Housing officer named Employee of the Year for ‘compassion’ to refugees

Highland Council Employee of the Year Gail Ward (centre) with council leader Margaret Davidson and awards host Norman MacLeod
Highland Council Employee of the Year Gail Ward (centre) with council leader Margaret Davidson and awards host Norman MacLeod

Housing policy officer Gail Ward has been named Employee of the Year by Highland Council for the care and compassion she has shown in welcoming Syrian refugees to the region and her work to ease the impact welfare reform.

Head of housing David Goldie, who nominated Gail for the award, 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.”

As the first local authority to undertake the roll-out of Universal Credit, Gail has been at the forefront of Highland Council’s implementation of the policy and provided experience based advice to the UK government, Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), COSLA and other social landlords, including councils and housing associations nationally.

David said: “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 the Highlands earlier this year.

Working closely with colleagues and partners, Gail has also 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 added: “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 Margaret Davidson at a ceremony held last week in Smithton Church in Inverness.

Also shortlisted 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.

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

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