A pandemic is gripping the country and the world. The very word "corona" has shaken the world, and regardless of political strategies and methodology to combat the virus, we are all affected. Many people have approached Happy Homestead enquiring about how we are doing, what challenges we are facing during these uncertain, turbulent times.
The country has gone through a government ordered lockdown, lockdown easing, social isolation, social distancing, and many rules and guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus that has infected millions of people across the lands, and racked up an epic death toll. On our island, we are lucky to have a very low person per square mile ratio, we have space on our side and lack of populus density that is found within cities throughout the UK.
Everyone has it tough, everyone is unsure of how long this pandemic is going to alter people’s lifestyles and if life will ever get back to a way that we were accustomed to living. The new normal going forwards is uncertain, ways of life have been, and will be changed. Our version of normal is far removed from normal that most people experience, we feel that we generally have it better (although there are many down-sides) because we live in such a wonderful location.
Travel restrictions, social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine are the buzzwords in every virtual conversation. People no longer gather for funerals, pubs and restaurants have been ordered to shut and the NHS and emergency services are taking a battering. Churches have pulled the plug on services and all non-essential shops have hung up the "closed" sign for the foreseeable future. But how has the Covid–19 pandemic effected lives on a small island in the middle of the Orkney archipelago?
Luckily for us, there have relatively few confirmed cases of the virus here in Orkney. However, it is widely assumed that the virus is here amongst us, to believe differently would be naïve and play into the childish belief that "nothing bad ever happens within our quiet isolated isles".
I am unable to give a first hand account of how life has changed on Mainland Orkney and in the second smallest city of the UK – the only town worthy of mentioning in Orkney (I know a few people from Stromness will take issue with this) as I have not been to town since a month before the virus became a newsworthy talking point.
What I can tell you about is how the nationwide lockdown has changed the lives for us, a family living on one of the Northern Islands. Life has changed, but maybe not as drastically as it has for the townsfolk.
The first instance that caused us to raise a cautionary eyebrow that all was not as it should be was when the island's medical centre closed its doors to walk-in patients. Normally, if you want a chat with the Nurse Practitioner you would drop in for sound advice. Telephone consultations were now the preferred way to offer advice. When the nurses or visiting doctor needed to see people, multiple layers of protection were donned. This in itself was not a biggie for us but might be a bit of a hindrance for some of the islanders with illnesses.
People across the county were getting edgy. Usually, summer months in Kirkwall means open doors (well, ports really) to countless cruise ships, and many thousands of worldwide seafaring holiday makers trapsing around town. Many Orcadian did not want to be engulfed by a tirade of coronavirus sightseeing hosts. Luckily, the cruise ships were diverted and Orkney was cancelled as a destination port. Little did this affect us directly, but it did raise the issue of people heading to Orkney, and our island as a destination. News reports were full of campervans and motorhomes heading to the isles and highlands of Scotland as people latched onto the idea that there was likely to be a downward spiral in the cities and wanted a quiet and safe place to see out the lockdown. With their vans and holiday mindset, they potentially bought the threat of the virus ever closer, a hazard to the elderly of our areas and a heightened strain on our limited but well-functioning NHS. The powers that be reacted quickly and deliberately, limiting all ferry crossings to Orkney to only locals with medical or essential reasons for traveling. Our isle was safe from being overrun by campervanners and self-isolating twitchers.
The biggest challenge by far for us islanders was when the island's only shop and post office closed its doors to the public. No more walk-ins, no more dashing out to the only shop when you realise you have used the last of the bread yeast. No more. No mention when it would reopen the doors. It felt like the island had lost its one and only shop
Instead of doing a physical shop, email your orders in, guess the price of the items as no published prices (Only recently did the shop introduce displaying prices on the shelves), wait 4-5 days for the delivery to be made, chase up the missing 1/3rd of the order and rinse and repeat for the following week. Many people make the most of online delivery services from their favourite supermarket, but they have the software, capabilities and knowledge of running such services.
Luckily, our shop is offering the delivery service, especially for the elderly population of the island and those who are self-isolating, yet highly frustrating when a trip to the shop for essentials is essential!
Hopefully, they have a contingency plan and can continue to provide this bare minimum of a service to those that still use their services upon our isle. We noticed a lot of errors occurring with the delivery, the freshness of the fruit . . . I could continue but this is not a post about the shop and its flaws (I will save that for another blog post).
Luckily for us, a shop on a neighbouring island started delivering to us. The ease of ordering, the price and the freshness were all exemplary, and it meant that we could maintain the food shopping even if we could not take the ferry into the city to buy our supplies.
The community came together in a monumental way, and we are so appreciative to the local charity here on Eday for organizing and running the schemes that they did. With the issues regarding the shop, the charity decided to buy in its own food and distribute food boxes to every household on the island. Once a week we had a large box, if not two, of essential staples – fresh fruit and veggies, meat, tins, cereals etc. They were free as well! These boxes helped out financially and helped feed the island.
As well as weekly food parcel deliveries, the local charity organisation here on the island also funded, cooked, prepared and delivered weekly hot meals to every resident. These were enjoyed by some 120 islanders – a huge undertaking considering this was carried out by volunteers. The weekly meals varied from fish and chips, to probably the best curry I have ever had! Considering we have no restaurant or take-away shop on the island, the opportunity to have a take-out curry or fish and chips, in a proper take-away box is something that we would have to have an over night stay upon the Mainland to enjoy normally.
Overall, the community really stepped up when adversity stepped in. This sense of community and neighbourhood spirit was one of the reasons we had wanted to leave the soulless city and move to an island. And it was as perfect as you can imagine!
How will Covid-19 shape the future of the isles? That is still to be seen!
A local's view
My husband James and I moved to a remote island of Eday in Orkney Islands back in December 2016 and we've been living at the North end of this beautiful island ever since. This blog is all about my view of life on this remote island and some information that we at Happy Homestead get frequently asked for. If there is anything I didn't cover yet, be sure to contact me.
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