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Highland Heroes: Vote for your Community Champion of the Year

By Leah Williamson

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Helping to make their communities a better place are (from left) Suzy Reid, John Douglas and Julie Mackinnon.
Helping to make their communities a better place are (from left) Suzy Reid, John Douglas and Julie Mackinnon.

Julie Mackinnon

MANAGER and youth co-ordinator Julie Mackinnon, from Milton, Wick, has led the transformation of Wick Youth Club into a community hub that welcomes everyone, from toddlers to the town’s most mature citizens.

From youth work, mental health services for young people, working with local schools, supporting vulnerable families especially during the pandemic, activities throughout the summer holidays and an after-school club to hot meals, entertainment and companionship for those who feel isolated, support towards SQA accredited awards, work experience and volunteer opportunities through programmes such as the Saltire Awards, Julie’s dedication and leadership has had a profound impact on her community. She is particularly proud that two former youth volunteers, Harris and Megan, are now youth workers at the club.

Julie started at the youth club 12 years ago when her youngest son went to university and she has been there ever since.

A nomination said: “Julie’s knowledge and passion for youth and community work is of real value to the community. Her work in Wick has made a real difference – Julie deserves recognition and thanks for all she has given to her town over many years of hard work.”

Julie said: “It was a shock. It’s lovely to be recognised for the work I do. It’s my job but it is something I feel very passionate about. Giving all children a voice is paramount in the youth work we provide. A voice allows them to develop and learn that they are important and valued. We provide a safe space not only to listen and support them when needed but somewhere for them to socialise, make friends and have fun. Children are the future.”

Vote here

John Douglas

ELECTRICAL engineer John Douglas should really be renamed Mr Alness for all the generous volunteering work he has done over the years and still does for his community.

Treasurer at The Place, the local youth club, for the past 30 years, John also drives the mini bus and helps out with the summer camps and play schemes, and is always on hand to help out with Alness’ street and Christmas fairs.

Last year he added yet another task to his list when he started repairing the town’s Christmas lights, taking over from his predecessor who had been in the role for 40 years.

For the past three years John has also been involved in the transformation of The Field into a community venue for all in the town.

A nomination said: “John has supported the community of Alness for almost 40 years, he quietly dedicates himself in the background volunteering professional services which is fundamental to the success of numerous community activities, especially for the youth of Alness.

“John is continually putting the community of Alness at the forefront of his time, even though his time is already under significant demand from golf club and community council committees as well as his beloved grandchildren.

“Individuals like John are rare to find, more comfortable enabling in the background than being the public face. John deserves the recognition of community champion, often never seen or heard, but dedicated and critical to the community.”

John was delighted to have been shortlisted in the community champion category. He added: “It was a complete surprise to me, I wasn’t expecting it.”

Vote here

Suzy Reid

WHILE the majority of us are struggling with the cost of living right now, for many local families it is a constant battle and the support of generous community champions really does make all the difference.

Suzy Reid, Inverness, has been nothing short of a lifeline for many vulnerable families in her Hilton community.

In March 2022 she set up a community shed in her garden filled with donated foodstuffs, toiletries and other essential items for folk to come in and get what they need when they need it.

Today, there are now six self-service honesty sheds at Suzy’s, providing bric-a-brac, toys and other goods as well as continuing with food and toiletries which are donated by the public and local business community.

As well as caring for her son who has additional needs, Suzy also dedicates time to decorating her popular garden at Halloween and Christmas for the community.

A nomination said: “Suzy is an absolutely amazing lady so full of love and wants to help everyone. Suzy has set up a community food shed serving Hilton and the surrounding area entirely off her own back and has been a key source of emergency food and supplies for families and individuals over the last year. She is a true inspiration and just quietly working away making a massive impact. She is one in a million.”

Suzy added: “I’m really excited. It’s good to know that families have said the sheds are a lifeline and that I’ve managed to reach out to so many and help them. It’s good to know it’s having a positive impact on vulnerable families.”

Vote here

Words from the category sponsor: Managing director (north), Dave Main, said: “At Springfield, we know it takes more than houses to create a home. It takes people, places for children to play and local amenities nearby – it takes a community. We understand the importance of communities and work hard to engage with our neighbours at the planning stages of our future sites, we keep in contact during construction, and look to support and engage with those living in our homes once they’ve moved in.

“That’s why we’re excited to support the community champion category of the Highland Heroes awards.

“We want to hear about those people who are helping to shape and make communities across the Highlands.

“These awards are an excellent way to celebrate these people and give them the recognition they deserve.”

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