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Inspirational Highland great-gran Margaret Payne (90) scoops top Helping it Happen accolade for lockdown Suilven stair climb for NHS Highland, Highland Hospice and RNLI


By Hector MacKenzie

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Margaret Payne
Margaret Payne

INSPIRATIONAL nonagenarian Margaret Payne who won the nation’s hearts by climbing the equivalent of Suilven on her stairs to raise money for charity has been named Highland Community Champion of the Year.

The accolade for the Sutherland woman came at the national Helping it Happen Awards.

Now in its fourth year, the Helping It Happen Awards have become firmly established in recognising the role of estates, farms and individuals who are helping rural Scotland thrive.

The awards are organised by rural business organisation, Scottish Land & Estates, and sponsored by GLM.The independent judging panel thought Margaret was an inspiration and that she didn't let anything get in her way of raising money for local and national causes.

“I want to offer my congratulations to Margaret – what an inspiration! She has raised a fantastic amount for the NHS and two charities close to her heart across Highland." - Sarah-Jane Laing

She beat off stiff competition in the Highland Community Champion of the Year category from Inverness-based Tulloch Homes, and the Hello! Campaign by Highland Migrant & Refugee Advocacy.

During lockdown, Margaret completed a "Suilven Challenge" which saw her climb the equivalent of Suilven on her stairs.

She climbed 282 times over 73 days or 10 weeks. During that time Margaret raised £434,562 for NHS, NHS Highlands, Highland Hospice and RNLI, with more than half of this coming back into the Highlands.

During the challenge the idea of creating a two bed facility in Lochinver, at the Assynt Medical Centre was born, currently nicknamed "the Ardvar Suite". A working committee has been formed to try and provide a much needed facility in the West of Sutherland so that not all patients have to travel to Raigmore for treatments, that could be dealt with in the West.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said:“I want to offer my congratulations to Margaret – what an inspiration! She has raised a fantastic amount for the NHS and two charities close to her heart across Highland. The judges had a really tough time deciding on the winners for each category because they have all made a big difference to their local communities and wider Scotland.

“With everything that has happened in 2020, the Helping It Happen Awards quite rightly celebrate those individuals, rural businesses and estates going the extra mile to make a positive contribution to society whether that’s by providing homes, producing high quality food and drink or helping Scotland meet its environmental goals. This contribution is crucial to ensure that Scotland has a successful recovery from the Covid pandemic.”

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and MSP for Inverness & Nairn said:“Throughout the coronavirus (Cvoid-19) pandemic, vital work has been undertaken across rural Scotland to adapt and help sustain our rural economy and our communities and this effort cannot be underestimated. Diversity is important to our rural economy, that’s why we’re committed to supporting an inclusive, sustainable and green economic recovery plan to help rural and island communities recover and thrive. In the coming weeks and months we need to continue to work together to reduce the spread of the virus in our communities.

“It’s great that Scottish Land & Estates has moved their Helping it Happen Awards online. This gives us the opportunity to be able to recognise all of the businesses and organisations that have demonstrated their commitment to making a difference for our nation, in conservation, environment, innovation, rural business or through supporting their local community.”

This year, there were 12 awards in total, with six award categories complemented by community champion awards across five Scottish regions as well as a judges’ special award. A full list of the winners is shown below with full details attached.

The winners were announced via a video premiered on YouTube at noon today.

The 2020 winners are:

Conservation Award, sponsored by Anderson Strathern: Borders Bird Box for their innovative and effective conservation concept which has clearly made a difference already.

Enhancing our Environment, sponsored by NatureScot: East Lothian Countryside Volunteers for a brilliant initiative and a great example of landowners and volunteers working together to enhance the environment.

Rural Business Award, sponsored by Velux: Fasque Forestry for their innovative, holistic and diversified approach which has resulted in job creation and further ambition for growth.

Innovation in Farming, sponsored by Douglas Holme & Co: Peelham Farm for constantly innovating, with a strong commitment to sustainable self-reliance and biodiversity.

Education Award, sponsored by Bell Ingram: Duffus Estate for facilitating an outdoor learning initiative to enable opportunities for sustainable education within a rural context.

Iver Salvesen Green Business Award: MiAlgae for their an innovative and creative business which crucially aims to reduce the human impact on our planet.

Judges’ Special Award: Hudson Hirsel for their outstanding work in house building in rural Scotland.

Community Champion of the Year, sponsored by GLM – Margaret Payne (Highland region) for raising money for local and national causes.

Dunecht Estates Volunteers (North East region) for simple, effective community engagement, helping local people.

Conner Pratt (Central region) for his selfless dedication to his community and keeping spirits up during lockdown.

Ayrshire Food Hub (South West region) for their dedicated and passionate work delivering meals to those in need.

Forth Resource Management (South East region) for having a real impact and making themselves accessible to a wide range of people, while promoting recycling.

Related: She did it! Great-granny completes mountain challenge



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