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Nicky Marr: Ness Factor was great but what if we didn’t need charity fundraisers at all?

By Nicky Marr

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Joanne Ross won Ness Factor 2023. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Joanne Ross won Ness Factor 2023. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Were you at the Drumossie Hotel on Saturday night? The place was jumping, whipped to a frenzy of excitement by a brilliant host, Torridon’s Kenny Smith.

The capacity 300-plus crowd were swept through every emotion, from compassion, through gratitude, to elation, as nine finalists sang their hearts out, competing for the coveted Ness Factor trophy. In doing so, they told their stories of how much Highland Hospice means to them. It was a night for goosebumps upon goosebumps. Life-affirming.

Overall winner was Joanne Ross, a support worker from Dingwall, who raised the roof with a rendition of Proud that Heather Small herself would have been proud of. Her support ‘Team Jo-Jo’, and their raucous celebrations when she won, were inspiring and infectious.

Highland Hospice was the real winner on the night, receiving a whopping £86,000 through the fundraising efforts of the contestants, superb support from the local business community, and the donations and auction proceeds that poured in on the evening.

Huge congratulations must go to Lornagh Siegel who came up with the concept and has steered the event since its inception, from contestant auditions, through vocal coaching, sponsorship and more. What an amazing achievement.

But Ness Factor wasn’t the only Inverness charity event of the week. The Moonlight Ball raised a whopping £110,000 for the Archie Foundation, and almost every business dinner or awards ceremony I’m involved with raises money for deserving causes, including the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards last Friday, and a joint event between Highland and Moray Business Women last Wednesday.

We’ve just had the Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running – sums raised there are into many hundreds of thousands – and I regularly sponsor friends who cycle, dook, abstain from alcohol, or hula-hoop their way through challenges for one great cause or another. The creativity of charity fundraising seems endless.

And goodness, aren’t all those charities so utterly deserving? Where would end-of-life care be without our beloved hospice? I’ve experienced hospital care for kids before the Archie Foundation started improving conditions for children at Raigmore, and I’ve compared them to the facilities that exist today. Wow.

The Haven Centre was once a dream. Thanks to the tenacity of Elsie Normington, and the fundraising commitment of countless local businesses and families, it’s now a purpose-built specialist centre, respite accommodation, and community coffee shop, supporting children and young adults with learning disabilities. It’s already the envy of Scotland. Elsie’s Damehood is just a matter of time.

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And a Highlands and Moray without Mikeysline? How much darker would the world be without the support they offer, both unconditionally, and non-judgementally?

Blythswood have just launched their annual Reverse Advent Calendar, inviting us to pop a daily food contribution into a box and deliver it to Highland Foodbank, to keep shelves stocked over Christmas.

These charities I have mentioned just scratch the surface – in every town, village, and community across the north, people are fundraising to help others. It doesn’t stop. And it’s vital that it continues.

But however wonderful and deserving these local charities are, wouldn’t it be amazing if we simply didn’t need them? I’m not naive enough to imagine a world without the struggles that charities strive to overcome, but I do wish our government would prioritise resources to properly deliver the services, support, and compassion that is provided by the charities we both rely upon, and support.

Scotland is among the richest countries in the world. We celebrate our exports, our vibrant heritage and culture, and our glorious scenery.

But we prioritise other projects ahead of looking after our most vulnerable people in their hour of need. Instead we rely on the energy of the charity sector, and the goodwill and generosity of individuals and companies to keep people alive, healthy, supported, and with enough to eat, or, in the case of the hospice, to give the dignity of a good death.

Skewed logic? I think so.

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