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Insight: Life in Lockdown - the view from Orkney

As lockdown restrictions start to ease, Sarah De Rees, part of the Orkney Islands Home-Start team, reflects on the experiences of families there.

Life on a group of small islands has its unique qualities. Orkney is a collection of 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. It has a population of about 22,000, most of whom live on the largest island called Mainland.

Our islands have a strong sense of community. People are connected, either by family links or acquaintances. You never know if you have just met your best friend’s cousin!

This is not all happy and romantic however as, for many vulnerable individuals, being part of such a close community with a relatively small population comes with incredible challenges.

In the weeks since the country went into lockdown, the full force of community spirit has been felt by all. With the power of Facebook, an Orkney Coronavirus Mutual Aid Group sprung up within days.

Neighbours are dropping off shopping for those in isolation, and businesses across the islands – independent grocers, butchers, bakeries, breweries and clothes shops – are doing all they can to ensure people are getting their essential supplies by delivery.

Home-Start Orkney, like Home-Start groups across the country, has adapted to working from home. We have a great team and are working hard to stay connected with our families. Our weekly Zoom group sessions have proven to be a hit and our families are coping well.

For some, particularly families living on the smaller North isles, this kind of isolation, albeit in a less strict format, is not unusual and life hasn’t changed that much. Transport links between the islands are limited, so attending our events has always been a challenge. People are used to planning ahead and not having a wide variety of playgroups or services available.

Those families are still walking distance from a beach and have more freedom than those living in Kirkwall or Stromness, the main towns of the Orkney Mainland. While currently people are not allowed to travel on and off the islands, there are exceptions for families with special circumstances.

For the families who live on Mainland or the South isles, which are better connected by the Churchill Barriers, staff can provide immediate, practical support by dropping off supplies. But, like everyone, our families are missing playgroups and seeing friends and family.

Families with poor or no internet access are feeling particularly isolated just now, and this can also add to the challenges of working from home. However, many are also enjoying time at home with the children. They have time to do baking and crafts rather than having to rush to a swimming lesson or school pick-up. Many also comment on how lucky they are to live in such a sparsely populated, beautiful place.

There has been financial support coming our families’ way too. Orkney Islands Council is doing its best to support residents financially as well as practically. The Community Resilience Fund provides support for groups working with vulnerable people, and every isles resident is allocated £5 per week for the next four weeks to spend in their local shop as, with ferry travel being restricted, people are no longer able to shop in supermarkets in town where prices may be cheaper.

Home-Start Orkney is going to be working in partnership with our local Salvation Army to distribute activity packs for children, and we have just received a grant from the STV appeal to distribute among our families.

Families are adjusting to a slower pace of life closer to home and appreciating the space that they have on their doorstep. And for vulnerable individuals, lockdown can come as a welcome time to carry less of the world on their shoulders and breathe.

Although at Home-Start Orkney we had to adapt to socialising via the internet and providing telephone support, families know that as key workers, we are here when they need us.

We feel united in that, for once, we are going through and will come out of this together.

Sarah De Rees, Home-Start Orkney

This blog was first published in our Members' area on 4 June, 2020

About the author

Sarah De Rees works for Home-Start Orkney

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