As a volunteer we can all feel we are doing our bit

On the Ducati around north end of Skye

By John White

Two or three times a week I have been going into Portree on a motorcycle, and picking up bags of prescriptions from Sandy Grey who collects them from the chemists.

I deliver a batch to the ‘hub’ – an empty holiday cottage in Digg – and then they are distributed to their final destination by a rota of other volunteers.

I continue around Skye’s north end and deliver to those needed in Kilmuir.

During the amazing weather, helping this community service, organised by Myra Macleod through the Skye Community Response Group, has been no hardship.

An excuse to ride a fine 800cc Ducati through our incredible landscape on practically empty roads is a total pleasure, and feeling useful to boot is a win-win situation.

I was even given fresh bantam eggs by one gentleman.

At Whitewave and home I have continued being busy tidying sheds, painting and finishing an outdoor gravel space I started 15 years ago. But with no likelihood of visitors coming to our place anytime soon, there is something slightly morose and sad about making the buildings and cabins look neat, well maintained and tidy.

It all seems a bit soulless and Marie Celeste-like with no guests.

While being locked down at home, being busy, fixing and decorating, and even dare I say it, having a good time with family, there is an emerging sense of frustration, even perhaps inadequacy.

Others are out there being essential, being key workers and worthwhile, ‘fighting’ the virus, supporting the vulnerable, while I….make a patio.

I think for many people, there is a need to feel useful, and it is perhaps why for me the motorbike ride is so important.

While there is nothing heroic about delivering a few medicines, it gets me out of the house – we might have a big cabin, but it still induces a fever.

Being part of a support network and involved in helping the community works both ways and fulfils a very real need in those helping.

Perhaps everybody wants to feel essential.

We can laud the NHS staff, care workers, shop assistants and delivery drivers, but no one is going to clap for the furloughed hospitality workers and idle outdoor instructors.

As a volunteer, however, we can all feel that we are doing our bit.

There is a huge grey area surrounding the concept of key worker and essential.

At first glance, it may seem obvious as to who is key – doctors, nurses, carers and the like but then there are the people who support them.

Key workers need paid, so require office staff. They need fed, so also use food shops.

They need to get to work, so are likely to drive a vehicle, so they need fuel. And if the car breaks down, they will need a mechanic.

They need water and electricity and the internet, and might also need a treat delivered from a mail order company during their well-deserved down time.

Then there are the people who support the people who support the people who support…and so on.

And so there emerges a whole network of service providers, businesses large and small – a web of commerce and production.

In order to provide for the frontline, a whole system of interrelated businesses exists, many which might not appear to be essential, but may provide a key element, a small cog in the big picture.

In the short term key workers can perhaps get by, but society shouldn’t allow its critical people to just muddle through, as the lockdown period extends, then the need for this support becomes more evident and relevant, and so the web of essentiality widens.

As more roles, jobs and links in society are realised and considered necessary, and indispensability spreads, recreation and tourism won’t get much of a look in.

We could argue that people need to visit the Old Man of Storr for our economic well-being as much as for their own health and well-being, but for the time being the beds and hot spots will remain empty.

So, in order to be relevant and useful, we should perhaps look to our other skills.

If tourism is our only income then we have to be creative, not only to make provision but to keep spirit and self-actualisation alive.

Economically, if tourism is a second income, the icing on the salaried or pensioned cake, then perhaps we just take the hit, and revert back to a less affluent lifestyle.

Many tourist providers left skills and talents in a previous life, perhaps now is the time to revisit and reimagine those skills.

As I understand it, Skye is still waiting.

Perhaps by the time this column is online, the virus will be more evident, during this waiting game now more than ever we need to be physically distant, and careful with how we operate.

But it is crucial that we also need to look after our mental health and well-being, and so delivering the prescriptions is really as important to volunteer as it is for the receiver.

Humans are a social animal, and we need to be part of a community, because we are all essential.