Linda Gask is a co-founder of Storm Skills Training. She may have stepped down as a director in 2021, but her passion and enthusiasm for change remains as vibrant as ever!
We recently sat down with Linda to discover the remarkable journey she’s embarked on post-Storm Skills Training. Get ready to be inspired!
It’s amazing how quickly two and half years have passed since your retirement from the Storm Skills Training Board. We know this will have created the opportunity for some exciting endeavours for you. Can you tell us about your adventures during this time?
Even though I stepped down from the Board, I didn’t retire completely. I came back to clinical work for a year during COVID and helped to set up a bereavement support service in Greater Manchester with Six Degrees Social Enterprise.
I’ve lived part time in Orkney since 2013 but decided to stay here full time from the beginning of the pandemic. I supervised the bereavement service team from here for a year – then retired again! The service is still running in Greater Manchester.
I also joined a mental health charity, the Blide Trust, here on Orkney. I’ve been Chair for two years now. We have a house in the main street in Kirkwall, our largest town with a population of about 10,000 people. It provides a range of services including a drop-in centre which works well here.
It’s a lovely place with a big garden. It was given to us over 20 years ago by the family of Baroness Laura Grimond, wife of Orkney’s former MP Jo Grimond.
I haven’t completely moved away from Storm Skills Training though. I’ve continued to work with Bianca and the team on strategy, particularly around supporting the NHS. I’ve also been keeping up with some training.
I’m looking forward to being part of the rollout of Version 5 this summer, with a trip over the sea to Shetland to run training sessions there.
Orkney's beauty is undeniable, and the lifestyle it offers really sets it apart. Can you tell us what it’s like to live in such an enchanting place?
I first came here when I was 18. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and, in those days, you used to be able to get a Travel Pass, which allowed you to use all the buses, boats and trains in the Highlands of Scotland. So that’s when first fell in love with Orkney and the Western Isles.
It’s changed a lot since then. Orkney is one of the few islands in Scotland where the population is growing, it has good services and connectivity is really improving here. It’s a place where people can come and work remotely. You can get almost anything except dry cleaning – but to be honest, we don’t need it!
I did my medical training in Edinburgh, but Orkney really isn’t like the rest of Scotland. It’s a bit like a cross between Scotland and Scandinavia. Nobody here ever spoke Gaelic for example, they spoke Norn which is a Norse dialect. Also, we don’t have very many trees here! It can be very windy and the light is so special and unique.
It’s a big investment to pack up and come to a Scottish Island but I think it’s an absolutely brilliant place to live. I like the feeling of being a long way from the rest of the world. I wrote a book about my move here, called Finding True North released in 2021, about how being here affected by own long-standing depression. I do feel that my mental health has improved since being here.
It sounds like a really special place! Beyond Orkney's charm and serenity, we're really curious to know what you’ve learned from working with local organisations, and hear your insights into the challenges people on the islands face and how these can impact their mental health and wellbeing?
It is such a rural area, some of our islands might have less than a hundred people living there. Even though our centre is in a small town, it can be difficult to get there from the other islands. We have to do a lot of outreach work. The issues of living in a rural area are very different from working in a city.
The nearest psychiatric beds are in Aberdeen. That’s a 40-minute flight away in a small plane, so that isn’t easy. It’s quite hard to get people to come work here too, as it is in most rural areas.
Stigma is also a key issue in rural communities. Because this is a small place, if you’re seen walking through the doors of a centre, or having someone from mental health services visit, everybody soon knows.
We’ve got a big farming population and that brings particular problems. Farmers are not always good at talking about their mental health. We had a tractor run at Christmas – there were 179 tractors, I didn’t even know that there were so many tractors here! They were all lit up with Christmas lights and the organisers donated some of the money raised to the Blide.
A new Men’s Shed has opened up in a disused herring factory and some people from Blide are planning to build a new shed for our garden. So, we are reaching out and working with all the communities here.
As for me, I’m working on another book, this time about women’s mental health and feminism. That’s due to be published at the end of 2024 by Cambridge University Press. I’m really enjoying interviewing lots of women and experts for the book.
When I’m finished this book, I do intend to do other things outside work, but I’m not very good at resting!