POSTERS are going up around the Eastgate Shopping Centre to mark the 64-shop complex as a safe haven for Inverness’s most vulnerable residents.
The Keep Safe scheme launched this week for the first time in the Highlands will see those with dementia, learning difficulties, or mental health problems issued with a card that has details of the person to contact if they are in need of help.
The idea is that if someone shows the card to security guards in the shopping centre, they will contact the helper named on the card and keep the vulnerable person safe until their supporter arrives.
The new scheme comes after a flurry of negative press reports about New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital suspending admissions outwith the Highland area due to staff shortages and the devastating impact of a decision to shut the critical Highland One Stop Shop drop-in centre on Ardconnel Terrace that supported more than 400 teens and adults – putting the only autistic adult services centre in the Highlands on the market.
And the Inverness Courier has also more recently revealed that the shocking suicide rate in Highland is now averaging one every 10 days.
John Hamilton, head of security at the Eastgate, said there were hopes the Keep Safe project would help to provide some much-needed support and care in the community, ensuring people feel they are being looked after when they are out shopping on their own.
And he said it could also help cut crime by increasing the chance of a victim or an onlooker reporting bad behaviour.
He said: "If someone’s of a nervous disposition they can have that assurance that they can come in and have a seat in a safe zone. They will know there are people here that can help them.
"It’s something that we deal with on an ongoing basis anyway, people with mental health issues or disabilities or autism.
"This just means we are working more in partnership with the police, which is a positive thing."
The centre’s cleaning crew and 11 of its team of security guards have so far been trained up on the scheme, which is a partnership between Police Scotland and a central-belt based charity called I Am Me.
Police Scotland Sergeant Judy Hill said: "We are delighted that the Eastgate Centre has become the first location in the Highlands to become a Keep Safe place.
"The Eastgate Centre will provide a safe and accessible place for anybody who needs help or assistance.
"Sometimes due to disability or age related illness, people can easily become disorientated, lost or become confused, especially in and around unfamiliar surroundings.
"Keep Safe can offer a reassurance that there is somewhere people can seek assistance if required."
Eastgate Centre manager Jackie Cuddy said: "We are constantly looking at ways to engage with special needs and community groups and this police initiative is a great example which is being embraced by the whole team at the Eastgate Centre."