Obituary: Alan Small, 74

Alan Small was an outstanding teacher and communicator
Alan Small was an outstanding teacher and communicator
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Alan Small, a leading proponent of youth and community work, has died, aged 74.

Mr Small was a creative thinker, teacher, and a passionate youth and community worker.

The third child of Jean and Leonard Small, one of Scotland’s most charismatic preachers, Alan and his siblings grew up in manses while Leonard was minister of West High, Kilmarnock, Cramond and finally St Cuthbert’s Parish Church in Edinburgh.

He gained an MA from the University of Edinburgh and looked set to follow his father into the ministry. After studying divinity, a brief spell as an assistant minister followed but he then shifted direction towards education and social work.

In the early 1960s, he and his first wife, Moira, moved to Aberdeen. Two years at St Katherine’s Club and Community Centre seeded a lifelong interest in how to relate to vulnerable young people. After gaining a diploma in education from Moray House, they returned to Aberdeen where Mr Small taught at Summerhill Secondary.

Regarded as an exceptional teacher, he involved pupils in lessons by asking orchestrated and searching questions, an approach that won their interest.

In 1967 the couple left Aberdeen for Atlanta, Georgia, where Mr Small taught English at Westminster Middle School. The following spring Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Mr Small later described walking in the 90-degree heat of Atlanta as part of the funeral march for Dr King, joining other mourners in the hymn I’m Not Ashamed To Own My Lord.

Back in Edinburgh, he taught community and social work at Moray House, and, from 1972, he was an Inspector of Informal Further Education at the Scottish Office.

His outstanding skills lay in communicating with young people and those working with them. His ability to cross the bridges between be-suited inspector and young people, sometimes in testing circumstances, meant that he could bring daylight into a discussion with senior staff like few others.

He played a major role in producing the first significant national report by HMI on Youth Work in Scotland. It captured and conveyed his specific talent for listening, and for being open and non-judgmental with young people.

In 1987 he remarried, to Mary, and their daughter, Lucy, was born in 1992. For the past 22 years he has been a highly distinctive, well-liked and vibrant figure within the Inverleith community of Edinburgh. On retirement, Mr Small worked as a consultant with an array of voluntary sector organisations, including national youth agency Young Scot, and drugs education charity Fast Forward. In 2008 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Youth Worker of the Year Awards.

He is survived by Mary, his children Steven, Patrick, Mike, Chris and Lucy, seven grandchildren, brother Ron and sister Catriona. His other brother, Colin, died in January.