Being a Service Manager for Refuge and Children's Services - BA (Hons) Social and Cultural Studies graduate, Jennifer, talks about her career
Top tips from Jennifer about the skills required to do her job: '[You need to be] good with people and able to offer leadership as well as being able to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. You also need to be able to think strategically especially in this new climate of having to tender for services.'
I studied BA (Hons) Social and Cultural Studies at Nottingham University. It was the perfect course for me to decide what area of work I wanted to move into, as I was able to study from various departments and not just with the Social Science Department. The courses I took included Women's Studies, American Studies, English literature as well as several core Social Science courses. I wrote my dissertation on domestic violence and the police.
While studying I volunteered as the women's officer for mature students. This involved advocating on women's behalf at student union meetings, offering advice and information. I also volunteered at the women's centre running the library once per week during my summer holidays. This developed my skills in supporting women and made me aware that I wanted to work supporting women, however at this time I still knew very little about Women's Aid and was unaware of how I could access work within the sector.
I did consider after my course that I might train as a social worker. I was offered a place on the Social Work course at Nottingham Trent University, but turned it down in preference of a degree which would not move me into only one particular area. At this point when I still couldn't make my mind up what to do I wish I had taken up the Social Work course, but now I don't regret it at all.
I also worked as a paid worker for Leisure Services as a Youth Worker; while I enjoyed the role I was sure I did not want to pursue Youth Work as a career.
I became very interested in working with women experiencing domestic violence/abuse from a very inspirational lecturer at university who has written extensively on women's issues but especially domestic violence/abuse. She suggested that I try to volunteer for Women's Aid to gain experience, but having approached them they had no vacancies; at this time I thought Women's Aid was just one organisation.
By chance my neighbour was fleeing domestic abuse and one day fled to my house. I appeared in court as a witness and the victim support worker volunteered for one of the refuges as a committee member and I asked if I would be interested in volunteering as well.
After volunteering as a Committee member for approximately 3 years I accepted a job as a support worker on a local estate to increase my skills and experience of working in the voluntary sector.
I very much missed working within the domestic abuse field and when a vacancy came up for a co-ordinator of one of the refuges I applied and was offered the post. By this time I had gained more knowledge about domestic abuse, become a leader in charge within youth work and knew more about the voluntary sector, but was still very green.
I am still within the same role, sort of, the post has developed over the years and my official title is now Service Manager for Refuge and Children's Services for the Women's Aid Advice Centre.
There is not really a typical day at work. Every day is so different, which is partly why I have stayed in the role for so long. However, I am based at one of the refuges and first thing in the morning I will check on the staff team and if there are any particular issues within the house. This is if I don't have a meeting first thing. I then check through my emails and messages and prioritise my tasks for the day. Each day usually has a meeting within it or a supervision session (I supervise 10 staff, 6 are based in the refuge one is based at the other refuge and the others are children's Outreach workers based at other buildings). I may have to deal with an issue with a resident or talk through a complicated referral, but my job also involves ensuring that the refuges have cover; monitoring; budgeting; report writing; chairing meetings; supervising staff etc.
Skills required (not saying I have them in abundance): good with people and able to offer leadership as well as being able to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. You also need to be able to think strategically especially in this new climate of having to tender for services.
Having to tender for our services I think is definitely a negative of the job; it is a long process which takes you away from the everyday support you could offer to women and children.
The job involves attending a lot of meetings, but I see them as a necessary evil; and I hate finances, but can't do the job without having to do a bit of it.
Positives are this is a very rewarding job because at the end of the day we are saving lives, and seeing a woman move into independence is great. While I moan that things are always changing, I know that I would not still be in the role if it didn't and it makes the job very interesting.
I think I have developed within the role. Because the organisation has changed so much in the past 10 years my role has changed too and developed me. I started as a co-ordinator, moved to being a Project Manager, and I am now a Service Manager and I don't think I want to move beyond that role, I would have to work even harder, and I am ready for an easy life... If the right role came up I might consider it, but at the moment I am very happy in my role. I have considered applying for director roles, but I have also considered going back to being a support worker as I miss the one to one support I used to offer.
The role does require you to work evenings and weekends, and if the team need support out of hours it would be via me, but really mostly it is up to me to manage my time.
I think I could do with a better work-life balance and spend more time at home, but given that my son is now grown it works fine. If he was younger, I think I would find it difficult. Because you are dealing with the safety of people, staff and service users, work does have to take priority when something is needed, but I manage to have a good social life.
Also the people I work with are very good. They try not to bother me unless it is essential and the management of me is flexible.