Orkney Islands Council has started a campaign to highlight the selfless work some of its workers do in addition to their paid jobs.
In the second part of our series on the county’s unsung heroes, we look at volunteers going over and above to help the Samaritans and Blythswood Care.
In her day job, Joan Jones has seen the effect Covid has had on people and organisations.
The impact has also been felt in her voluntary role, as more people seek help from the Samaritans during the pandemic.
Joan has worked for Orkney Islands Council for 33 years, the last 15 as an accounting officer with Orkney Health and Care (OHAC).
She has also volunteered with the Samaritans of Orkney for three years and has just been elected as branch director.
‘I wanted to help in some way’
Many families know someone who has died from suicide and Joan has been affected twice.
“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 a probationary period she worked as a leader and, for the last 18 month, has been depute director.
Joan says many of those affected by the pandemic rely on the services of OHAC, a partnership between the council and NHS Orkney.
It delivers social work and social services, as well as community-based health services.
According to the Samaritans, mental ill-health was the most common concern in contacts during the year since Covid restrictions began. It was raised in almost half (47%) of emotional support calls.
Loneliness and isolation were also concerns in 29% of calls.
Joan said: “I know as a branch we have never been so busy during our duty times. Covid has massively affected people’s mental health.
“There are a lot of people out there who are genuinely scared of this virus. A lot of people have not been with their normal support systems during the pandemic. (These are) folk they could rely on and seek support from when they may have had a ‘down’ day to cheer them up.
Covid has helped start discussions on mental health
“With that social and support interaction missing a lot of folk have turned to charities like the Samaritans to keep them going.
“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 feels that Covid has helped 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.”
There are a lot of people genuinely scared of this virus.”
She said her 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.”
Samaritans is open 24/7. A freephone number 116123 is manned by volunteers and it runs an email service – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joyce’s desire to help those less fortunate
Another employee who has given more than 30 years’ service to the council is Joyce Gray.
She began as a clerical assistant with the Orkney Museums and Heritage Service, later becoming a museums assistant and education officer.
She was later an administrator and then assistant project officer for the Scapa Flow Landscape Project Scheme.
For the past 11 years, she has been a clerical assistant with the criminal justice section in Orkney Health and Care.
In her spare time she creates knitted items for those less fortunate overseas.
Joyce, whose family have lived in Orkney since at least the 1500s, was knitting before she started school.
Her mother Hazel is also a keen knitter and a regular contributor to the Blythswood Shoe Box Appeal and other good causes.
She believes the pair have made up more than 200 shoeboxes as well as other packages for Blythswood.
Joyce said: “I can’t remember how it all started as my mum and I have been doing this for so long, about 14 years.
“I think I saw an advert for the Christmas Shoe Box Appeal and was moved by it, so I started buying naked teenage dolls from charity shops.
“I don’t feel sympathetic for dressed dolls, but naked ones need TLC, so I buy these and knit/sew clothes for them.
“I turn the shoe box into a bed by making a mattress, pillow and duvet. The dolls are then warm for their journey to wherever they are going.”
‘Someone somewhere will enjoy opening their box’
As well as boxes for boys and girls, boxes containing a hat, scarf and gloves, and other items including soap, cloth and comb, are also sent to older age groups.
Among the special items Joyce has made is a large crocheted blanket: “It is made from wool from friends, colleagues, charity shops and, best of all, from my gran and son-in-law’s gran.
“They have now both passed away so it’s lovely to have something made from a contribution from so many folk.
“With so many bits of wool left over from this project I crocheted around 18 baby blankets over the last few years.
“Folk are very kind and it’s not unusual for me to come in to work and find balls of wool, sewing stuff, craft materials or naked dolls on my desk donated by lovely colleagues.”
The boxes are delivered to McAdie & Reeve for onward distribution to the Blythswood charity.
“I like to think that someone somewhere will enjoy opening their box and have something that gives them pleasure.”