Social work – what we talked about at our first meal

Last week was the first of our meals as part of our project with the social work students at University of Brighton to investigate if there’s a way in which we can meaningfully involve people with lived experience of having support to help teach students, outside of the usual classroom settings of universities. The format is 6 people with learning disabilities and 6 social work students. They share dinner together and we see how the conversation flows.

We decided to quite literally make a meal of it as it occurred to us that mealtimes are much more sociable ways to share in conversation with people, a table is also a much more equal thing to meet around so there isn’t such a power imbalance.

We will be evaluating the project fully at the end to find out how this approach could perhaps be used more with social work students at the university. I also thought it would also be interesting to reflect on the topics of discussion at our first meal, and I’ve also attempted (not too scientifically) to weight the discussions to show where most of the conversation seemed to gravitate in terms of topics.

We captured these topics by simply asking all the diners to complete a blank menu and try and sum up the main topics of discussion over the evening.

social work

Conversations fell in to 5 main categories:

1. Studies

Courses we’re attending; colleges, university and apprenticeships.

2. Work

The different jobs we do, have done.

3. Childhood memories

Our favourite films, skiving off school, and illnesses.

4. Leisure activities and interests

Our favourite comedy shows, where we like eating out, video games, football, partying, yoga, dancing, swimming, clubbing, gigs and booze.

5. Who we are

Our sense of identity; being a vegetarian, where we live, our birthdays and star signs, our favourite food and drink and who we see ourselves as (eg ‘The singer in my band’)

6. Disability issues and support

Issues such as the loss of the Independent Living Fund, supported housing, Positive Behaviour Support and whether carers or personal assistants are best.

7. Politics

Staging protests, speaking out and David Cameron!

This chart shows where most of the conversation was concentrated, around ourselves, our sense of identity and how we like to spend our leisure time. That’s not to say it was all just fun conversation and some pretty deep topics were discussed along the way. Interestingly none of the discussions were specifically about social work practice. But they were a lot about life and what’s important to everyone.

There was one topic I wasn’t sure how to categorise:

  • ‘Seat dancing’ – this has been perfected by Andrew and he has a style of sitting down dancing that is very contagious, and I often find myself channelling his style of dancing in the office.

Next week’s social work meal

So that’s our first week done. It’s a lovely group of diners too and we’re all looking forward to seeing what tomorrow evening brings. I have a feeling Donald Trump may be on the menu by the end, but then again we never know what is going to get talked about.

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