Well, times they are a-changin’…. again.
The people we serve from the COVID support Hub have been advised that they no longer need to shield from the end of July. This will be a long-awaited escape for some, others see it as a frightening exposure to increased risk. This dichotomy is reflected throughout Orkney. Many of its inhabitant’s income is derived from tourists spending their money locally. Without the tourists, the economy will suffer, but people coming into Orkney may bring the virus with them…
We have contained and controlled the virus in our small community, accessible by either plane or boat. To date, we have had 9 confirmed cases. But now the doors have opened, many are concerned about a second wave. Many places have seen spikes in their COVID cases leading to tightening of restrictions, so, understandably, people are worried. But like many locals I want to see my family, I will get my daughter home in August for the first time since Christmas.
I will be moving with the COVID Support Hub to Stromness, Orkney’s second-biggest town at the start of August. The Pickaquoy Leisure Centre where we have been housed and looked after (brilliantly, I may add) for the last few months need to plan the reopening of their services. We will be moving to the library until the next stage of planning is decided. I will miss my pool view and the coffee machine (which unfortunately won’t fit in my car), but I will have a lovely view of Stromness Harbour. Now that shielding and the food box deliveries have paused, we are shifting our focus to supporting people who have ongoing concerns and issues relating to COVID.
The day job is continuing as social work always does. I find that after a worryingly quiet period when the lockdown started, my social work role is getting increasingly busy and my caseload is growing again. It is a difficult time, trying to balance needs and risk with the reduced services available. Some people who have cared for loved ones are tired and worn-out, they need support and respite. In Orkney, our day centres and respite services remain closed at the time of writing. Reopening these services safely is an enormous challenge requiring complex risk assessments. But when they reopen will people wish to attend? There has been much in the press about the impact that COVID has had in Care Homes and whilst the virus is out there our elderly and vulnerable people certainly need protection, they also need care and so do their carers.
There are so many unknowns. We have been supported by dedicated and caring volunteers who have aided us here in the Hub and supported the wider community, but they need to return to work. Many of the call handlers in the Hub have been recalled to their previous posts. I am sad to see ‘last shift’ beside their names and I think they are sad to be leaving us. They came to a new role with no experience of care services, they supported vulnerable, distressed and sometimes angry people, and they did it with warmth and sensitivity. It is hard for them to let go of the relationships they have built up with the people they telephoned over the last few months, but that is surely a testament to how much of themselves they have given. I am heartened that after spending time in the Hub, some of the call handlers are considering new roles which support other people.
I don’t know what will happen after the hub closes in its present form. But I do know we will all face reduced resources and access to funding. There will no doubt be cuts and losses and our most vulnerable will, as always, face the worst of it. There will be re-examining of decisions, blame and repercussions, these always come when people are hurt, angry and frightened. But there will be people who are stronger and more aware of their worth. Some people will take life by the throat and ring the last ounce of joy from it, they will see how fragile life truly is, they will listen better, care more and love easily. I hope to be one of them!