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Speed dating as a tool for engaging social work students with service user/peer educators.

Willowbank Community Resource Centre is a rights based service user controlled voluntary organisation based in Northern Ireland, founded in 1962 the ethos of community integration is embedded in the practice of the organisation. One element of this work is our involvement in Social work education.

Service user involvement has been a feature of the professional Social Work education provided by South West College, Dungannon Campus for almost ten years. This springs from principles of best educational practice, which hold that future social workers need to know what recipients of social services feel about how they are dealt with and the level and quality of services they receive.

In recent years a key feature of this has been the input provided by the Lobbying

Activism and Research Group (LARG) based in Willowbank Community Resource Centre, Dungannon. These inputs have involved people on the receiving end giving students their views on social work, including “do’s and don’ts” for good practice, as well as an explanation of Willowbank’s community development approach.

The Social Work degree students (and their lecturer!) were somewhat surprised to find out that their input was to begin with a ‘speed dating’ session. LARG members had arranged the room so that a small number of students would talk to group members at a time before moving on to another table after three minutes.

A LARG member said, “The usual format has become very safe and we wanted to try something that required much more participation from the students…this method of delivery certainly broke the ice and created much more engagement than might normally have taken place.”

The time limit meant that there was a need to rapidly engage with each other before moving on to another table. While this perhaps put some pressure on students, the LARG members felt that this in itself was a useful exercise, given how social workers (including students on placement) can get “…Catapulted into our lives and we wanted them to experience what it’s like from our perspective. We also wanted them to be aware that sometimes information has to be gathered in unconventional ways and in a short space of time and this exercise certainly got everyone thinking, writing, and most importantly talking.”

Morgan Brannigan social work lecturer at SWC said, “If I had known I was going speed dating, I might have worn my suit! The LARG group continues to demonstrate a sophisticated awareness of power and group dynamics in the way they structured this session. The students were put under a bit of pressure as opposed to sitting down being passive recipients of a lecture, but they are a hardy bunch and I’m sure they will survive it. This means of introduction helped to bring about a very interactive session with the LARG members and I feel the student group, based on their comments, have a greater awareness of disability issues and the potential of community development approaches as a result.”

Contact details:
Willowbank Community Resource Centre,Carland Road, Dungannon
BT71 4AA

Tel 028 87 722821 ext 3860


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