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Looking Back on Lockdown: May 2020


By Gregor White

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People of all ages continued to do what they could to help as organisations struggled and there was disagreement over how Highland Council was being managed.

The Williamson family said thank you to NHS in memory of their grandfather. Picture: Gary Anthony
The Williamson family said thank you to NHS in memory of their grandfather. Picture: Gary Anthony

The family of an army veteran who died of Covid-19 put up a giant rainbow their garden to say thank you to NHS staff who cared for him.

Bill Nicolson from Drumnadrochit died after a four-week battle against the virus.

Grandson Matthew Williamson (30), his wife Laura and their seven children erected the rainbow in the agrden of their home at Inverness's Lilac Grove.

Ewan Karim brought his community together with The Daily Page. Picture: Gary Anthony
Ewan Karim brought his community together with The Daily Page. Picture: Gary Anthony

Ewan Karim (9), from Cherry Park in Balloch, brought his community together by writing, printing and selling his own newspaper, The Daily Page, to neighbours. The lockdown project raised money for food banks.

Iain McGilvray ran the London Marathon in his garden to raise money for Highland Hospice. Picture: Callum Mackay
Iain McGilvray ran the London Marathon in his garden to raise money for Highland Hospice. Picture: Callum Mackay

Businessman Iain McGilvray raised almost £27,000 for Highland Hospice after running a marathon in his garden.

Managing diector of Inverness-based crane hire firm Weldex, he had been due to take part in the London Marathon before it was cancelled, so simply moved proceedings to his home in Culduthel.

Sharon Pfleger.
Sharon Pfleger.

NHS Highland consultant Sharon Pfleger took to social media to combat myths circulating about coronavirus.

In a series of videos she addressed medical advice issued by President Donald Trump, the impact of certain medicines and the idea of drinking water to flush the virus out.

"Social media is brilliant for sharing information very widely but the downside to that is the sharing of misinformation, and we've seen this a lot during the Covid-19 outbreak," she said.

Highland Council began working up plans for a network of temporary cycling and walking routes across the city, to make social distancing easier.

Officials said they could provide a template to promote the vision of permanently slashing city centre pollution and traffic congestion.

Once in place the Spaces for People measures would prove to sharply divide public opinion.

Inverness was to be at the forefront of the development of a key measure to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The Scottish Government confirmed the Scottish Microbiology Reference Laboratory in the city would carry out blood tests for antibodies of the virus.

The aim was to identify people who had had the virus but displayed little or no symptoms, as a way of better tracking and combating its spread.

The Black Isle Show was cancelled.
The Black Isle Show was cancelled.

The Black Isle Show and Highland Field Sports Fair were both cancelled along with a gig by Stereophonics that had been planned for Bught Park in July.

Emmie Marshall and her mum donated to the children's ward at Raigmore Hospital.
Emmie Marshall and her mum donated to the children's ward at Raigmore Hospital.

Mother and daughter Diane and Emmie Marshall (7) made a special delivery to the children's ward at Raigmore Hospital.

Responding to a plea for baby monitors so staff and child patients could speak to parents isolated in separate rooms they raised enough through an online appeal to meet the request and buy a host of other treats besides.

Staff at the city's Morrisons supermarket also chipped in when they heard what mum and daughter were planning.

Football referee Billy Baxter (51), from Milton of Leys, got his running shoes on to help the NHS.

A category three ref in the Highland League he set out to run 10 marathons in a month, motivated by trainee nurse daughter Katie and the fact his sister Pamela had just recovered from a bout of coronavirus.

"I'm no natural athlete but I just want to make a contribution," he said.

Highland Hospice faced an estimated £750,000 loss in income due to lockdown forcing the closure of its fundraising cafés, shops and the Ness Islands Railway.

With all face-to-face fundraising also suspended, head of fundraising Andrew Leaver admitted the potential loss was "scary".

People using Inverness Campus for the daily outing for exercise allowed under lockdown rules were told not to bring their vehicles to the site.

Campus director Ruaraidh MacNeil said the site was too busy at times, making social distancing difficult.

Traffic flow fell dramatically across Inverness in the run-up to the lockdown announcement on March 23, but had since show modest increases according to new figures.

Data from Highland Council mirrored a national picture described by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the time as a "focus of concern".

The average weekday daily traffic count at at Inshes roundabout fell from 16,926 for the week beginning March 2 to 5297 from March 30, but rose again to 7198 for the week beginning April 27.

There was disagreement about how decisions were being made at Highland Council.
There was disagreement about how decisions were being made at Highland Council.

Highland Council was accused of using the crisis to shut out the public and make decisions behind closed doors.

The formation of a "Gold" command structure saw most decisions taken by around a dozen officials, scrutinised by just 10 leading councillors.

Meetings usually held in public were also not being webcast.

A spokesman insisted all decisions made under emergency provisions had been "appropriate, proportionate and in direct response to the Covid-19 emergency".

The council also set up a new recovery board to co-ordinate the Highlands' emergence from lockdown with early priorities including returning governance to normal.

Steven Barclay and his daughter Lucy were among drivers who led a convoy past Raigmore Hospital. Picture: Callum Mackay
Steven Barclay and his daughter Lucy were among drivers who led a convoy past Raigmore Hospital. Picture: Callum Mackay

A convoy of around 15 heavy goods vehicles drove past Raigmore Hospital in support of hard-pressed NHS staff and other key workers.

It connected with the weekly Clap for Carers and followed a similar event at Nairn Hospital.

Organiser Steve Barclay, managing director of Seafield Park Transport in Wester Inshes, said: "It was just to give them a wee thank you – they are doing a good job and it's not hard for us to do this and give them a couple of smiles."

As people in England were told to "stay alert" rather than "stay at home" there were fears it would encourage more people to travel to the Highlands.

While there were later warnings that people doing so would be breaking rules still in force across Scotland Inverness MP Drew Hendry said: "If people start to come to the Highlands again before it is appropriate to do so lives will be put at risk."

Beauly Community Council's Roy Harrison at the new community larder. Picture: Callum Mackay
Beauly Community Council's Roy Harrison at the new community larder. Picture: Callum Mackay

A Beauly phone box was turned into a community larder.

A successful bid by the village's community council to Highland Council's resilience fund allowed the transformation of the box in Beauly Square.

Shelves were fitted into the box by members of Beauly Men's Shed, with local businesses agreeing to support it with stock.

A second larder was added to another village location later, due to demand.

Highland libraries were enjoying a boom time for online resources.

The Bookbug national project for sharing stories, songs and rhymes for young people saw numbers of viewers rise from just under 2000 in March to 6500.

The number of uses of e-books through High Life Highland libraries also more than doubled compared to 2019.

Dominic and Shelley Gill. Picture: Callum Mackay
Dominic and Shelley Gill. Picture: Callum Mackay

Dominic and Shelley Gill, who set up the Acts of Kindness Inverness and Highlands (AOK) group to distribute food and other essentials to those in need received a Points of Light award from Prime Minister Boris Johnston for their work.

He told the Merkinch couple: "Stories like yours sustain my belief that we will not only beat this virus together, but that we can emerge stronger – more resilient, more innovative, more economically dynamic, but also more generous and more sharing."

Louise Mason.
Louise Mason.

An Inverness firefighter celebrated her 27th birthday by completing an ironman challenge, raising more than £1000 for charity.

Louise Mason took on the challenge in aid of Mind UK to keep her spirits up in lockdown.

She swam 1.2 miles in a children's paddling pool; cycled 56 miles on an exercise bike and ran 13.1 miles up and down the side of her house.

Smithton Residents Association handed out afternoon tea to local residents. Picture: Gary Anthony
Smithton Residents Association handed out afternoon tea to local residents. Picture: Gary Anthony

Packs of afternoon tea were being delivered to hundreds of home across the Smithton area of Inverness to boost people's spirits.

Deliveries of scones, jam, tea bags and coffee sachets to 1050 homes were led by the local community council and Smithton Residents Association.

There was criticism of the former head of NHS Highland after it emerged he had travelled a number of times during lockdown between his new work base as head of NHS Orkney and his home on the Black Isle.

Iain Stewart later apologised for any offence caused though the Scottish Government insisted his travel was permitted under the rules – because his accommodation on Orkney was provided by the NHS it did not fall under second home rules.

Mr Stewart said he had only come home a few times when his family needed him and authorities insisted his presence on Orkney was vital for him to carry out his key leadership role.

Conservative politicians in the Highlands hit out at prime ministerial adviser Dominic Cummings after he travelled from London to the north of England with his family while his wife had Covid symptoms.

Mr Cummings insisted he had done nothing wrong but Conservative group leader on Highland Council, Andrew Jarvie, said his position was "untenable" and MSP Jamie Halcro Johnson said it was his personal opinion that Mr Cummings "should have resigned or be removed from his position".

Highland Council revealed cost-cutting plans to address what it said was a near £100 million hole it its finances caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Calling for additional Scottish Government support it placed a freeze on recruitment and "non-essential" spending and hoped to be granted a debt repayment holiday.

It remained committed, however, to a spend of £100 million on adult social care.

Tulloch Homes announced it was extending its support to Highland Foodbank, providing another £4000 to the charity over four weeks, on top of £1000 a week it previously pledged for an eight-week period.

The firm, the largest housebuilder in the Highlands, also made a "significant" five-figure donation to Marie Curie Care whose fundraising activities had been hit.


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