Five faces of Orkney social work

Providing services to 19 islands – a view of Orkney

Amy Taylor talks to five Orkney social workers

Russ Madge, vice chair of the social work committee at the council

Prior to living in Orkney Madge was in the music, playing guitar and keyboards and doing the musical arrangements in an 80s band called The Mobiles. The group’s biggest hit was entitled Drowning in Berlin and he was on Top of the Pops several times.

Unlike most other areas councillors in Orkney are not members of political parties instead just representing their geographical area. Madge has been a councillor since May 2007 and put in his papers to stand on the last day after being encouraged to do so by local people. He moved to Orkney eight or nine years ago.

“I came to Orkney on holiday and we [Russ and his wife] decided there and then that we were going to move here,” he says. “We came for a couple of days and ended up staying 10. I said to Sharon (his wife) I could live here and she said “so could I.”

Madge sees councillors’ lack of ties to a political party as a positive thing. “It allows us not to have to follow a party line and we can come up with an Orkney solution. Everybody has got the people of Orkney as their interest.”

Madge helps to run the Orkney Association of Youth Clubs and explains how the clubs stay in contact via video conferencing, the council having 20 video conference units available.

He says he admires the resourcefulness of Orcadians and the pace of life.

“I have lived south and know there’s a different way of life. I can appreciate the sense of belonging which comes from being part of your community.”

“You have got time to appreciate your life and it’s a different way of life.”

Roderick McLeod, chair of the authority’s social work committee

McLeod’s reason for moving to Orkney is deep-seated. In October 1939 the WW2 battleship The Royal Oak was sunk by a German u-boat in Scapa Flow off the coast of Orkney. The boat was the first battleship to be lost in WW2 and over 800 men lost their lives. A friend of McLeod’s father was sent to investigate he liked the area and bought a holiday home there. McLeod visited with his family and vowed to return one day. “I fell in love with the place as a nine-year-old,” he says.

He acknowledges that Orkney isn’t to everyone’s tastes but says those who remain are highly committed.

“We have people really dedicated to Orkney. People either leave quite quickly or they stay and get themselves organised in the Orkney way of doing things.”

Like Madge he took up his current role in May 2007 but has served two terms as a councillor before on the island, enjoying the experience.

“I enjoy being a significant cog in a small machine. If I had got a job in a council on the mainland I would have done a good job but I would have been pretty anonymous.”

McLeod was a close friend of two of the four families who had their children removed after social workers raised suspicions of satanic child abuse taking place in 1991. The case was later thrown out of court and he was present at Kirkwall airport on the day the children were reunited with their parents, having been flown back from the mainland.

An inquiry into the case followed, led by Lord Clyde. During this period Orkney was on the Scottish news every night and McLeod says that the old saying that any publicity is good publicity held true with tourism doing well in 1992, 93 and 94.

When asked what it is about Orkney that he loves the most he finds it difficult to answer.

“My trouble is I fell in love. People who fall in love are not very good at rational thinking.”

Alastair Muir, a senior social worker in the children and families team at Orkney Council

Muir worked as a social worker in a children and families team in Aberdeen for 15 years prior to coming to Orkney. He likes the travelling involved in his job which is necessary to visit clients based on different islands.

“When I worked in Aberdeen I seemed always to be in traffic. Here you look out at the breathtaking scenery and it gives you time to reflect.”

Muir is Orcadian and was born in Kirkwall.

“My love for Orkney was always there. I always came home and eventually decided that I wanted to move back for the quality of life. I don’t regret that,” he says. “You get to see a job through here and I think that gives you a tremendous sense of satisfaction that’s sometimes not true in big cities.”

Rachel Cromarty, a residential care worker on the island

Cromarty says that regular boats to mainland Scotland and Shetland and short flights to Aberdeen mean Orkney is not as isolated as some people think.

“I have friends who live in London whose commute takes longer than it does for me to get to Edinburgh.”

Most of the time she enjoys travelling to see clients but says Orkney’s winters can be harsh.

“It’s difficult if it’s really bad weather and some people’s houses are not very accessible if you have got to go up a single track,”

Cromarty was born in Orkney but all of her family apart from her dad now live in England. She moved there herself for a year but soon returned.

“It’s the fact that you can see the difference that you make not only for the people that you work with but their families and friends,” she says.

Denise Wick, a support worker for fostering and adoption at the council

Wick says that social services have good relationships with the island’s residents. She points out that even at the time of the satanic abuse allegations (see above) other families in South Ronaldsay were still receiving services, the negative publicity not resulting in them turning away help.

She says the allegations are rarely raised by residents themselves these days.

“In the last 16 years it has never been a problem. It’s a long time ago.”

Wick was born in Kirkwall. She says all of her family live in Orkney and she has never had any desire to move away

Lucy Stansfield, service improvement manager for older people at Orkney Council

Facing the challenge of an aging population presents particular difficulties in Orkney. The council only has two island-based facilities for older people – most of the long-term residential homes are based on mainland Orkney – which means that when individuals need residential care they often have to move away from their families.

Stansfield says the council recognises the issue and is set to build new facilities to help tackle it. “Visiting can be an absolute nightmare. Particularly in the winter when the ferry timetable slows,” she says.

NHS Orkney, Orkney’s health board, and the council have co-terminus boundaries. This together with the small nature of the area mean there are strong links between health and social care and many professional know each other. Stansfield says the size also means people are given opportunities that they perhaps wouldn’t have in larger authorities.

“We are quite happy to try ideas out and the joint working with the health board is really positive because you know the people you are ringing up. You are not just ringing up a name or a faceless entity.”

Stansfield moved to Orkney in 1997 after a really good job opportunity came up. She says the low crime, good schools and strong communities alongside the unique environment all make Orkney special.

“You can do so much here; you get opportunities that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. You can see things through from start to finish.”

Ian Crozier, chief executive of NHS Orkney, Orkney’s health board

The council and NHS Orkney are looking at creating a health and social care partnership consisting of primary health services and all of children and adult’s social care.

NHS Orkney is one of Scotland’s smallest health boards. It has an annual budget of £36m compared to that of around £2.5bn for the country’s larger boards. Crozier says the size and funding can make things difficult and means a merger with social care services makes sense.

“We have to achieve the same standards, we have the same targets and the same national expectations. The challenge is to deliver that with a much smaller staffing base.”

Under the previous government there had been concerns that NHS Orkney would be swallowed up into one of Scotland’s other health boards. This fear has now gone, as the new administration is against structural changes, and Crozier feels a dedicated board for Orkney is the right way to go.

“[If the board was swallowed up] we may not have had the same ability to address our own local priorities,” he says. “The centralising and local requirements for those services would have been part of a much bigger organisation.”

Elaine Grieve, assistant chief executive of the council

Like Crozier, Grieve says it’s important for Orkney to have its own health board, as the islanders deserve a dedicated service. She believes the area’s geography and size gives the council a unique relationship with residents.

“In a community like this the council is everything. It’s the great patriarch. It’s the universal protector of those that live in Orkney.”

In the past some of Orkney’s top public sector professionals have not actually lived on the islands, flying back to their homes in Scotland at weekends. Grieve says that this is viewed as a lack of commitment by Orcadians.

Grieve sees Orkney as a great place to work and live and that it needs to sell itself based on the lifestyle it can offer.

“When people apply for jobs in Orkney they are not just applying for the job. We can harness that.”

Grieve was not actually born on the islands because her mother had complications during labour and had to be rushed to Aberdeen for the delivery. But, she is keen to stress that she was back in Orkney within three days and is a true Orcadian, as she’s only briefly left the islands to study.

Duncan MacAulay, interim director of social services

MacAulay was previously director of social services at Edinburgh Council where he worked for 27 years. He came to Orkney on an interim basis in June. His contract runs until March but he anticipates being at the council until the following summer.

The council and NHS Orkney are currently considering merging children and adults social care with primary health services into a health and social care partnership. The new body would be headed up by a joint director of health and social care. MacAulay’s role, as well as managing the social services department, is to work out what the new partnership and position might look like and, if approved by councillors, to go about setting them up.

MacAulay is in favour of the partnership but checked out its credentials before accepting the interim role.

“For me it was a matter of principles that needed to be met when I was offered the job. The most fundamental was that in any future partnership relationship the importance of the social work function would remain.”

Dawn Sherwood, head of support services for Orkney’s social services department

Sherwood is currently seconded to the council’s chief executive’s office to lead a change management programme across the authority. This involves the local authority looking at how to develop better services while keeping jobs and becoming more sustainable. The possible creation of the community health and social care partnership is a part of this work.

In 2005 the Scottish government published it social work review, Changing Lives, looking at how to give social workers more responsibility, without having to move into management, take more risks and provide a more personalised service.

Sherwood has also been involved in a piece of work with consultancy Capgemini, which recently ended, looking at how to implement the Changing Lives agenda in Orkney.

“This work has been completed and it needs to be looked at in the context of the other [change management] work taking place across the council.”

She says council employees are very dedicated to the people they serve and in return the authority is good at giving people a chance.

“We are the community. It’s not about doing a job and going away. You see it through and that’s why we get a lot of opportunities.”

Sherwood has lived in Orkney on and off for 34 years and is a strong advocate for the islands.

“It’s the uniqueness of Orkney that needs to be its selling point,” she says.

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