Highland Cross charities face year without funds from classic midsummer event
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Midsummer weekend is usually the first page I turn to in my diary at the start of each year, as I scribble “Highland Cross” on the nearest Saturday to the solstice. It was the same this year, although all too soon, along with everything else, those words were crossed out.
Saturday, June 20 would have been Highland Cross day this year. The charities were decided, the teams were accepted, and the training and fundraising had already begun for many people.
The organisers of the annual event, which has taken place every year since its inception in 1983, often refer to the “community of the Cross”. Having taken part in all but one event since I first got a place in 2013, it’s clear that this community is huge, loyal and dedicated.
There is something inescapably addictive about the Highland Cross, whether you get involved as a participant covering the 50-mile cross-country route from Kintail to Beauly or as a volunteer as part of a benefitting charity, for example.
But this year, the charities which were set to benefit from an estimated £250,000-plus fundraising total are not only going without their donations from this event, their incomes have been slashed and many are facing new challenges from the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Calum Munro, one of the founding organisers of the Highland Cross, said: “The whole purpose of the Cross is to deliver benefit to the Highland charities and we’re not doing it, and that is really sad.
“What we do is support people who are giving of themselves and their talents day in, day out, all year round. They are the heroes in this, and to not be supporting them is bitterly disappointing.”
The five benefitting charities chosen for this year’s event included CCAST Highland, which operates a housing support service, food delivery operation, employability work and addiction support from its base in Tain.
Amanda Nutt, project manager at CCAST Highland, said: “Normally, we deliver two-day emergency food boxes to just over 600 people in the whole year, and this year, from April to now, we’ve already supplied 1015 – which is 565 adults 450 children. That’s people on low incomes, or who have suffered loss of income or have no income due to being furloughed or laid off.
“These are families that don’t have to go near a food bank generally. They’re working, bringing in an income; they are the people who normally donate to the food bank.”
It’s a stark warning of the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on Highland communities and highlights the important work that many charities are doing to help.
CCAST applied to the Highland Cross for a replacement minibus for its well-used vehicle which was donated by the event seven years ago.
Reach4Reality in Inverness and the Glenurquhart Care Project in Drumnadrochit were two other charities expecting a new minibus from funds raised by Highland Cross participants this year.
Sylvia Longbottom, project co-ordinator at Reach4Reality, explained that staff and volunteers were using their own cars to fulfil their role, at least before the pandemic struck.
She said: “We work with young people with autism and we involve them in outdoor activities, so it might be one-to-one sessions, small groups sessions, camps, or the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
“We’ve had bikes and a bike trailer [donated by] the Highland Cross a couple of years ago, some canoes and a canoe trailer last year and this year it would have been a nine-seater minibus, because for all our activities at the moment we just use staff and volunteer cars.”
The Glenurquhart Care Project uses a minibus to collect service users from a wide area around the glen, taking in Cannich, Beauly, Kiltarlity and Abriachan, and bringing them to its day care centre in Drumnadrochit.
Diane Norris, convener of the project, said: “We were disappointed that the Highland Cross was cancelled this year as we had applied for the purchase of a new minibus which would have cut down on our repair and maintenance bills, our current bus becoming rather elderly, but we fully understand the circumstances of the cancellation and the need for it and hope that it will be reconvened next year.
“Our staff also have enjoyed stewarding at the event and will also look forward to that again in 2021.”
All charities that benefit from Cross funds are expected to provide volunteers to help on the day of the event, something that for many becomes a regular fixture in subsequent years too.
Mr Munro explained: “The key thing is the quality of these charities and the quality of the charities that come back to support the Cross, because it’s an organic thing – people gain a gift from the Cross but because they have to work during the event they develop a big sense of ownership of it.
“They see the Cross in the same way as us – as something that helps everybody. We get volunteers popping up saying, you know, I helped Riding for the Disabled at the quarry a few years ago, could you use a hand?
“When you get that breadth of support, ex participants who can’t do the Cross any more but want to do something for you – these are amazing people, and that is the story of the Cross.”
The Oxygen Works is another charity which was poised to gain funding from this year’s event. Having previously had two minibuses from the Cross, the former MS Therapy Centre offers oxygen chamber therapy alongside physiotherapy, massage therapy and a social space to help a range of conditions.
This year’s funding application was for something a little different, though. Investing in an oxygen generator – worth around £60,000 to £70,000 – rather than buying in bottled oxygen could save the charity around £10,000 a year.
Operations director Beth Morrison said they have enjoyed an excellent relationship with the Highland Cross over the years.
She said: “We decided to go to them with the oxygen generator and they were very supportive of that and obviously picked us [as one of the charities] again.
“It’s great that [the grant] has been deferred because they could have just cancelled it and started the process again for next year. It just puts a wee bit of a hold on our plans, but I think that’s happening to everybody.
“Thanks to the other grant funding we’ve managed to get in the interim, it’s not put a huge dampener on the situation. We’ll just really look forward to next year when it does come around.”
Along with In This Together, which is due to receive funding to help it continue its handyman service in and around Inverness, all of the benefitting charities will receive their donations after the 2021 event instead.
Mr Munro said it was humbling that they had received such support after breaking the news of the cancellation to the charities, adding that it showed the spirit of the event, which can be seen in communities, businesses, charities and participants.
“You very rarely get people doing the Cross who are buffoons!” he said. “The people who do the Cross have the right spirit, to my mind; they have the right attitude, the right humanity, and they realise it’s not done for the athleticism.
“We don’t organise the event as an athletic event in its own right; we organise it as a fundraising event – but we give you one of the best courses probably in Britain, and we give you a system where you can test yourself in that course with the best support around you.”
Midsummer has certainly not been the same for us ‘athletes’ – but it is these great charities, and the people they help, which really need and deserve our support, particularly in these difficult times.
June 19, 2021 is already scribbled in the back of my diary as the date of next year’s Highland Cross. Let the fundraising begin!
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