Where did that week go? We actually managed it all, Helmsdale, Shapinsay, Thurso, Tongue, Applecross, Lairg and back to Helmsdale, all in four days then two days of the True North conference at Timespan. It feels weird waking up in the same bed twice and with another night in Helmsdale still to go. Yay!
Obviously, the van survived, mostly intact, even scaling the dizzy heights of the famous Applecross road. This is what met us when we had less than an hour to get to Applecross Primary.
The kids were fab. Eight of the population of ten kids were there and fitted neatly with space for more inside the van. (I have actually had this number of adults in here before plus two standing but they weren’t entirely sober.) Then we went out into the field where the kids (and teacher) had ideas for an outdoor classroom. The current school sports Victorian-style windows with high sills to prevent kids being distracted. The current teacher and pupils think the reverse, and want the view and its wildlife to be part of lessons.
After a productive Lateral North meeting in the community centre that evening, we slept soundly in the home of Alison and Alistair MacLeod, Alison being the super-active local Development Officer.
Thence the following morning over the now-opened road which was lined in part by six foot snow drifts, the normally spectacular views obscured by thickly shifting cloud and the traffic surprisingly heavy, but only comparatively. We’ve had most of these Highland Roads entirely to ourselves.
The trip in its entirety was a practice shot for something more extensive in the future if the funding can be found. It worked well as a trial. Being whistlestop was fun and the Lateral North workshops got people thinking, talking and hopefully the various debates will continue and become action plans which might help life in these places to prosper. Graham Hogg’s Laternal North presentations were inspiring, dealing with macro and micro, citing examples of change in a range of locations, and determinedly positive. All the debates were lively, engaging and occasionally contentious. We thought a follow-up would be useful too with some kind with an enabler to provide practical information about funding, who to contact etc for people to bring plans to fruition.
On future trips, I’d like more time to blog (apologies to Tongue and Melness and their fabulous turnout and enlivening discussion) and more time to respond creatively in writing. I’d like to write up each event, perhaps in a newsletter, so that people could revisit and reconsider what was said.
I’d also like to document in some tiny but immediate way the lives of those we met. We heard many little snippets of lives which illustrate the trials and triumphs of life in these communities and locations. Akin to oral histories, I suggest oral testimonies of life now by people of all ages living there now. For instance, kids in both Applecross and Helmsdale effectively leave home at the age of twelve to go to school five days a week, and an elderly lady in Lairg will have to leave for the first time when she needs help looking after herself. There are a variety of ways these testimonies could be taken, but they would be invaluable communications in the co-ordination of community efforts, creating wider change as people separated by distance see common difficulties or goals, applying for funding (large or small) and greater understanding within and outwith these communities about the special difficulties and advantages they have. They could also be archived for posterity, which is what I’m hearing about at the Timespan conference True North right now. More on that later.