The walk came to its end as we arrived on the Pier Head and joined the crowd of supporters, social workers, BASW members and staff who were there waiting to greet us.
There was more to come though, first that evening and then the following morning. We had a stirring arrival rally, addressed by a mixture of local activists and social work organisations, which I will but briefly mention. It was fitting that the first person to speak was Ste Weatherhead, a psychologist now based in Liverpool, who had been the originator of Walk The Talk 2015, the psychologists’ walk that had been the immediate inspiration for Boot Out Austerity. It was great to finally meet Ste and I look forward to a deepening collaboration with our friends in psychology as well as in other professions.
Ste was followed by two local speakers, first Sheila Coleman of Unite and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, and then Julie Lyon-Taylor of the Merseyside Pensioners Association, following which we had some songs from the Liverpool Socialist Singers so that we could move the crowd around to accommodate the walkers who badly needed to sit down!
Guy Jamieson, spoke next and his words had the crowd falling into an attentive quiet. Guy spoke of being a service user of a local mental health service and described the successful Save Our Sanity campaign which had stopped local centres being privatised. Guy explained how the campaign had been led by users and supported by professionals, including from the Social Work Action Network (SWAN). Rich Moth, a SWAN activist in Liverpool, who described this and other successful campaigns in an article co-written with Trish Stoll in Critical and Radical Social Work), then spoke about how campaigning around mental health and welfare reform has been continuing and developing since then.
A side note - Rich is a lecturer on the Liverpool Hope University social work course, who were tremendous partners to us on the Boot Out Austerity walk. Rich gave us the contact with PSS, whose Leeson Centre we visited on the last day, his colleague Steve Lucas walked with us two days and put up a 7-day walker on the Friday night, while Michael Lavalette secured an interview with Radio Merseyside on the final morning, as well as some coverage by Made In Liverpool TV later that day. Liverpool Hope students were also out in force, Georgie McCaugherty and colleagues joining us on a couple of days - thanks to all of them.
Fittingly, the two penultimate speakers came from the two organisations who provided the greatest support for Boot Out Austerity, Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of BASW and John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union - enormous ‘thank-you’s to them and to all their staff. Also fittingly, given their powerful presence in anti-austerity campaigning since 2010, and given that they opened the proceedings 7 days previously when Bob Williams-Findlay spoke at the meeting in Wolverhampton, the last speaker was from Disabled People Against Cuts, Rick Burgess, whose very last words were:
“The important thing is to keep fighting, and to fight with care, love, respect, and a passion for justice”.
The BASW conference the following morning was a great occasion, with the mood set by the appearance on the stage first of the 7-day walkers and then of everyone present who had walked a part of the way, and a great crowd that was. The presentations and contributions that followed were powerful and shared a focus on the need to combat austerity, develop a more poverty-aware practice, and continue to build deeper alliances between workers and those who use services. This led to a BASW AGM that culminated in two emergency motions that were overwhelmingly carried, committing BASW to continue its political campaigning, and specifically to call on its members to encourage people they work with to register and use their vote.
At the time of writing, the Boot Out Austerity walkers are contributing vigorously to this campaigning, and it is clear that for us those first 100 miles were just the start.
Guy Shennan, BASW Chair