To be in among the crowd

Steward 1

Andrews paper file was too big for a filing cabinet. It was also too big to be scanned onto the system. It was locked in a cupboard. Whenever Andrew was allocated a new social worker, which was often, the cupboard was opened, the file carried out and placed on a desk and the new incumbent was told to read the case notes on the system and ‘read the file’.

The safeguarding referral from the provider read: ‘Andrew refused to go to day care. On arrival at the centre, Andrew had refused to get off the community transport bus. Staff were hurt as they had tried to assist him using the safe holds they had been trained to use as per his Positive Behaviour Plan. Allocation is required to work with Andrew, possibly to look to increase provider staffing to two to one”.

The allocation meetings were held every Monday. Mike was the newest member of the team. At 22 years old he was straight out of college and a Newly Qualified Social Worker. He hadn’t read the huge file on Andrew but he was eager to get stuck into some real social work, so he said he had. He persuaded his Team Manager to allocate the case to him. Mike became Andrews 6th social worker. The Team Manager was wary, she was aware that Andrews case must always be allocated to an experienced social worker. But there was something about Mike’s enthusiasm which was engaging. May be a fresh pair of eyes would make a difference. It was worth a go.

When Mike arranged to visit Andrew at the residential care home, he was stuck by how many people were waiting for him. The door was answered by two staff members. Mike asked to speak to Andrew, but was told he needed to wait for Lorraine the Care Home Manager. Mike was left waiting in the hall where he stood shifting awkwardly as yet another staff member appeared to check him out. Moments later Lorraine appeared, and Mike was ushered into the office. Sitting behind her desk, Lorraine was an imposing figure. Mike was told Andrew had been sent home again from day care and the provider was about to give notice. Mike needed to agree to increase staffing hours to support Andrew, otherwise she was worried that her staff just couldn’t cope. She didn’t want to leave Mike with a problem, but she would have to consider that Andrew needed to move as the care home just wasn’t set up to provide this level of support. Mike found himself feeling anxious when faced with the list of concerns that Lorraine gave him about incident after incident her team had documented. However, he held his nerve and found himself spluttering something out about wanting to get to know Andrew first as this was an initial meeting. Lorraine paused, ‘OK, I will take you to him’. Mike stood at Andrew’s bedroom door and took in the scene – Andrew’s room was a temple to football. From the wall paper and the bedding to the posters on the wall, the room was filled with football memorabilia. The lampshade was in the shape of a football. On the wall was a fading poster tracking progress of teams in the last world cup. The bookshelves were filled with football albums. It was like he was stepping into another world.

Andrew was lying on his bed. Eyes wide open. Looking up towards a bottle green ceiling. Lorraine introduced Mike to Andrew and took a seat in the corner of the room. Andrew span around on the bed and sat bolt upright and shouted ‘Do you like football? Who’s your favourite player?’ Before Mike could answer Lorraine spoke ‘Andrew, he’s read the file. He knows we aren’t going to talk about football. We are talking about day care today”. Mike smiled, ‘Yes, sometimes. I used to watch football every Sunday with my dad growing up”. Andrews face came to life. ‘Do you? Do you? I do. I do. Do you know who my favourite player is?’ Lorraine again interjected. ‘Andrew, Mike is here today to talk about what happened at the day centre this week’. Mike felt he needed to try and take control of the situation, he spoke up ‘no, I don’t know, who is your favourite player Andrew?’ Andrew was by now fidgeting, slightly bouncing on the bed, ‘Gary Lineker. He plays for England and Spurs. And that’s what I’m going to do. Footballer for England – that’s my job. I’ll play for England. Look’. Andrew got up and pointed to posters on the wall. Behind the bed were wall to wall posters of Gary Lineker in various kits and at various stages of his career. Watching how Andrew came to life as he pulled books from the shelf over for Mike to share about the life of Lineker, Mike had a sudden moment of realisation. He knew what the room reminded him of. It was like stepping into the bedroom of his 7 year old nephew Sam. Andrew, aged 32, talked non-stop about football for the rest of the 45 minute visit. Mike listened intently knowing full well that there was not likely to be any room in this conversation to talk day care.

Lorraine had been on the phone to discuss her concers about the visit with his Team Manager before Mike managed to return back to the office. Mike had wound Andrew up by engaging with the football talk. Andrew had to be kept calm. Football talk had to be structured. The psychologist and psychiatrist had agreed this. Andrew was in a state of agitation and there were risks to other residents and her staff as a result. No consideration was being given to the need for increased hours. When his Team Manager asked Mike about the meeting he referred to the notes he had made in an anxious attempt to explain himself. It was at that point he realised that he had barely written anything down on his pad apart from the words ‘Gary’ and ‘football, that’s my job’. Mike agreed that his next meeting with Andrew would be more structured and would focus on considering the provider’s request that they have an authorised increase in hours to up his support to two to one.

However, Mike had not factored in Andrew’s feelings about how he wanted the meeting to go. As a result, their next encounter was equally chaotic. This time Mike set up the assessment to take place at the day centre where the incident had allegedly taken place. Once again Andrew wanted to talk about his love of football. This time he talked about the season cup, which teams were likely to win their leagues, who was facing relegation. Andrew knew every team, their manager and where they currently were in the league table. As it got close to the end of the allocated time for Mike to conclude his assessment he asked Andrew if he ever got chance to play football. Andrew didn’t answer. For the first time Andrew sat quietly with a confused frown on his face. Then he started talking again about the league tables. Mike wondered what he had stumbled on. As he was leaving the day centre he took an opportunity and chatted to the staff about Andrew, asking if he ever played football as part of his community activity plan. The staff were surprised by the question, no they hadn’t ever thought of Andrew playing football. They weren’t sure how to make that happen. No-one else who attended the centre was that interested in playing and they needed to staff the centre so they couldn’t just release staff, unless of course Mike was able to increase their hours so they could provide a Personal Assistant service dedicated for Andrew.

Mike couldn’t stop thinking about Andrew when he got home. He realised that he liked Andrew. His enthusiasm for football was infectious. Mike remembered when he was a child he had played in a Sunday league. He’d loved being part of that team. They hadn’t been the best team, they usually lost, but the joy of playing with others had kept him going even in the middle of winter. He woke up the next morning with a resolve clear in his mind, he was going to take Andrew to watch a football match.

Mike’s Team Manager was bemused but decided to go with it. She had taken a risk allocating Andrew to Mike, now she needed to trust her instincts and go with it. She told Mike to make sure he had properly logged his risk assessment and that he must get Lorraine to sign the plan off. This took a bit longer. Lorraine was extremely concerned about the boundary issues. But she was prepared to acknowledge that Andrew had been calmer this last month since Mike had started his assessment. She had no objections. Mike made contact with the local club, who were happy to help and told him they had a steward who was trained in disabled access and would support Mike with Andrew on the day.

Lorraine and the team helped Andrew prepare for the day. They bought him a team scarf and hat to wear on the day and made sure he was wrapped up properly. Mike suggested that lunch was a pie at the club, which wouldn’t usually be allowed according to Andrew’s carefully controlled diet plan, but just this once they agreed. Mike walked with Andrew to the club, with a staff member supporting. Andrew got more and more excited as he started spotting others all on their way to the match. “That’s my scarf! You going too! Who’s your favourite player” he shouted out. He was delighted to find that people reacted and cheered him back answering his shouts. As they got to the match they were met by the steward who helped them in through the disabled access entrance. Andrew couldn’t take his eyes of the steward, “I love your jacket. Can I have one”. Andrew and Mike found themselves in the main stands which were quickly filling. Colour, sound, excitement, noise. Andrew was enthralled. He couldn’t take his eyes off the 2,000 strong crowd. He turned to Mike and said, “this is the best day of my life”.

Later that night, Mike sat sifting through his feelings about the day. Reflecting on how it had gone he found himself pondering on what had really happened. Andrew had loved the day, but he hadn’t really paid much attention to the actual match. He had become lost in the crowd, the noise, the rapturous cheers when a goal had been scored. There was more to understand about this love of football. Mike decided to take Andrew again to the next home match and this time to more critically observe what was going on.

The next match was two weeks away. This time Mike had no problem getting agreement from all concerned. Lorraine was respectful in her conversation with Mike, he was doing a good job. Andrew had never been known to behave so well. She was even considering freeing up some staffing hours to reallocate them to another resident who she was now more concerned about. The day centre were also reporting that Andrew was much more settled than they had seem him in a long time. Mike arranged once again with the stewards to meet at the disabled access entrance. They had liked Andrew, and they invited Mike to arrive early and they offered to give Andrew ‘a bit of a tour’ of the steward’s area.

Andrew loved the steward’s area the minute he saw it. A small dressing room with facilities for a cuppa. Bright high visibility uniforms. And then came the big moment that changed Andrew’s life, “here Andrew, we’ve got a special treat for you, we’ve got you your own steward’s jacket, do you want to try it on?”. Mike watched in surprise as Andrew reverently held the high vis jacket. He was completely lost for words. The steward asked to speak to Mike, “we have a community scheme, it is a bit of a kick about, but I think Andrew would be welcome, shall we set something up?”. Mike turned to Andrew, “what do you think, do you want to do this Andrew?” Andrew stood quietly, very carefully handling his jacket “can I wear this?” yes, was the reply you can be a steward.

Andrew has been a regular now at the club for over 5 years. With support from Mike, he has moved on from his residential care home to a supported living flat where he has his own space. Andrew is a football steward for the community programme. Sometimes on big match days he helps out too. Andrew has never been more happy. His medication has been reduced, he has lost weight and he has thought about playing, but it isn’t the game he loves, it is the crowd, being part of something bigger, having people shout replies to him, being noticed and part of the community that is football.

4 replies on “To be in among the crowd”

Andrew is at last part of his community. That is all it takes to feel wanted and loved. Thank god for the social worker who understood this. Wish all social workers could understand this too.


Reminds me social work I used to do a long time ago ..take off labels and start again .stop.letting professionals determine what is best,ask the person..had a very similar case myself..took funding from £640,000 to £30,000 just by talking to the lad involved and making my mind up rather than listen to paid carers…


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