GFTU Young Members’ Development Weekend Experience by SWU member

GFTU Young Members’ Development Weekend 2024

(Quorn Grange Hotel and training Centre, May 10-12)

I was uncertain about what to expect from a GFTU 3-day Young Members’ Development Weekend. The event started on Friday afternoon with an icebreaker activity, human bingo, which was a fast paced and engaging networking activity with a twist on the traditional bingo. Instead of marking off numbers, participants ask a variety of interesting questions designed to get to know other delegates/comrades.

Although I was the only member of the Social Workers’ Union, I found many people who worked or studied in similar fields. I met comrades from the Bakers’ Union, Pharmacists’, NAPO (Union for Probation and Family Court), and the Communication Union. Surprisingly, I even encountered a Baker Union leader, whom I met at a past social workers’ union conference, which was a pleasant surprise. An even nicer surprise was discovering that some facilitators and colleagues shared my native language.

The Banner Theatre entertained us with a combination of projections, spoken words, and music which was exhilarating, providing me with valuable insights. The performance drew a parallel between the historic struggles of the miners and the more recent wave of industrial action taken by Amazon workers, NHS staff and teachers as well as providing an international perspective, such as the Indian Farm Workers strike.

On Saturday morning, Ben and Steve shared their fascinating undercover mission called the London Recruits which involved young white British men in their 20s entering South Africa to smuggle in leaflets, explosives, and later weapons to fight the apartheid. They played an important role in the social and political changes in this country. I will carry forward a closing quote from Bob to guide my future in social work and active Trade Union participation: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but if you stay on the side lines, you never win.”

As an individual with a profound interest in Latin American culture and the political systems of non-European communist countries, I found the Cuban Delegates’ presentation particularly captivating. The opportunity to gain deeper insights into these areas from such an authority source was invaluable and highly informative.

The presentation explores how US politicians view the blockade. As a presentation went along, I began to grasp the US and Cuban sanctions and their negative impact on the economy and healthcare. It reminded me of the Eastern European communist system I observed growing up.

As a social work student, several details piqued my interest. For example, despite Cuba’s many restrictions, its education system is thriving. They have high achievers and 24 medical schools. Medical professionals in Cuba ensure that people receive free healthcare, including regular medical appointments such as cancer screenings and pregnancy examinations. If individuals do not attend these appointments, it is not uncommon for professionals to visit their homes.

The presentation followed by Quincy’s media session provided an excellent opportunity to harness our creative digital media skills and create an inspiring advertisement. It was a great exercise to enhance our creative digital skill. My group chose the theme “Cap on…” and, after an hour of focused work and some evening editing, our team produced a fantastic ad. The interactive media project truly brought our team together and showcased our collaborative spirit. Digital media skill application will come handy for active union members.

By Sunday morning, I was ready to check out and head home, positively exhausted from the enriching experience. However, it was time for the final session with Bianca, who shared the captivating story called “Dress Up Gardening Seed Project.” She delivered plant seeds to people, with a message to come to a dress up party. The gardening seed project was designed to bring communities together to a dress up party where there was a divide and tension amongst people. Bianca also challenged us to create a ‘Human Cradle Cat’ using our bodies instead of our fingers, adding a fun and unique twist to the day.

The closing activity, “Red or Blue”, was an absolute smash. At first glance, it seemed like a simple negotiation game. Our team initially aimed for the most peaceful solution for both sides, but it quickly turned into a fierce battle. Participants really got into the spirit of the game, making it feel like a genuine negotiation scenario. I found this game to be a brilliant tool for enhancing negotiation skills. These skills are essential not only for representing colleagues but also for frontline field practice and I believe social work students would greatly benefit from it.

The organisers facilitated a set of resources and activities which created a participative inclusive environment. They blended in with the audience and we were able to share with others in an active way. They successfully fostered camaraderie. We spent most of our free time socialising with young members and “young” organisers. The attendees had a wide range of experiences, from new union members like myself (Master’s student in social work), who is relatively new to the union. I felt like I absorbed a wealth of information.

What is more, to end on a most positive note, I was lucky to be one of the winners to receive full funding to attend the legendary Durham Miners’ Gala in July, along with other GFTU delegates.

Edith Till
Social Workers’ Union Student Member (University of Bedfordshire)

Look out for future Young Members’ Development Weekends here.

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