Bob Holman died at the age of 79 on 15 June 2016. Terry Philpot has written an excellent obituary, which appeared in The Guardian on 16 June, and this brief note is not intended to rival his work, but to add a few extra angles.
Bob's importance to CCHN was that he was one of our Patrons. Each of them has fulfilled the role for three years, so that typically there have been three Patrons at any one time. Their duties have been minimal, and part of the purpose in creating the role was to be able to honour people who have made a difference in the lives of children, and who have appreciated the importance of history in the development of services for children, young people and their families.
Bob scored on all counts. He was experienced in the field as a Child Care Officer before becoming an academic, and having worked his way up in academia to become a Professor at Bath University, he took the unusual route of returning to work in the community, so that he could have direct contact with people who needed help. As Terry Philpot's obituary describes, Bob spent the last forty years helping people cope with housing problems, benefits claims and all the other difficulties which come with poverty and city life. He lived with the people he served, in Bath for a decade and then in Glasgow. He lived in accordance with his Christian beliefs and socialist ideals, and earned the soubriquet 'Saint Bob'. He was a genuinely good man, who supported and helped all sorts and classes of people.
He helped child care history both by writing about the early days of the Children's Departments following the Children Act 1948, and by being CCHN's Patron, joining in, and contributing to, meetings we held in Glasgow.
Bob will be much missed and long remembered. The Guardian's letter columns will be the poorer for his demise. Having taken the radical decision to live within communities he served, he was well placed to call on the consciences of those making well-paid livings out of social services. Although Bob managed to make me feel guilty at times for earning a Director's salary, I think that the more important point was the debate his approach triggered.
When David Hope was Bishop of Wakefield he pointed out to me that in the poorer parts of his diocese the clergy were the only professionals still living among their parishioners. Doctors, lawyers, teachers and social workers all lived in more salubrious, middle-class areas with better schools, restaurants and delicatessens. I do not want to overstate the point, but movements in society have segregated people into groups. The salaries of professionals in the helping services are often earned in the poorer areas but spent in the more affluent parts.
Bob Holman was a one-off, but his example throws up the real question whether the stratified society we have created is the best way for communities to live. How would it affect the nature of society if all professionals were to live among the people they serve? I can guess what Bob's answer would be, but if communities were healthier if they were to consist of a broad social mix, how could that be achieved? Would someone like to fund a Bob Holman Social Integration Prize for the best developments in creating socially healthy communities? Bob and Annette may have been only one couple, but their example could be the yeast to create a different sort of society.