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Belfast Met lecturer invited to the World Conference on Social Work held in Panama

Gerry Skelton Thumb

Belfast Met social work lecturer, Gerry Skelton MBE was recently invited to the World Conference on Social Work, held in Panama, April 4th-7th, 2024. The IFSW, IASSW and ICSW joint conference theme was ‘Respecting diversity through joint social action’.

Gerry has been a relentless campaigner for many marginalised issues and groups, including those who are homeless. Indeed, he ran his well-known Homelessness Awareness Panel (HAP) events for a decade at Belfast Met, receiving a social work award for his innovative work in this area in 2013, and various other accolades for his tireless work. In many ways the invitation for Gerry to present his work on homelessness to a global audience is a fitting testament to his local, national, and international impact. 
When first approached to present at the World Social Work Conference, the invitation stated: “Congratulations, Gerry Skelton. The Academic Committee considers your work represents a great and significant contribution”. Gerry was invited as part of “a select group of speakers” from across the world to come to Panama; and “These presentations are made by national and international speakers who are leaders in the different topics”.

For a variety of reasons, Gerry chose to offer his narrated presentation online, with his title: 
‘Of no fixed abode: An ecological approach to Homelessness in social work education, training and practice (Northern Ireland)’.
Reflecting on the whole experience, Gerry Skelton MBE said: “I was honoured, flattered, excited, and absolutely delighted to be invited as a speaker to this prestigious World Social Work event. It is not often in one’s career that such opportunities are offered and I’m proud that I was able to represent Belfast Met on the global stage. I have given a lot of my personal and professional time, energy, and attention to ensuring social work takes homelessness seriously, and this fabulous invitation was a vindication of my work and efforts. Furthermore, this was my final act as a Belfast Met lecturer and what a fantastic way to conclude my 32+ years at the college”.

As the conference ended, the Conference Organising Committee contacted Gerry to say: “Dear Gerry Skelton. On behalf of the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development, we would like to express our sincere appreciation for your participation in this event. Your presence made the occasion truly special and memorable”.

Sharon Rivers (Head of School) commented: “Once again, I want to say a big congratulations and well done on having your presentation proposal accepted by the conference organisers, Gerry. This is an accolade and recognition of your significant contribution to understanding homelessness and its impact”.
Sinead Lemon (CAM) added: "On behalf of Belfast Metropolitan College, I would like to thank World Social Work Conference for giving Gerry the opportunity to share his wealth of experience with the world. Gerry has been working in social work education for over 30 years and has contributed greatly to social work in Northern Ireland through his passion and commitment to tackling issues such as poor mental health, poverty, anti-sectarianism and in particular homelessness. He is a tireless advocate supporting others and raising awareness of issues that continue to impact people in our local society. It is a great honour that he can highlight good practice in Northern Ireland and represent our college with this opportunity”.

Finally, the College Principal and Chief Executive, Louise Warde-Hunter concluded: “I am immensely proud of Gerry’s distinctive contribution to this global social work conference. What a fitting end to his distinguished lecturing career and long service at Belfast Met, to represent the College on the world stage, bringing his professional experience, wisdom, and humanity to share with others”.

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