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Looking Back on Lockdown: March and April 2020


By Gregor White

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Today marks exactly a year since lockdown was imposed across the UK in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Getting to grips with the strange new way of living in the Highlands saw a huge flood of both community and political activity:

Smithton Church in Inverness saw a huge rise in viewing figures for its streamed Sunday services.

Streaming for more than two years before lockdown it normally reached about 100 homes, but with congregations prohibited from meeting in person this soared to 1900.

Believed to include a huge number of people who did not normally attend church the minister Alasdair Macleod said: "I think lots of people are questioning everything. Things which were once secure – whether it was income, health, school, sport – aren't secure any more."

Among others discovering the power of moving online was Inverness folk singer and songwriter Davy Holt who took to the web after regular gigs at city bars including Gellions and Hootananny ceased.

His online performances saw him pick up new fans as far afield as Spain, Italy, the USA, Canada and Brazil.

Highland Council paused the process of sending out rates bills to around 19,000 businesses across the region saying it was to help protect local businesses and jobs.

At the same time it was planning for the worst by purchasing temporary mortuary units with councillors being told in a private briefing that, as part of worst case scenario resilience plans, venues such as the Inverness Ice Centre could also be used.

Council leaders also confirmed they were having to rip up budget plans agreed just weeks earlier to deal with the massive impact of the crisis, with income dropping away and demand for help rising, both to unprecedented levels.

The Belladrum music festival was called off for 2020.
The Belladrum music festival was called off for 2020.

A string of city events were cancelled including gigs by former boy bands Westlife and McFly; the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival; the prestigious Northern Meeting Piping Competition and the Royal National Mod which had been due to be staged in the Highland capital for the first time since 2014, when it delivered an estimated £3.5 million boost to the city economy.

An online appeal to fund 3D printing of face shields for NHS staff more than doubled its original target within days of being set up.

Individuals with access to 3D printers launched the crowdfunder with an original target of £1000 to buy the raw materials.

With national attention focussed on the rollout of PPE for frontline health and social care staff Inverness's largest private sector employer also assisted a consortium of city companies to produce face shields.

Firms Aseptium and 4C Engineering came up with a way of producing the protection that would be robust, secure and comnfortable and could be rapidly manufactured in volume.

Lifescan, which specialises in making diagnostic equipment for diabetes, stepped up to provide extra manpower to drive the project forward.

A woman who had hoped to spend a year travelling finally made it home after becoming stranded in the Philippines when lockdown was imposed.

Shenan Davis was reunited with relieved parents Mark and Denise, from Kiltarlity, after flying back to the UK on a near-empty plane after two weeks of booking flights which were repeatedly cancelled on her.

She was one of a number of locals caught out abroad when lockdown was imposed.

Members of the Black Watch raised money for NHS Charities Together.
Members of the Black Watch raised money for NHS Charities Together.

Soldiers from the Black Watch completed an ultra marathon around Cameron Barracks in Inverness to raise almost £3000 for NHS charities.

Four members of the regiment rain 75 laps of the barracks to notch up 31 miles despite no specific marathon training.

Loganair converted two aircraft to carry Covid-19 patients to hospital in isolation pods.

Working with the Scottish Ambulance Service, Loganair chef executive Jonathan Hinkles said: "The team effort to make this happen, moving from a concept to an operational solution in just a week, has been absolutely incredible."

Food for Families, the Inverness-based good cause which distributes meals to needy homes in winter came out of cold storage to help during the pandemic, distributing food parcels and locally-cooked meals.

The project was helped by Inverness Prison, local businessman David Sutherland and his wife Anne, and Catriona Cameron of The Kitchen and Mustard Seed restaurants.

At the same time members of the Muslim community in Inverness also put together 150 meals for people in need, cooked by a team led by Tamjeed Miah, owner of the Wee Delhi takeaway in Milton of Leys.

The drive to help came at the same time as charities reported a huge rise in the numbers of people in need of assistance.

The local Citiziens Advice Service also reported a dramatic change in the nature of approaches by the public.

General manager of the Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey branch, Alasdair Christie, said: "We've never had so many frightened calls before. It is people felling very vulnerable and on the edge of despair."

Inverness-base suicide prevention charity Mikesyline also saw a sharp rise in members of the public calling for help and Highland Foodbank reported a 30 per cent increase in the number of people coming to its Inverness premises.

Councillor Emma Roddick gives her new electric trike a big thumbs-up.
Councillor Emma Roddick gives her new electric trike a big thumbs-up.

A cycling charity loaned a city councillor an electric trike to help with deliveries to those in need.

Councillor Emma Roddick set up the Covid-19: Merkinch and South Kessock Community Support Group to transport groceries and medication to families self-isolating.

The job was made easier thanks to WheelNess, a local project which gives those with health conditions or low incomes access to a bike.

Margaret Payne.
Margaret Payne.

Highland pensioner Margaret Payne (90) began a mammoth fundraising challenge.

Inspired by the exploits of Captain Sir Tom Moore she undertook to climb the stairs at her home in Lairg 282 time – equivalent to the 2398-feet height of Highland peak Suilven.

She aimed to raise £10,000 for charity but would do far better than that.

Mark Nicholson piping at Meallmore Nursing Home.
Mark Nicholson piping at Meallmore Nursing Home.

D&E Coaches driver Mark Nicholson, provided a musical treat for residents at Meallmore Lodge Care Home in Daviot.

Also a talented piper Mr Nicholson played at the home regularly to cheer up residents, many of whom faced long separation from their families.

Martin Macdougall gave away free colouring books to help out parents struggling to keep kids busy.
Martin Macdougall gave away free colouring books to help out parents struggling to keep kids busy.

Street sweeper Martin MacDougall used his own holiday savings to keep children happy during lockdown.

Mr MacDougall, from Merkinch, bought and delivered books, pens and craft materials to local families, even hand-delivering the goodies by bike as he could not drive.

Inverness Castle was lit up to thank NHS staff. Photo: Craig Duncan of Limelight Event Services
Inverness Castle was lit up to thank NHS staff. Photo: Craig Duncan of Limelight Event Services

NHS workers were thanked in spectacular style when Inverness Castle was bathed in blue light.The eye-catching lightshow was organised by city-based Limelight Event Services.

Sarah MacDougall with husband Harry as she left Raigmore Hospital.
Sarah MacDougall with husband Harry as she left Raigmore Hospital.

In a piece of great news care home worker Sarah MacDougall was reunited with husband Harry after weeks in hospital with Covid-19, including time spent on life support.

The 42-year-old from Kinmylies, who worked at Ach-An-Eas care home in Inverness, had an emotional reunion with her other half after being discharged from Raigmore Hospital and thanked all those who had fought to save her life while she was there.

"Every single member of staff, from doctors and nurses to all the other people that are working in ICU and other wards have been outstanding," she said.

Twenty-three new doctors were headed to the Highlands to support the NHS in its battle against coronavirus.

They were part of a cohort of Aberdeen University students graduating early in order to be allowed to take on frontline duties.


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