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Ross-shire review of 2020 in words and pictures; Ross-shire Journal looks back on the year the world was turned upside down by coronavirus


By Hector MacKenzie

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Pupils Darcie Smith, Charley Stewart and Amy Mackay help KT with the cookery class. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
Pupils Darcie Smith, Charley Stewart and Amy Mackay help KT with the cookery class. Pictures: Stewart Attwood

In January, the timetable at Dingwall Primary was well and truly shaken up with the arrival of singer K T Tunstall who performed for the whole school and shared healthy eating tips as part of a promotional tour for Lidl.

"It is very easy just to eat rubbish," she said, sharing the secrets of her smoked mackerel pate and vegetable crudites.

The Suddenly I See star also played a sold out gig at iconic Strathpeffer Pavilion.

Fundraising effort for care pod for North Kessock lad Reece Mitchell with Ladies Day at R& B. Mum Donna Mitchell(front)with the ladies.Picture: Gary Anthony..
Fundraising effort for care pod for North Kessock lad Reece Mitchell with Ladies Day at R& B. Mum Donna Mitchell(front)with the ladies.Picture: Gary Anthony..

Donna Mitchell attended a ladies' night staged to help hit a fundraising target for a specialist care pod for her son Reece, who suffers from Batten disease.

The event in Inverness in January brought her within touching distance of the £60,000 which was soon to lead to the pod being installed at her North Kessock home. She described it as "life-changing" for the family.

Inspector Jim Rice.
Picture: Callum Mackay.
Inspector Jim Rice. Picture: Callum Mackay.

In February, the discovery of drugs with an estimated street value of £300,000 near the Easter Ross landmark of Fyrish Hill prompted a pledge from Inspector Jim Rice that police resources would continue to focus ridding communities of the "misery" they cause.

The problem of 'county lines' drugs supply to rural areas was highlighted in a report on concerns that a small number of Dingwall Academy pupils had been skipping classes to buy drugs while they were supposed to be at lessons. One mother said she was aware schools were not "child-minding services" but something needed to be done to tackle the problem. Police and education authorities it required partnership working and was a community

The prospect of parking charges being introduced to Dingwall as part of a Highland Council shake-up to generate revenue.

Cllr Margaret Paterson said she would resign if charges were introduced against the will of local people.

Park Primary School blaze.
Picture: James MacKenzie
Park Primary School blaze. Picture: James MacKenzie

A blaze at Park Primary in Invergordon rocked the community and triggered immediate pledges of support from neighbouring schools and the wider the community

Answers were being demanded as it was later put down to a faulty laptop which had burst into frames.

The incident sparked a debate over fire safety at schools and the absence of fit-for-purpose sprinkler systems in some.

No one was hurt in the blaze which ruined a large portion of the building.

In March, householders and business across Ross were bracing themselves for the uncertain impact of the coronavirus crisis as empty supermarket shelves.

The deep-water port of Invergordon had been expecting 178,000 visitors over the year – expected to generate up to £18m for the Highland economy.

The community response was immediate with informal groups springing up to help the most vulnerable as it became clear certain groups of people risked isolation as lockdown restrictions loomed.

Sarah Mackenzie of Tain and District Development Trust said: "Alone we can do so little but together we can do so much."

Meanwhile MOO Food, a community food project in Muir of Ord that has inspired numerous community larders, was set to expand as part of a two-year project focused on polytunnels, orchards and grow boxes

Lorraine Davidson (centre) with staff Stacey Brown, Jackie Mcilvenny, Lorna Stefaniak and Madge Mcfaul.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Lorraine Davidson (centre) with staff Stacey Brown, Jackie Mcilvenny, Lorna Stefaniak and Madge Mcfaul. Picture: Callum Mackay

In April, shops remaining open to maintain food distribution became a new hub in the fight to tackle coronavirus with some staff going above and beyond to deliver goods to vulnerable and elderly people in their own time.

Invergordon Coop manager Lorraine Davidson said: "Some of the people we see are losing their jobs and worried about paying mortgages and feeding their kids. Others are sitting at home all day and we might be the only ones they speak to. The attitude is we have a crisis and we are going to get through it together." She said that despite fears over Covid-19 and the risk to frontline staff, she had no problems filling staff posts.

Tarradale Primary pupils meanwhile got the chance to continue online workouts with their gym teacher Mairi Brooman whose sessions became eagerly anticipated weekly get-togethers. Many shared pictures from home.

Mairi Brooman is keeping Muir of Ord moving
Mairi Brooman is keeping Muir of Ord moving

Others started to find a way around the problems they encountered with creatives sharing art and performing online, churches holding services and even inducting new ministers that way and food sharing enterprises and court cases dealt with via video link.

Stoicism turned to anger in some quarters amid fears people were travelling against regulations from areas with a high prevalence of Covid-19 to the Highlands with Airbnb coming under pressure to be more proactive in blocking bookings.

In Ullapool, a community paper chain art project which has been started to help people with dementia continued in a new form in lockdown with participants creating items according to a theme each week.

Coordinator Anne-Marie Quinn had hopes of a post-lockdown exhibition. She said: "One day we hope our paper chains might meet each other!"

Dr Ross Jaffrey started a hand sanitiser campaign to help curb the spread of Covid-19, growing a well-received information group to over 8000 followers in the months to follow.

A downside to the crisis was a rise in fly-tipping witnessed in several communities. Some blamed the fact recycling centres were closed due to Covid restrictions but that feeble excuse held little water with most.

Later in April the Journal played a part in getting stranded Easter Ross couple back home from Goa where a dream silver wedding anniversary turned nightmare when lockdown restrictions were imposed overnight.

Karen and Calumn thanked us for stepping in and raising the issue with British Airways, the local MP and the Foreigh Office.

Jackie Macrae of Innis Mhor care home in Tain..
Jackie Macrae of Innis Mhor care home in Tain..

Jackie Macrae of Innis Mhor nursing home in Tain took us through a day in her life during the pandemic. Her disarmingly honest account of the pressure staff worked under brought home for many the enormous daily challenges faced by front line staff.

Estate workers joined fire crews from across Ross-shire in tackling a wildfire near Tarvie.

A recent wildfire at Tarvie near Strathpeffer empahsised the importance of estate workers helping out.
A recent wildfire at Tarvie near Strathpeffer empahsised the importance of estate workers helping out.

Locals around Garve rallied to provide refreshments as the importance of teamwork in tackling tinder dry conditions was emphasised.

90-year-old Patti Davis, nicknamed 'Granny Alness', started a sponsored walk around her Mull Hall residential home for Age Scotland and Alzheimer Scotland.

Patti Davis has been a stalwart of the Alness community all her life.
Patti Davis has been a stalwart of the Alness community all her life.

Despite the can-do attitude seen everywhere, the economic impact of lockdown was already showing with two hotels announcing they would close as vital tour bus activity dried up overnight.

Thousands of Ross-shire pupils were learning from home with the digital hub set up by Highland Council coming into its own.

It was a long lockdown for all concerned requiring new solutions to keep 'classrooms' – kitchen or bedroom tables in many cases ­— going.

Liam Christie.
Liam Christie.

Singing Tesco delivery driver Liam Christie cheered up many with his witty parodies of popular tunes, many working in the Covid-19 theme.

In June, concerns that an increase in tourist traffic was 'making a mockery' of Covid-19 restrictions prompted 'stay away' calls in many quarters – ironic for an area normally so dependent on the visitor sector.

Invergordon pupil Shadi Ali shows racism the read card.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Invergordon pupil Shadi Ali shows racism the read card. Picture: Callum Mackay

Invergordon Academy 16-year-old Shadi Ali, whose family settled in the area after fleeing war-tortn Syria, commanded respect by running 100km over a week-long period to raise money for and awareness of the charity Show Racism the Red Card.

The teenager said that while he had experienced racism – once on the field of play – 'most people have been positive so I just decided to do it'.

The first half of the year brought changes no one had seen coming and there were many more to follow.

Read the second part in this week's Ross-shire Journal - out now.



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