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HLH pandemic-retiree receives surprise visit from CEO

During the pandemic lockdown period, High Life Highland worked hard to creatively adjust the services offered to its many members across the Highlands in order to minimise disruption to its service provision. However, one of the casualties of the restrictions was the Charity’s Volunteer and Staff and Long-Service Awards, which obviously had to be cancelled.

In previous years the awards ceremony recognised the “over-and-above” efforts of HLH volunteers and staff across Highland communities. But in addition, at the awards ceremony, staff with service of 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years service were also recognised.

One member of staff who fell into the longest-serving category of 40 years and would have been recognised at the ceremony was Valerie Duff from Thurso. However, not only did Val miss her opportunity to be presented with her award in front of her peers at the ceremony; but she actually retired during lockdown after over 40 years of public service, meaning her achievement had to go unmarked due to the restrictions in place at the time.

However, Valerie was surprised to receive a visit from High Life Highland’s Chief Executive Steve Walsh and her line Manager William Durrant, who arrived on her doorstep to recognise her achievement, pass on her awards and present her with a bouquet of flowers.

Steve Walsh said, “I was delighted to be able to drop-in on Val and make the presentation to her personally.

“Val started working with The Highland Council, supporting the Thurso Youth Club. During this time she relocated to offices based within Millar Academy where she continued to support the Youth Club but also the community learning team. In 2011, Val transferred from The Highland Council to High Life Highland, when the Charity was set up and continued as clerical support, assisting the Charity’s youth; active schools; community learning; and the facilities leisure team.

“Val was a ‘weel-kent’ face in the local area, but also with her HLH colleagues. In 2017, she made her final move to be located in the offices within the new East Caithness Community Facility, where she remained until the country was placed into Lockdown.

The Chief Executive went on to speak more generally, “We have many great staff like Val, who have committed many years of their working life to the various roles that HLH plays in communities across the Highlands.

“Whilst it is disappointing that we have been unable to recognise these efforts in the usual way, I am assured by the team responsible for the annual event that they are working on a way to hold another event when we can, allowing us to play ‘catch-up’ with those who would otherwise have been recognised for long-service, had it not been for the social distancing restrictions in place.

The Chief concluded, “We are all very much looking forward to the time when our volunteers and staff can once again meet together and spend some time celebrating the great work that HLH carries out right across the Highlands – and thanks to virtual services developed during the pandemic – these services are now delivered far beyond these shores.”

Providing restrictions allow, HLH will be holding an awards event that will look to specifically celebrate the work undertaken by volunteers and staff during the COVID-19 period. The ceremony will be a hybrid-event with some individuals attending in person, with others able to attend virtually.

Through the Charity’s website and social media pages, members of the public will be invited to make nominations for HLH staff and volunteers who helped out in their communities during the pandemic.