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Longer Read: Highland Heroes


By Gregor White


It was a night full of joy and laughter, as folks came out to celebrate those unsung Highland Heroes.

The awards ceremony, held in the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, is all about those people who, as a matter of course in life, do things to help others without any thought for themselves.

The jam-packed annual awards ceremony is staged by Inverness Courier publisher SPP Media Group.

Here are the stories of just some of this year's winners:

Brave child of the year: Lola Aitken

Lola Aitken.
Lola Aitken.

There was a standing ovation for the brave child of the year as her name was revealed.

The winner was Lola Aitken (5) who was born with severe brain damage and her parents were told she may not reach the age of five.

But this young Highlander is a true braveheart.

Lola, a beautiful golden-haired warrior, has not only defied the odds of living beyond the age that was predicted at her birth, but started mainstream school at Milton of Leys Primary in Inverness this summer.

She now even goes for rides on her bike.

Lola was wide awake and up for a party at the awards ceremony, enjoying every single moment of the attention that came with her award.

Mum Ciara Ewing said: “It is just wonderful.

“It is a wonderful surprise for Lola, because every single one of the finalists deserved to win. Wee Adam Mitchell, who was also a finalist, brought a gift for Lola to congratulate her on her win. How sweet is that?”

She said: “We’re so proud of Lola. Every so often we think here comes another hurdle, but she keeps conquering them and progressing. So now it’s just a matter of seeing what’s truly possible for her.”

Primary pupil of the year: Aidan and Ciaran Lennan

Aidan and Ciaran Lennan.
Aidan and Ciaran Lennan.

Inverness kickboxing champions Aidan and Ciaran Lennan jointly won primary pupil of the year for their resilience and determination to swap their health challenges for a place on the podium.

The boys who won’t take no for an answer were told their lives might be limited due to medical concerns at birth.

But what doctors hadn’t factored in was the inimitable spirit of these youngsters who are now among the most talented kickboxers in the UK.

When he was told he had won older brother Aidan (11) said he was “amazed”, while wee brother Ciaran said the award was a “shock”.

At birth Aidan’s parents were told he’d be “slow and not grow well”. Three years later his brother Ciaran was born with a hole in his heart. Medics advised that he was “unlikely to be strong enough for sport and would have no energy”. Although the hole in his heart closed naturally, Ciaran has asthma.

The Muirtown Primary pupils go to Raijin Martial Arts Academy in Inverness multiple times a week. Their passion has taken them all over the world.

Mum Diane, said: “We are absolutely overwhelmed and I want to thank everyone who voted for us.”

Carer of the Year: Claire Munro

Claire Munro.
Claire Munro.

Mum-of-three Claire Munro took a brief time out of being with her two-year-old son in hospital to attend the awards ceremony.

Claire said she couldn't believe she had won, as she was only doing what any mum would do when faced with the same difficulties.

But that isn't entirely true, Claire – as her award shows – has loved her three young sons with courage and dedication.

Two of Claire’s sons have autism, and her youngest, Harry was transferred to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow just hours after he was born and was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. He underwent surgery at two days old and again at 13 days old.

A brain injury after surgery led to complex health problems. Claire was given a room at Ronald McDonald House where she stayed close to the hospital for six weeks while her fiancé returned to Inverness to look after their sons Finn and Rhys.

Fundraising for charities that support parents in a similar situation, Claire is described as "one in a million".

She said: "I came from the hospital to this awards ceremony, and when it is finished I will being going back to the hospital to be with Harry. I am a wee but overdressed! I am completely overwhelmed with this award. I don't know if I really deserve it at all."

Volunteer of the year: Kirstin Grant

Kirstin Grant.
Kirstin Grant.

Her passion for encouraging young people and promoting the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme saw a Nairn woman named volunteer of the year.

Kirstin Grant said she was "overwhelmed" at her nomination, far less being awarded with the prestigious title.

Ms Grant was nominated for doing so much for young people. Last year she helped them with their paddle boarding activities – even when the harbour was frozen solid she was there waiting.

She’s fundraised tirelessly, taken the children out on activities and helped them all become positive learners, enjoying advantageous experiences which will help lead them to become responsible, pro-active learners.

Ms Grant, who works as a pupil support assistant at Nairn Academy, said: "I am overwhelmed it is so surprising to win, and lovely at the same time.

"All I am doing is sharing my passion for activities that young people will benefit from. It is wonderful to see more children than ever before take part in activities and become active citizens. We all benefit and can be proud of that achievement."

Ms Grant has been a volunteer in the Nairn area for more than a decade, and heavily involved in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for the past five years.

Community champion of the year: Isobel Maclean

Isobel MacLean.
Isobel MacLean.

Described as a "total godsend" Isobel Maclean – known as Izzy – said she was "delighted" to win community champion of the year.

Izzy is not only a pupil support assistant at Kirkhill Primary School but is also one of those people who "just gets things done" in the kindest possible way.

Five of her colleagues love her so much they even surprised her by going along to the awards ceremony to support their colleague, who they describe as a "wonderful woman".

For her part, Izzy said that everyone who was nominated was deserving of a prize, she said: "While I am absolutely delighted to win, I am completely shocked at the the same time, as every single person here tonight deserves to win.

"I am going to take this award back to Kirkhill school and share it with them, as they are also all winners. I can not believe that I have won, I feel like I don't deserve it at all as everyone is so good to me, and so kind.

"Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I am overwhelmed with your kindness."

Izzy is retiring at the end of the school year, and relocating from Kirkhill to the Isle of Lewis.

Primary teacher of the year: Krista Munro

Krista Munro.
Krista Munro.

Saying "every teacher works hard", primary teacher of the year award winner Krista Munro didn't think she was anything special.

But voters begged to differ, awarding her the accolade for her role in engaging local families at Kinmylies Primary School.

Krista is the deputy head teacher at the Inverness school, where she has worked in various roles since 2006. She is a mum-of-three, all of who have been pupils at the school. Her eldest son is now at high school.

For her own part, Krista doesn't believe she is "all that special".

She said: "I only do what every teacher does day in and day out. We do our best. We look out for the children that we teach because we want them to thrive and be inspired by the world around them.

"I am speechless about winning this award. I am delighted that such an award exists, but I don't know if I am a worthy winner. Everyone deserves an award for what they do.

"Thank you to everyone who voted for me. This is very special, and I will treasure it."

Ms Munro is an active member and supporter of the Inverness branch of Dyslexia Scotland.

School of the year: Drummond School

Mark Elvines of Drummond School.
Mark Elvines of Drummond School.

Drummond School in Inverness – described as a place of heart, soul, and passion – won the prestigious school of the year award.

Head teacher Mark Elvines said the award was for every single person involved from the youngest pupils to the oldest member of staff, and all the people who help make the school the caring place it is.

Established to provide education and care for children with additional support needs, Drummond School was described as having a rich and tangible atmosphere. The staff are said to "shout out loud" for its pupils and parents and carers.

Drummond School has 90 pupils with severe and complex learning disabilities, and serves the Inverness and south area of the Highlands.

Mark Elvines took up the post as headteacher five years ago.

He said: “It’s a privilege and a joy to be part of this amazing place; a family, a community for those who were overwhelmed by, or whose needs were just too complex for them to thrive in mainstream education. Our pupils have a tailored, adapted curriculum focused on life and social skills."

He added: “All acts of kindness, every piece of progress is worthy of recognition. It’s an honour for the school to have won this award.”

Secondary pupil of the year: Dylan Morrison

Dylan Morrison.
Dylan Morrison.

After looking out for his fellow pupils, and working with the authorities to secure a tangible difference in his their everyday lives, the secondary pupil of the year is a shining example of what it is to be a teenager.

Dylan Morrison (17), who plans to be a commercial airline pilot, was delighted with his award.

Dylan was concerned for the welfare of pupils who relied on a bus service between Culloden Academy and Cradlehall to get home. He was worried about safety due to the lack of capacity to seat pupils.

He set up meetings with coach providers and managed to get a change in the size of bus to take pupils back and forth to school.

Dylan said: "I am just delighted. It is completely unexpected to win. We can all make a difference to the things that effect us in everyday life if we put our minds to it. I didn't really do anything that anyone else wouldn't do. I want to thank every single person who voted for me."

Dylan now works in the school office at Cradlehall Primary School where he is the first point of contact for parents and the local community while studying for his pilot's licence.

Other winners:

Secondary teacher: Alan Bruce

Public servant: Joan Murray

Emergency Services: Glenelg Mounatn Rescue

Health professional: Jenny Mackay

Fundraiser: Freya Anderson

Charitable organisation: Spokes for Foks (formerly Cycling Without Age)



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