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'Above and beyond' efforts of High Life Highland staff during Covid crisis recognised by employer


By Imogen James

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The Pavillion was decorated beautifully. Pictures: Alison White Photography
The Pavillion was decorated beautifully. Pictures: Alison White Photography

The High Life Highland (HLH) Special Covid Awards marked their achievements in person – the first time for two years staff have been able to get together in this way.

Guests were invited to the Strathpeffer Pavilion for the ceremony last Thursday, which was also broadcast online for those who could not make it along on the night.

As well as HLH staff, local councillors were also invited along to the special awards evening, along with reporters from Highland News publishers HNM to cover the event.

Speakers at the black tie event included HLH chief executive Steve Walsh who thanked staff for their extra effort during the pandemic and for continuing to support both the company and the community it serves at what was a very difficult time.

Chief executive Steve Walsh delivering a speech.
Chief executive Steve Walsh delivering a speech.

The charity, which provides culture and leisure facilities on an an arms-length basis for Highland Council, had to adapt to different ways of working during last year’s lockdowns.

With many facilities closed staff had to find alternative ways of bringing their services to locals.

Hosted by Nicola McAlley from STV, a total of seven awards were handed out on the night.

There were also many commendations in each category showing just how much HLH appreciates its hard working staff.

The role model award went to Tain leisure manager Kelly Skinner.

She was hailed for being the most “dedicated, loyal and hard-working woman I have ever met,” by Eilidh Oliver, cashier and receptionist at the Tain Royal Academy Community Complex.

In her nomination Ms Oliver added: “Not only is she an amazing manager, but she was also such a caring person during lockdown.”

The music instruction team of more than 50 members won the team award for the way they so quickly transitioned to delivering online learning during the pandemic.

Norman Bolton and Douglas Galbraith accepting the Team Award on behalf of the music instruction team.
Norman Bolton and Douglas Galbraith accepting the Team Award on behalf of the music instruction team.

Their rapid response to the “new normal” kept people engaged and maintained a level of normality for learners during what were of course very unusual times.

The collaboration award was taken home by the HLH furlough team, who successfully made a new business concept work in a very short space of time.

Jackie Mackenzie and Steve Macdonald with the collaboration award given to the furlough team.
Jackie Mackenzie and Steve Macdonald with the collaboration award given to the furlough team.

Archivist Lorna Steele won the innovation award for her online work with the Highland Archive Centre.

Her series of weekly online history talks, under the banner Learn with Lorna, attracted a worldwide audience.

A further award for a non-HLH employee who nevertheless has provided valuable support to the organistion went to the Grow project team.

The volunteer group for adults with learning disabilities helps to manage the Botanic Gardens in Inverness and uses gardening as a way of therapy.

Volunteers grew vegetables and gave them to local food banks during lockdown, helping HLH in its efforts to keep the community healthy.

Ewan Mackintosh, facilities manager of the Botanic Gardens and the Grow project, said: “The Grow Project supports 25 very special trainee gardeners to learn gardening and life skills while maintaining and developing a beautiful and productive garden.

It is run by High Life Highland, funded by the NHS and donations.

“I’m proud to be associated with this project, the trainees and the amazing group of volunteers that bring so much knowledge,friendship and fun to the gardens.

“They are crucial in helping to providing this important service.

“All the Grow Project volunteers put hours and hours of work into supporting our trainee gardeners and I am delighted their hard work has been recognised by High Life Highland at the Special Covid Awards.”

There were also two special awards on the night.

The first went to the leisure managers team for keeping leisure centres safe over the pandemic.

The second was won by the Covid-19 team who pulled together HLH’s first response to the pandemic and helped communicate with staff during what was a very turbulent time.

Winners of the chairs special award going to the Covid-19 team.
Winners of the chairs special award going to the Covid-19 team.

Each winner received a special curved glass trophy to take home.

Winners were accompanied to the stage by traditional music played by HLH’s own music instruction team who also kept guests entertained during two intervals.

Jon Rutter on viola and Rona Porter on cello.
Jon Rutter on viola and Rona Porter on cello.

The event was closed with a speech from Dr David Finlayson, a member of the board of directors for HLH.

Dr Finlayson thanked those in attendance and again re-iterated the importance of recognising the work of all the HLH staff over the last year.

Guests were then treated to catering by Red Poppy who supplied a delicious buffet of cold foods and desserts after the ceremony.

HLH chief executive Steve Walsh said: “Without the selfless hard work of our passionate staff and volunteers, High Life Highland could not have provided the essential services to Highland communities at their hour of need during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our awards were a fantastic way to recognise and applaud the contribution made by them over the last 18 months.

“I can’t even begin to tell you the sense of pride that I feel, having seen what our teams did for each other and their communities – recognising those efforts is what our staff awards is all about.”

The awards demonstrated how what was a very challenging year brought out the best in staff at High Life Highland, with the event a welcome opportunity to thank all those who helped keep things going for the community.

In this week's Ross-shire Journal – Tain role model hailed


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