​Housing officer showing compassion is Council’s Employee of the Year 


Highland Council Employee of the Year Gail Ward with Council Leader Margaret Davidson and Norman MacLeod

Gail Ward, a Housing Policy officer with The Highland Council has been named Employee of the Year for the care and compassion she has shown in welcoming Syrian refugees to the Highlands and her work to ease the impact Welfare Reform has had on individuals.

In nominating Gail, Head of Housing David Goldie said:: “Although Gail has always been a strong member of the team and displayed a genuine commitment and enthusiasm for the work she does, my reason for nominating her for this award relates to her willingness to take on and embrace the challenges associated with two of our most significant areas of work over the last year.”

The first area relates to Welfare Reform. As the first Local Authority to undertake the roll-out of Universal Credit, Gail has been at the forefront of what is a national policy issue and provided experience based advice to the UK Government, Department of Work and Pensions, COSLA and other social landlords, including Councils and Housing Associations nationally.

David said of Gail: “She genuinely cares about the impact welfare reform has on individuals and has worked tirelessly to help tenants with their problems and cope with fundamental changes to the way they receive their income.”

As well as this role, Gail has also played an important part in the Syrian Refugee Resettlement programme. This work has required considerable planning using her excellent organisational and motivational skills to ensure the Council was able to welcome the first Syrian Families to Highland earlier this year. As well as closely working with colleagues and partners , Gail has had a very hands on role in building relationships with the individual families and supporting them through the difficult process of arriving and settling into a strange environment after the trauma of surviving the civil war and fleeing their country.

David adds: “Gail has shown a genuine compassion and gone well beyond her normal work remit to make this project a success. She has dealt with many obstacles, unexpected events and personal problems experienced by the families with the perfect balance of calm professionalism and genuine empathy. Without her personal involvement, drive and determination, our ability to meet these challenges would have been significantly poorer.”

Gail was presented with her award from the Leader of the Council at a ceremony held last night in Smithton Church in Inverness.

Also short-listed for Employee of the Year for their outstanding contributions were Wanda Mackay, a Youth Worker with High Life Highland and Shirley Jack, Manager of The Orchard, the Council’s Respite Centre in Inverness for children with disabilities.

Wanda, who is based at the Black isle Leisure Centre, provides strong guidance and leadership and thanks to her skills in attracting external funding, the youth work projects in the area have been able to grow and develop.

Youth Work Manager Nigel Brett Young said: “When individuals were asked to contribute towards this nomination the flood of responses was overwhelming. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because I’ve known for a long time how much high respect and love is actually placed upon her. “Wanda Woman” is inspirational and selfless; she is confident and trustworthy. She genuinely empowers young people and encourages community voices to be stronger and make a difference. And, she does this while always having a bright and bubbly personality.”

Since becoming Manager at The Orchard in 2014 Shirley Jack has risen to the challenge of managing a large staff in an extremely busy centre.  Caring for the children with complex needs compassionately and effectively is always her priority, along with ensuring staff are well supported.

In her nomination, Programme Manager Malina MacDonald-Dawson said: “Regardless of any hurdle, Shirley finds a solution.  She is calm under pressure, passionate about the children and staff in her care, honest and determined.”

Families and carers of the young people who use the services that The Orchard provides are just as enthusiastic in their praise. One parent said: "The Orchard is a fantastic place that feels homely and makes me feel comfortable and confident in the knowledge that my child is safe, happy and very well looked after by competent and caring staff."

The Awards, sponsored by Viridor, Zurich Municipal, Tusker, E-On Energy and Hub North, were hosted by broadcaster and STV presenter Norman MacLeod. 

Eoghan Stewart, a Gaelic Teacher at Alness Academy received the Community Award for his work in organising The Cupa Iomain na h-Òige - a national Shinty Competition for Primary Schools run though the medium of Gaelic.

Pupils from schools across Scotland took part in the tournament  which was held entirely in Gaelic.  Eoghan was praised highly for being the driving force and inspiration behind the project which brought Gaelic out of the classroom setting and gave young people the chance to use their linguistic and sporting skills.

The Team of the Year award was presented to the staff at Inverness Royal Academy for pulling together to make sure there has been a smooth transition into the new school for pupils  and for dealing with a number of problems associated with the building, including issues with the gas supply. 

In nominating his staff, Head teacher Nigel Engstrant said: “At times when the operation of the school could have been open to question, the staff have worked through and found solutions, and maintained consistency in learning and teaching for pupils – and in morale across the school.  Without the energy and commitment, and the leadership of the school management team, it would not have been possible to keep the school open.  This has been an outstanding, impressive effort by all of them.”

William Aitken and Mick McCann from the Council’s Bio Hazzard Team received Highly Commended Awards for their work responding to difficult situations day and night, all year round. They’ve been doing this specialist role for over 14 years, alongside their day jobs. The bio hazards they deal with include blood, urine, faeces, discarded needles and the results of illness like the winter vomiting bug. A particularly harrowing task they undertake is cleaning up after crime scenes, suicides, accidents and deaths. They are also called upon to carry out deep cleaning in social housing premises and industrial cleaning in schools, especially following reports of illness.

The 2016 Trainee of the Year is Lucy Melville, a Senior Technician with the Project Design Unit team based in Golspie.  After leaving school, Lucy graduated from Inverness College with an HNC in Civil Engineering and since joining the team in 2014 has relished her role designing infrastructure for delivery through the Council’s Capital spending programme.

As part of the Unit’s graduate and technician training scheme, Lucy has combined independent study and learning with on the job training and as a result has recently passed the Engineering Technician exam through the Institute of Civil Engineers. Her next step is to continue her studies and progress to Incorporated Engineer grade.

Principal Engineer with the Unit, Garry Smith said: “Lucy’s progress has been swift and she has shown a real commitment and excellent work ethic.  A valued member of our team, I have no doubt she will excel as she moves forward in her career within the Council.”

Teams of Council staff were invited to enter projects into four categories and all short-listed entries were assessed by an independent judging panel. During the Award Ceremony, the four category winners were announced. The winning team projects for the following categories were:

  • Enabling a Community-led Highland
    Carbon CLEVER Community Grant Fund
  • Delivering for a well-served Highland
    The “Kinlochlovin” project run at Kinlochleven High School in Lochaber
  • Achieving a fairer Highland
    Improving Health and Wellbeing for Children and Young People who have experienced loss, change and bereavement – Nairn Associated School Groups multi-Agency project
  • Delivering Efficiency and Service Improvement
    Revenues Redesign project by the Council’s Finance Service

The Outstanding Partnership Award went to a team from the Council’s Care and Learning Service, NHS Highland, and third sector voluntary groups for their work in creating the Life-limiting Conditions, Palliative Care, Loss, Bereavement and Trauma Support Pack for use in Highland schools.

A team from Community Services were presented with the Convener’s Award for the project to use spray injection permanent patching to quickly and effectively repair roads and pot holes across the Highlands.

Congratulating staff for their hard work and success, the Convenor of the Council, Councillor Isobel McCallum said: “There is a lot of ground-breaking excellent work taking place across all of our services. Your energy, professionalism, skills and the great enthusiasm for the work you do is greatly appreciated by us all. The next few years will be a challenging time which is why it is more important than ever that we work to deliver services efficiently and think creatively of new ways to support communities.”

Council Leader, Margaret Davidson drew the evening to a close by thanking staff. She said: “Congratulations to each and every one of you – individuals and teams alike - for all your tremendous work. It really has been heartening to hear about the forward-thinking and ground-breaking projects that are taking place across all of our services and by our partners in NHS Highland and High Life Highland. 

“We’ve all aware of the challenging times ahead for local Government but tonight has been the ideal opportunity to reflect on the high quality services delivered by you and your colleagues.  I strongly believe we are already one of the most inventive and efficient Councils in Scotland and the strength of our performance lies in the quality of people who work for us. Your commitment, skills, experience and good-will make things happen and our communities are all the better for your hard work and drive.”


18 Nov 2016
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