Gillian Ballance obituary

Other lives: Social worker and lecturer who did much to help asylum seekers and refugees

My friend Gillian Ballance, who has died aged 89, was a social worker and lecturer who specialised in helping people struggling with the mental pain caused by difficult circumstances in their lives.

She began her career in 1956 as a child care officer at Hertfordshire county council, where she was eventually promoted to area children’s officer for the South Hertfordshire area. In 1970 she moved to Hatfield Polytechnic (now the University of Hertfordshire) as a lecturer in social work, simultaneously training as a Jungian psychoanalyst and eventually joining the Society of Analytical Psychology.

In her early days at Hatfield Poly Gillian convinced it to set up a full diploma in counselling. Other higher education institutions followed her lead and she later developed a postgraduate diploma in counselling at Hatfield, too.

She stayed there until retirement in 1994, immediately after which she spent several months in Mostar, following the war in the former Yugoslavia, as a volunteer with the Unicef psychosocial programme, helping traumatised children.

She then began working for Medical Foundation for the Care of the Victims of Torture (now Freedom from Torture), largely giving her services voluntarily, although she treated her work as a professional commitment. In her 80s she also volunteered for the Helen Bamber Foundation, which provides help to refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Gillian was born in Hatfield to May (nee Trower) and her husband, Alaric Ballance, who was a GP. Her father died when she was three, and in 1941 her elder brother, Denis, was killed in the second world war while serving with the RAF. After Downe House school, near Newbury, Berkshire, she studied social work at the London School of Economics and then Liverpool University, before embarking on the first part of her long career.

In her last years many of the refugees and asylum seekers Gillian had helped visited her, as did former clients from her social work days. She delighted in seeing them all again and ate the food they brought with gusto, given that she was a hopeless cook.

The painting she had started in her heyday sustained her throughout her 80s. She died shortly before her 2017 oil painting The Lonely Wait was shortlisted for the Lynn Painter-Stainers prize. It was later exhibited at the Mall Galleries in London.

She is survived by a nephew and two nieces.

Berry Dicker

The GuardianTramp

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