WISEArchive The Cohen Collection

Conversations with 26 social work pioneers

We are pleased to announce the launch of an exciting new catalogue gifted to WISEArchive in 2008 by Alan Cohen. Expertly edited and annotated by Tim Cook and Harry Marsh and digitally hosted with support by Helen Ford and the Modern Records Centre at University of Warwick, this is an important collection not only in the field of Social Work but to all who have an interest in the development of the caring professions. The full texts of the 26 interviews are available online (backed up by an Introduction, extensive notes and a bibliography) but also by an online sound archive based on the original tapes that allows us to hear the voices of all 26 social work pioneers.


History of the Project

WISEArchive Chair, Pauline Weinstein, with a view to collecting stories from the Social Work field, contacted a friend Norman Caudell; ex Deputy Director of Social work in Nottingham. He suggested contacting Alan Cohen his cousin, an ex social worker who had completed 26 interviews in the 1980s. Sadly Alan had not been well enough to complete the work on them himself so was pleased to Gift the sound files & his transcripts with the copyright to WISEArchive to finish the work and digitally publish the material. Sadly Alan died before this had been completed.

All the interviews had to be transcribed from audio cassettes or from often difficult to read typescripts, containing hand-written amendments and unfamiliar names and references. WISEArchive sought volunteers who were willing and able to carry out this task in their own time, without remuneration. As WISEArchive needed to maintain its own core work, this was a slow process, but without these volunteers the work could never have been completed.

Once the transcriptions were completed the next task was to find someone to edit the material and make it ready for publication. This meant finding someone with a knowledge and understanding of social work in the 1980s; who had a recognition of the historical value of the material, an awareness of the context, and a belief in the value of publishing it. Not to mention the time, energy and dedication. Nor was there funding to pay anyone.

Eventually we contacted June Thoburn and she suggested Harry Marsh. Harry had all the right qualifications for this unusual task, and more. After a brief meeting on Liverpool Street station it was clear to me that Harry was the perfect editor and he was keen to be able to work with this historical material for WISEArchive. Together with his colleague Tim Cook, they have placed the interviews in the historical and social context of social work in the 80s, adding biographies, references and annotations to create an academically focussed production, which should be of interest to students from a variety of disciplines

WISEArchive also needed to find the right long term repository for the actual cassettes and on Harry’s recommendation we approached the University of Warwicks’ Modern Records Centre where Helen Ford has been most helpful and understanding.


All the transcriptions of the interviews are online at the Modern Records Office at University of Warwick along with their digitised sound files. Harry and Tim’s work makes for fascinating reading, placing the interviews in their social context and discussing the importance and value of both the work that was being undertaken at the time as well as the value of the interviews themselves.

There is a wonderful section on Alan Cohen himself and WISEArchive is indebted to Harry, Tim and their colleagues for this extraordinary piece of work.

In order to get a flavour we have a small excerpt from 1 of the 26 interviews.

Thomas Tinto Interview No 19.

“One house I was in touch with where the mother of a young family who had been a boarded out child, had been seriously ill and her children and her husband were up being cared for by the foster parent of the mother in her childhood, so there were long term tie-ups, although adoptions weren’t so much on the go then. But the problem of employment after boarding out was always a very, very great difficulty. The cottage that my family rented up in Iona was one attached to a croft that had had a long history of caring for children and I always remember the guardian or landlord at that time was in his 70’s and saw his end was coming. He would have liked very much to have passed his croft to one of his former boarded out boys who came back from America regularly for holidays, but this boy had married a Glasgow girl who just couldn’t acclimatise herself to life on a croft on the island..”


For the full collection please refer to Modern Records Office.http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/explorefurther/digital/socialwork

The Editors

Harry Marsh (b. 1939) moved into the voluntary sector in 1968 and ran a collective fundraising company for 100 charities for three years. From 1971 to 1988 he held a senior development post at the national office of Family Service Units (FSU) and coincided with Tim Cook’s years there as Director. (FSU employed social workers, group workers, community workers, therapists and teachers who worked with deprived families and communities.) From 1988 to 2000 he was Chief Executive of the national charity Contact a Family and promoted mutual support between families caring for disabled children. Since 2000 he has been a freelance adviser to a number of charities and charitable trusts.

He has chaired a number of voluntary bodies such as the Solon Housing Association, the Carers Alliance, the Peter Bedford Trust and the Council for Disabled Children; and acted as a long-term trustee for others such as the National Children’s Bureau and the Markfield Project. From 2004 to 2010 he was a Board member of the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).

Tim Cook spent all his working life in the voluntary sector in London which included residential work with ex-offenders and alcoholics, community work, Family Service Units (where he worked with Harry Marsh) and grant making with the City Parochial Foundation (now renamed the Trust for London). He has been on the committees of other funding bodies such as Children in Need and Comic Relief. Since ceasing paid employment he has mentored several directors of voluntary bodies. Currently he chairs the grants committee of the London Community Foundation.

He has been a member of various official committees: Home Office Working party on Habitual Drunken Offenders (1971); Department of Health and Social Security Advisory Committee on Alcoholism (1972); the Barclay Committee on the Roles and Tasks of Social Workers (1982) and for three years a member of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. Although he did not know any of the interviewees he knew well some of the people mentioned by Edgar Myers (interviewee no 15).

He has written widely on the challenges of grant- making and earlier in his career on alcoholism and vagrancy. He has also edited books on the latter subjects.

Continuing Development

As an update to the Cohen Interviews we have a modern take on working in the profession. Barbara Prynn worked as a Social Worker in more modern times, graduating in 1962.

Here she is being interviewed by Joan Rapaport in 1980.


Communications and Contacts

For comments and discussion please see our Blogwww.worpress.wisearchive and our twitter feed #@wisearchive and Like us at facebook wisearchive.

If you are looking for further information about the project or are interested in working with us or submitting your own working life history please contact us atadmin@wisearchive.co.uk

Thanks to:

Tracey Clarke, Beverley Easter, Olwen Gotts, Josephine Green, Harriet Hale, Dianne Honey, Sarah Houghton, Jennie Jackson, Louise Knight, Margaret Martin, Anne Marie Miller, Samantha Podmore, Suzy Seed, Gemma Williams

This archive entry was last updated on 12/11/2018. Information incorrect or out-of-date?
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