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Balmacara Estate is running for Helping it Happen award along with stair-climbing pensioner Margaret Payne and Highland Migrant & Refugee Advocacy group

By Hector MacKenzie

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ONE of Ross-shire's "hidden gems" is in the running for an award recognising businesses which help rural areas to thrive.

Balmacara Estate near Kyle of Lochalsh is a finalist in the Helping it Happen Awards 2020 organised by Scottish Land & Estates.

The organisation's chief executive Sarah-Jane Laing said: “The pandemic, and particularly the lockdown period, has given rise to many inspiring stories as people use their own talents, time and money to support their local communities. This is reflected in many of the nominations. More than ever, this year has typified what Helping It Happen is all about – individuals, rural businesses and organisations going the extra mile to make a positive contribution to society."

Balmacara Estate, a finalist in the Conservation Award category is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland. It is described as "an outstanding example of a Highland crofting estate" with the flower rich meadows of Duirinish and Kirkton, the oaks and birch woodlands of the Celtic rainforest at Coille Mhòr and the crannog on the dragonfly laden Loch Achaidh na h-Inich. The landscape supports a rich range of habitats and species including migrant birds, otters off the coastline, pine martens, red squirrels, 300 types of moth and butterflies.

The Ranger service at the estate offers seasonal family activities that coincide with the school holidays and provide bespoke guided walks and activities throughout the year. The estate also offers holiday accommodation in cottages by the shore of Loch Alsh. This in turn has boosted the local economy and opened up new job opportunities due to the attraction from tourists to stay on the beautiful estate.

Hello campaign
Hello campaign

Another finalist in the Highland Community Champion of the Year category is Margaret Payne from Ardvar in Sutherland.The 90-year-old;s lockdown Suilven Challenge aw her climb the equivalent of Suilven on her stairs. She climbed 282 times over 73 days and raised £434,562 for NHS, NHS Highlands, Highland Hospice and RNLI.

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.

Margaret Payne
Margaret Payne

Tulloch Homes, based in Inverness, finalist in the Highland Community Champion of the Year category. Throughout lockdown, they donated £1000 a week to Inverness Food Bank and Marie Curie Care, among others.

The Hello! Campaign by Highland Migrant & Refugee Advocacy, based in Inverness, is a finalist in the Highland Community Champion of the Year category. HiMRA (Highland Migrant & Refugee Advocacy) aims to empower and bring together people who identify as migrants and refugees, to strengthen community integration and social inclusion in the Highlands of Scotland. The campaign aims to send a Highland ‘Hello’ to those in care homes, and those who can’t get out. They ask people to post a video of themselves saying ‘Hello’ and tell folk something they have done, or are doing, during lockdown that makes them happy - then tag three friends and ask them to do the same. The Hello Campaign and Highland Senior Citizens Network then asks carers to show the films to people they are looking after, to bring the outside world to those stuck inside.

The winners will be announced via a video premiered on YouTube at noon on September 30.

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