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advertorial

Steering the way forward

ADVERTORIAL: As Orkney, like the rest of Scotland, moves into the first phase of an easing of Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, I felt it was time to reflect on how our Local Authority has dealt with its frontline response and how we, as residents, continue to do our bit.

On that note, I must offer you my heartfelt thanks for playing your part in helping steer Orkney through these difficult times. The efforts of many of you have ensured the numbers within our islands of confirmed Covid-19 cases have remained very small and will hopefully see us come out the other side into a “new normal” way of life sooner, rather than later. We must not forget the very sad loss of two members of our community to this virus and the impact this has had on two families.

Orkney Islands Council has been proactive and reactive in its co-ordination at a local level – following national guidance, and where appropriate, shaping that to fit within our own communities.

This has meant making some difficult decisions – but all necessary to ensure that core, essential services can be maintained.

The Resilience Team has done an amazing job – particularly during the first few weeks of our response when their input was invaluable in implementing the emergency plan, setting up our emergency structures and responding swiftly to community needs.

Like all of you, we have been learning on the job – reacting to a fast-moving situation, and we cannot claim to have got it right on every occasion or with every decision.

I, in common with many others, have a strong sense of pride in Orkney so I have not been surprised to see that many go the extra mile for others in the community – whether as a key worker, by volunteering, or simply checking in on your neighbour to make sure they are okay.

Time and again I see and hear of kind deeds done by others – sometimes strangers – times of adversity can see many folk come into their own and shine.

We are half-way through 2020 – a year we will never forget – and for just shy of three months we have been in lockdown – in an uncertain state of limbo – and now as the restrictions ease slightly, I would like to ask you to remain vigilant and to persevere – we are by no means out of the woods yet.

It is great to see so many of you now enjoying socially distanced garden visits with family or friends – it shows us all what really matters in life, and I hope we never take it for granted once this is over. For many, however, close family and friends are on the outer isles or far away, and the joy of meeting up is still yet to come.

Maintain your distance, continue to wash your hands, stay within close proximity of your homes, only shop when it’s essential to do so, but enjoy your time outside while exercising, it is good for the body and mind.

Only by working together and not becoming complacent will we endeavor to get through this crisis.

The staff within OIC have been working throughout – implementing the necessary changes, keeping you informed, and now they plan for our future and how to ease the financial burden which will befall all Local Authorities. We will continue to work on how to move forward to ensure businesses across the board can once again flourish, to see the return of visitors to our islands, but, most importantly, to try and secure a positive future for all of you.

The pressure on Councils to deliver is immense, but I am confident that Orkney Islands Council has stepped up to the challenge, finding innovative solutions when hurdles emerge. That is only thanks to partnership working with other public bodies, the voluntary sector, and to your patience and tolerance of a new way of living and working.

I wanted to share with you some of the work which has been going on behind the scenes by OIC staff throughout the county.

Since Councils were tasked with putting in place grant funding streams our small teams have been working hard to process hundreds and hundreds of applications – 771 in Business Support Grant applications alone. Of the 563 approved, 543 have been paid out amounting to £6,116,250. A further 100 applications have been made to the OIC Business Hardship Support Grant and the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Grant, with just over half approved so far and £270,000 handed over. Under the Welfare Grants umbrella – just over £18,000 has been given to 45 successful applicants who applied for either a Crisis Grant or a Community Care grant.

Childcare has been provided in our two Childcare Hubs to allow key workers to continue to play a vital role in fighting the virus and online learning has become an important tool in maintaining schooling for many, and for those without access, paper packs have been made available. The Education Department has ensured ongoing provision for those entitled to free school meals – some 249 pupils per week – over 16,000 meals to date.

We have been able to restart some of our waste services. I must again thank you for your consideration and co-operation. In the first week of our recycling collections starting up again, 60 tonnes of glass recyclates was collected – we would usually only collect 60 tonnes over a two-month period. The following week a further 9.5 tonnes of plastic bottles was collected – usually our teams would collect 4.5 tonnes in a month. Last week saw around 12 tonnes of cans collected, usually that would be around 1.5 tonnes a week.

Around 18 tonnes of garden waste were offloaded at the Hatston and Garson Waste Recycling Centres within their first week of reopening for garden materials only – in context we would generally collect around 8 tonnes a week at this time of year.

Since the start of lockdown, our teams have collected 1,210 tonnes of waste from Orkney households.

The Active Schools, Sport and Leisure teams and the Pickaquoy Centre staff have been working hard throughout lockdown helping folk in Orkney remain active. Online classes such as Mobility sessions, Fatburn Extreme and Gamefit, Orkney Dance and Fitness, Yoga Orkney, Neuro Exercises, Strength and Conditioning and Poundfit have continued to run. Since Pickaquoy’s closure, 34 online classes have continued through their Facebook page with over 40,000 views in total. Pickaquoy staff have also released a series of “At Home” blogs throughout lockdown with four blogs in total and over 600 click-throughs to their website.

Over the past few weeks, fitness equipment from the KGS and Healthy Living Centres has been loaned out to 106 ActiveLife members (134 separate pieces of equipment, such as rowing machines, spinning bikes, dumbbells and aerobic steps and risers.) To keep up with what’s happening, have a look here: https://www.facebook.com/oicsportandleisure/

Finally, support to the most vulnerable members of our communities through the Coronavirus Community Support Hub has been tremendous and a great success story. There are 720 residents on the shielding list in Orkney and staff have made telephone contact with 99 per cent of them, with some 1,800 calls made and received, including 100 follow up welfare calls every week. On top of this, more than 2000 free food parcels have been delivered to those most at risk.

I wanted to give mention to some of our “hidden” staff – those in the “back office” and ancillary roles such as IT, cooks, cleaners etc – who have gone the extra mile in their own jobs, or if they were able to work elsewhere, they have done so at the drop of a hat – something which has been replicated throughout the Council.

Those are just a very small snapshot of some of the good work going on behind the scenes – there is much more.

As all our hard work begins to pay off and we start to see light at the end of the tunnel, please continue to do as we are advised, stay safe and look after each other.

Yours, Harvey Johnston, Convener