In conversation with… Conor Copas
Conor Copas on the challenges and rewards of being an Islington social worker
Why did you want to become a social worker?
I’ve been interested in people and had a passion for helping others from a young age. I was very influenced by my granddad, who had amazing values and always championed inclusivity, which I am proud to carry forward. I am so grateful for the ethics he taught me, which have influenced my studies, training, and career development.
Social services were a part of my childhood, so from an early age I was aware of its role and the impact social workers can have on individuals and families. I have also volunteered for a long time, which has given me an understanding of the challenges different groups in society face. It has taught me so much and has made me more determined to advocate and work toward a more equal future for all. I also really enjoy communicating, so having a job where it’s such a vital part of the role is really satisfying. I love overcoming challenges, testing my knowledge and skills.
Tell us a little bit about your career.
I was lucky enough to begin my social work career aged 18, starting with my degree at Queen’s University Belfast, which really shaped me. Initially I practiced social work in hospitals, but since then I’ve mainly worked with adults with learning disabilities and associated physical and mental health conditions. This involves working in partnership with their families, carers and other services.
Continual professional development is essential. I have always tried to do as much training as possible, including doing research in my own time. Being curious is also important as a social worker – as is learning from others’ experiences. Throughout my career, I have always asked for feedback to help my development and improve my practice.
I recently started Solace’s Emerging Leaders apprenticeship, to work on my project management and finance skills. Although I have line managed teams for more than 10 years, I was keen to get a formal qualification and am exploring doing a coaching qualification when I complete this apprenticeship in August. I am always hungry to learn more and share this knowledge with others.
What’s been the most helpful part of your training?
I’ve had great mentors who have believed in me and given me helpful advice. Equally, learning from others, whether through informal conversations during breaks or more structured meetings, is so important. I always gravitate to people who have more knowledge and experience than me. I want to learn from them.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Working directly with people to improve their lives and help them on their individual journey. Promoting the voice of people in society who struggle to be heard has also been so rewarding. I am very proud of my work supporting people to move out of long-stay hospitals and rebuild a new life as part of the local community – to live more independent and enriched lives.
Most recently, I have taken on the role of acting principal social worker, which is a fantastic opportunity for me to promote and celebrate the impressive work of our social work teams in Islington: our strengths-based approach, ability to address and overcome challenges, and how we constantly champion best practice.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a social worker?
If you’re looking for a challenging yet rewarding role, this is the job for you. No two days are the same and there is certainly never a dull day! You can have a real impact on people’s lives. However, the competing pressures can be testing, so you also need to be able to focus on your own wellbeing.
If you are interested in becoming a social worker, reach out and talk to someone in your local social work team to discover more about the role. I am confident you will get an honest response and guidance. I believe social work is an amazing profession and although through the years my role and title has changed, whenever someone asks me what I do, I proudly say that I am a social worker!