Liz Brown

29 June 1951 – 23 November 2017

We are devastated to announce the death of Liz, our beloved friend and work colleague.

Liz had a long and successful career as a social worker. She worked for over 30 years in social services departments in Devon, Bristol and Gloucestershire, and she was a child protection co-ordinator for Gloucestershire from 1992 to 2000. She was passionately committed to supporting vulnerable children and families and to a social work approach that was all about ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing to’ families, that was humane and compassionate, that took account of the socio-economic context of families’ lives, and that kept a clear focus on working to achieve the best outcomes for children. 

We first met Liz in 1997 when we worked with her on a project commissioned by her local authority to improve understanding of the patterns of need among children and families in contact with children’s social care. Struck by the similarity of our thinking, we went on to set up RyanTunnardBrown, the small independent consultancy that we have run together for 15 years.

Liz was a wonderful colleague as well as a very good friend. We worked together on many projects – audits of need, service development, evaluations – and Liz worked independently too. She had an extremely clear vision about the importance of analysis in assessment work, and of clarity and simplicity when making plans for children and families. She was equally clear that any change in social work practice required changes in the understanding and attitude of middle and senior managers. This was not always a popular message in local authorities, but she was constantly prepared to hold her ground, often winning round sceptical managers: “The needs-led training has been inspirational. It has been a privilege to be part of it. I’ve learned more than I could have imagined” said one senior manager. As well as working in many English local authorities, Liz worked extensively in Wales and was embarking on a number of different projects with Welsh authorities at the time of her cancer diagnosis. 

Liz’s desire to change practice in relation to assessment and planning for children involved her in teaching and coaching social workers, managers, family support workers and others. She was a brilliant trainer. She was interested in everyone she met, curious about how she could tune into what drove their commitment to children and their families. Her empathy and passion combined to make her sessions lively opportunities for people to find practical ways of revitalising their practice. When we admired her for these qualities she would smile and say that we had to search for ways of switching on light bulbs. In our sorrow at our loss, we take comfort in the thousands of lights across England and Wales that glow because of her work. Long may they shine. 

Others say similar things. Susannah Bowyer from Research in Practice wrote, about her work in relation to analysis in assessment: “The work she led for us has had, and continues to have, incredible reach and influence on social work practice and is one part of an amazing professional legacy.”

Liz had a very full life beyond work. She lived for her growing family, she had many long-standing friends, and she grew new friendships at every turn. She was politically engaged; she loved reading, music and the theatre; she had a brilliant sense of humour and fun; and she was an amazing gardener. She made magic in each garden she created, most recently in the garden of the stunning converted barn the family moved into just before Liz became ill and where she planted an apple orchard and apple arbour along with beautiful flower beds.

Liz was kind and caring, funny and stylish, a gift to the world, and she will be deeply missed by her family and friends. She leaves behind her husband Simon; her children Hannah and Will; their partners Joe and Cher; her grandchildren Ella, Max and Lyla; her brother Tim; and her mother Barbara.

Mary Ryan and Jo Tunnard