Orcadian Column, 14 March 2024

12 Mar 2024

High up in the atrium at KGS, the voices of the Orkney Rocks choir were ringing out last Saturday morning. Music full of joy enough to lift the soul, although in some senses it felt at odds with the nature of the event I was there to attend.

Soma’s Light is a charity set up by Ibolya and Szabolcs following the tragic suicide of their eldest child two years ago, and the coffee was aimed at raising awareness of the charity’s work and aims. Indeed, it quickly became apparent that the message of hope was very deliberate and in keeping with the desire of Soma’s parents to encourage more honest discussions, for people to reach out for help when they need it, and for us to work together and as a community to improve support for those suffering poor mental health or touched by suicide.

Estimates suggest one in three of us will suffer poor mental health at some point in our lives and it is wholly indiscriminate. Even so, there is a general recognition that particular challenges exist in the way it affects smaller rural and island communities. All the same, as a community we have strengths that can work in our favour, and some of these were on display at KGS last weekend.

Unfortunately, cuts to mental health spending announced in the Scottish Government’s most recent budget won’t help. They also represent a regressive step that moves us further away from the parity we need to see in the treatment of physical and mental ill-health. Given the lingering and long-term impacts of Covid on mental health, notably amongst children and young people, this move to cut funding support could not have come at a worse time.

The cuts will certainly make things more difficult for the various organisations and charities I spoke to at the event on Saturday. Nevertheless, seeing so many present, spanning a wide array of different services, was encouraging and it was good to hear how they are working collaboratively to deliver vital support to those in need locally. Help is always welcome, of course, not least given the rising demand, so do please get in touch directly or through Voluntary Action Orkney if you think you can help.

Needless to say, raising funds is a constant requirement and Soma’s Light has already made progress in enabling the recruitment of child bereavement support, with the hope this can be expanded over the coming years. I cannot begin to imagine what Ibolya and Szabolcs have been through, or indeed other parents and families touched by suicide. It was inspiring, though, to see such large numbers of people gathered together in KGS on Saturday morning, chatting over coffee and cake, while being entertained by a succession of talented young, local musicians. It did indeed offer hope.

Later, I moved outdoors to the astropitch at KGS where I spent the rest of the afternoon, initially as one of the linesman for Orkney FC’s North Caledonian League clash with title-chasing visitors, Loch Ness. At the final whistle, I performed a quick costume change ready to turn out in goals for an Orkney seniors ‘select’ taking on Ness FC from the Western Isles.

After my earlier exertions, it was just as well I didn’t have a lot to do, as Orkney ran out 9-2 winners. Even so, I did manage to gift the visitors their first goal in an act of sportsmanship that probably needs to be registered with charities regulator, OSCR.

The game itself emerged from discussions last year at the Lava Cup, a 7-a-side tournament that brings together seniors teams from different countries. Originally an Icelandic initiative, the competition recognises the physical and mental health benefits of keeping men playing football for longer.

True to form, while the legs and reactions may have slowed, the micky-taking on and off the pitch on Saturday was a sharp as ever. With great fun had and friendships made, it won’t be long before Orkney’s ‘Still Game’ FC head to the Western Isles for the return leg. After my last performance, sadly, there’s more chance of me getting in the Orkney Rocks choir than retaining my place in goals.