social work and invites you to get involved with next year's centenary.
Professor Viv Cree has the unusual claim of having two undergraduate degrees and two professional qualifications. As with many of us, this wasn’t a conscious plan but the result of uncertainty about her career path and a realisation that life provides you with opportunities to revisit and reassess.
She first graduated with a general arts MA from the University of St Andrews in 1975 and went on to train and practise in youth and community work, working for two local authorities in Scotland. The degree course hadn't been the right fit but working in the community provided Viv with a window into a world that seemed to mesh with her ideas and aspirations.
I always felt that I’d missed something – that my choice of uni and degree subject didn’t reflect who I was and what I was capable of.
Undeterred and with a clearer sense of purpose, Viv enrolled at the Open University and, whilst working full time, graduated with a first class honours degree in sociology. She also took a year out along the way to do the postgraduate diploma in social work at Edinburgh.
Viv returned to youth work for a year and subsequently worked for a voluntary social work agency, where she had,
the privilege of working with women and children in some of Edinburgh’s most disadvantaged housing communities.
A part-time and then full-time PhD at Edinburgh followed and, in 1992, she began working as a lecturer in social work at the University. The role was a snug fit and she hasn’t looked back.
I was just about to submit my PhD thesis (a case-study of social work history in Scotland) and I loved working with students. I also found that the academic life suited me, and it still does. I take none of this for granted – I have been very fortunate…
It is nearly 24 years since Professor Cree began working at Edinburgh and, in her words,
no year has been the same as the one before. She has had two spells as Head of Social Work and one as Associate Dean (Undergraduate Admissions).
She has also written extensively and conducted research on a wide range of topics: social work (education, history and practice); higher education (student experience, transfer of learning, integration of learning); feminism; and the impact of moral panics in society.
She is currently heading up a project that aims to encourage the Scottish government and people to think differently about child protection and has also set up a committee that is planning for the social work centenary in 2018.
Whatever I’ve done, I’ve sought to get a group of people around me and to share knowledge, ideas and expertise. And when this happens, work becomes fun, and although this means that it is sometimes difficult to know when to stop, the outcomes and rewards, for me, for the University and hopefully for the wider world, are immeasurably greater.
When pressed to reveal a secret about the school, Professor Cree isn’t sure that she has any; transparency is a personal and professional goal.
At the end of a social work textbook Viv urged readers to
act with integrity, and it is this sentiment that has informed her career to date and which will inform the next phase of her academic life at Edinburgh. Through the social work centenary project, she hopes to reveal untold stories, explore the history of social work education and, in doing so, help us better understand where social work is as a professional and where we are as a society today.
I think it is vital that, as a society and a social work profession, we pay attention to stories from our past – how can we understand where we are today without that insight? I also think it’s hugely important that we give consideration in everything we do to our own past and present – to our age, gender, ethnicity, backgrounds and cultures. In other words, we need to ‘own’ our histories as well as our current lives, and this isn’t always easy or comfortable.
Social work at Edinburgh University will be 100 years old in 2018. What began at 16 Chambers Street, Edinburgh, on 8th January 1918, as the School of Social Studies and Training has become an internationally-recognised centre for excellence in social work education and research. Over the years, it has contributed to the development of social work as a professional discipline at home and abroad, and it has provided the future leaders of social work practice, research and education at all levels, from undergraduate through to PhD and postqualifying studies.
There will be a number of events in 2018 to celebrate the centenary - exhibitions, seminars, and a conference. There will be research projects, journal articles and at least one book. But there will also be the opportunity to plan what social work education will look like in the future, in Edinburgh and beyond.
If you'd like to take part in the planning for the centenary, to tell us your story of your connections with the University or simply to take part when the time comes, then get in touch with us now. You can find out more by visiting the social work centenary website.