Orkney Islands Council is proud of its workforce – many of whom will be your friends, neighbours or relatives - with over a quarter of Orkney’s working population employed with the local authority.
A closer look at some of our 2,700 staff has revealed a treasure trove of community-spirited and selfless individuals.
Despite only scratching the surface, we have already found many Council staff who are giving their time freely and willingly to benefit others. Those who are – outwith their local authority jobs – helping others to lead better and safer lives, improving the communities we all live in.
They don’t just ensure that vital services continue to operate at all times – they also go the extra mile through volunteering or charitable work at home and away.
We want to share some of their stories with you.
Joan Jones helps save people’s lives.
When the darkness descends and many are having suicidal thoughts, Joan has been there as a listening ear, helping to explore people’s feelings and emotions through the Samaritans of Orkney.
Joan, who is an Accounting Officer with Orkney Health and Care, has from this month (June) been elected as Branch Director for the local branch of the Samaritans of Orkney charity for a three-year term.
This role will see her support the volunteers, ensuring their health and wellbeing and making sure that the Samaritans core ideas of confidentiality and respect are upheld along with many administration and managerial tasks associated with a small branch of a larger charity.
Unfortunately, most people will know someone who has taken their own life – suicide has affected Joan twice and, as such, she has witnessed the devastating effects this can have on family and friends.
“That is why I wanted to help in some way,” she said. “I began three years ago as a listening volunteer after seeing a poster in the local GP’s surgery. I had thought to do some volunteering and this appealed to me. After my probationary period I was asked to work as a leader and then have been depute director for the past 18 months.”
Joan, who has been employed with the Council for 33 years (15 of those in her current role) says many people and organisations have been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, including many who rely on the services of Orkney Health and Care (OHAC).
OHAC is a partnership between the Council and NHS Orkney, which aims to improve and develop social care, community health and wellbeing. The partnership has, to date, been responsible for the delivery of the full range of the Council’s social work and social services, for all age groups and service user groups, and NHS Orkney’s community-based health services since 2011, under joint management arrangements. It is accountable to both OIC and NHSO.
“In my day-to-day role with Orkney Health and Care my main responsibility is assessing service users for their contribution towards their care, general financial enquiries, administration of the self- directed support options and anything else that crops up! The main change is I now work out of my fourth bedroom instead of the corner of the top floor of the Paterson building. It has made work harder as a lot of my files are hard copy so I have to keep asking people to print and scan documents over to me. But we made it through one full year so onwards and upwards hopefully.”
It has been reported that due to Covid and the onward ramifications, the number of calls to Samaritans has increased by over a third – and this is at a time when fundraising has also been incredibly difficult due to the pandemic and restrictions.
“I know as a branch we have never been so busy during our duty times,” Joan said. “Covid has massively affected people’s mental health. There are a lot of people out there who are genuinely scared of this virus and a lot of people have not been with their normal support systems during the pandemic, folk they could rely on and seek support from when they may have had a ‘down’ day to cheer them up.
“With that social and support interaction missing a lot of folk have turned to charities like the Samaritans to keep them going. Our calls are anonymous unless someone wants to give us their name. However, we do record some information for statistical purposes and have now included a Covid-19 tag so that we can provide information on how many calls are now Covid-related.
“It really has surprised me how many people just need someone impartial to listen to them when they have a bad day. Samaritans is non-judgmental and at the core of the charity’s work is to reduce the number of suicides every year.”
However, Joan also feels that in some ways Covid has opened up the discussion surrounding mental health and how it can affect anyone, at any time.
“I think mental health still carries a stigma but perhaps with people like the Royal family speaking openly about it some might seek help when they never would have thought to do so before.”
Fundraising is challenging for many charities at any time, however Covid has exacerbated this.
Samaritans of Orkney were successful in receiving a number of grants last year – from the Mind On charity shop, the National Lottery (to start a new face-to-face project to allow wider access to the Orkney public), Orkney Islands Council who gave a grant through their funds for voluntary organisations and a donation from Stromness Academy pupils who chose Samaritans of Orkney as their chosen charity after winning a national competition.
Joan was born and brought up on the North Wales coast. She went to college in Bolton to study Business and Finance and, after moving to the county in 1987, topped this up with a degree in Maths from the Open University and Association of Accounting Technicians through Orkney College. She is also a qualified workplace coach and first responder for the Council.
She is married to Brian, who is well-known locally as the islands’ Brass Teacher. Although they have no children, Joan says they have a series of “mad cats”.
While Joan relishes the relaxed pace of life in Orkney, there are many who struggle day-to-day.
“For the most part my role at the Samaritans has been very rewarding. You can come off a call or write an email to someone and at the end of it think that in some small way you may have helped that person to think again about maybe taking their own life. They can be assured that we are there to listen and won’t just dismiss anyone as if you are having a bad day.”
She would wholeheartedly encourage others to volunteer.
“The beauty of the Samaritans is the training is exceptional and before you even go near the public you are pretty much expecting what you will get – including misuse of service calls. The volunteers are a great bunch and there are only 11 of us at the moment so we are quite a tight knit group. The support for each other is tremendous and you are never alone. Follow up calls between your leader for the night (another volunteer) can go on for days afterwards if they thought that you had had a poor night and there may be things concerning you. There are always two of you on duty at the same time so there is always someone to ‘debrief’ to. You are never left without help.”
Samaritans is open 24/7. They have a freephone number 116123 that is manned by volunteers like Joan 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They also run an email service - email@example.com - where they aim to answer every email with 24 hours (usually they are answered within a few hours). They are also developing online chat services at present.
For further information please visit www.samaritans.org where you can find out about their work in communities and how you can get involved.