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Home carer uses tractor to reach vulnerable people in Orkney snow drifts

Kayleigh Swannie
Kayleigh Swannie

A determined home carer has been praised for going “above and beyond” by battling severe weather, including 5ft high snow drifts, to reach vulnerable people.

Kayleigh Swannie, 22, didn’t give up when her vehicle became stuck in deep snow while attempting home visits in Orkney, and was able to reach those needing assistance in a tractor driven by her partner Kevin Johnston.

Ms Swannie, a relief home carer with Orkney Islands Council homecare service, set off  from her home in Stromness before 7am on Saturday during storms that hit the north and north east, but was trapped by snow near Voy in Sandwick.

“I got about 3-4 miles when it started getting bad and not long after that I just wasn’t able to move the car it was so deep.”

She called Mr Johnston for help, but he first had to clear 4ft high drifts around his property at Swartland Road in Dounby.

The mechanical engineer then took more than an hour to plough through four miles of snow to reach Ms Swannie and towed her vehicle back to his home.

The pair later headed back into the wintry conditions, with the tractor allowing nine home visits to mainly elderly people to be carried out in the Dounby area.

“I was determined to carry on”, said Ms Swannie, who has been a relief home carer since 2017 and is also studying accountancy at college.

“A lot of other carers were stuck and some visits had to be cancelled. But there were ones you couldn’t cancel as they couldn’t cope by themselves and we just had to get to them.

“They depend on you a lot and they were really thankful we made it and were glad to see us.

A tractor was used to reach vulnerable people

“I’ve never experienced anything like this before – the snow was blowing back in as fast as we were clearing it and easily 4-5 ft high in places.

“I can hardly believe it still, but thanks to Kevin and the tractor we were able to get around safely.

“Although Saturday was the worst, it has been tricky for about a week. I left my car on many occasions at the bottom of roads and walked through the snow to get to folk’s houses.

“Anyone would do the same – we are in the home care profession to help others, especially given some of the folk we visit are among Orkney’s most vulnerable. It was important to do all we could to ensure the visits could go ahead if at all possible.”

Mr Johnston spent the rest of Saturday helping dig out others who had become stuck and clearing roads. He and Ms Swannie also continued the next day – her day off – in the tractor helping a massive community operation to clear the island roads.

Her actions were praised by Gail Harvey, registered manager Orkney Health and Care, Care at Home Responder Service.

She said: “Kayleigh’s dedication to the vulnerable folk in our communities that she assists know no limits as was demonstrated in the recent extreme conditions she encountered on her route.

Drifts were up to 5ft high

“In true Orcadian style she wasn’t going to let 5ft high snow drifts stop her carrying out her visits and ensuring the service users were also weathering the storm.

“It is this kind of resilience and determination that makes our homecare team so fantastic – and we are aided by a generous community spirit also, with Kevin thinking nothing of spending all day helping Kayleigh and others.

“I am incredibly proud of Kayleigh and the rest of our home carers and responders who carried on despite the challenging conditions to ensure others were OK.

“Our home carers enter the profession because, by their nature, they want to care for others – they certainly proved they were willing to go above and beyond this past week.”

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