One of the values of a formal end to a year is that it prompts tributes to the year’s standout achievements and achievers.
Here are For Argyll’s picks of the year.
The Dunoon Burgh Hall team are way out there for a continually remarkable level of invention, chutzpah, fun and community embeddedness in the events, activities and initiatives they make possible in challenging circumstances. First they achieved a Burgh Hall returned to serviceability. Then they kept it continually busy with a bewildering variety of events and opportunities. All the while they wee raising huge amounts of money for the radical renewal of the building – now under way. And then they emerged wit a Pop Up Gallery down on the waterfront – with yet more exhibitions, events and workshops there, keeping the flag flying for the chrysalis of the Burgh Hall until it emerges ready to soar even higher. This has been no less than years of an unmatchable triumph of the will and is wholly inspirational.
Staying with Dunoon, its vehicle and ferry service, Western Ferries, which provides the most consistently reliable service on the Clyde – and a shuttle service at that, saw a validation of its historic founding achievements in the publication of Roy Pedersen’s book, Western Ferries: Taking on Giants. However innovative, entrepreneurial and customer focused were the company’s origins – and they were all of that, often galvanically so, its present is a match for that past and more. Employing local people; investing its own money; working to assist partner initiatives using its services – like McGills cross-Clyde bus services; with the savviest, most clearly conceived and most efficient business plan of the lot; Western is a supremely well managed, private sector business delivering a key – affordable – public service without subsidy and in profit.
Jumping towns across the Clyde, Helensburgh is getting its act together impressively. With the only successful project to emerge from the pantomimically expensive quagmire that was CHORD, its imaginative renewal of the function and facilities of its spacious central space, Colquhoun Square, has given the town a new sense of itself. It has opened the Tower Arts Centre, driven by the entrepreneurial energy and force of Brian Keating. It also has the inestimable Phil Worms whose steady successes in taking forwards the vision of a Helensburgh Heroes Centre have recently seen the award of another substantial tranche of funding. Almost all once grand Victorian towns fell slowly and without much resistance on to their uppers. Wherever they are, the challenge is of renewal, of redirection, without trashing the astonishing heritage they are lucky enough to have. Helensburgh is on its way.
Moving north up the water, the Rosneath Peninsula West Community never stops in its projects for community improvement and in the variety of events it runs to keep the community together and to raise money in its energetic assertion of what it can do for itself. It saved the lovely Cove Library. It took over the equally lovely Cove Burgh Hall, now the venue for a continual series of events. Between fund raising events of marked imagination [and occasional glorious anarchy – as with the spectacular Helensburgh Colour Canter] and grants, it has raised £100,000 to make possible the transformation of Craigrownie Park into a community playpark on the shores of the Clyde. Making all of this possible is a community that genuinely acts as one – and must be an exemplar for collaboration and teamwork.
Taking to the air and off to Bute, the community of Rothesay and the Editor of The Buteman, Craig Borland, together set an example of generosity of spirit, openness – and courage – in the example they have set in their reception of some of the first of the Syrian refugees to reach Britain. Against what today are the understandable reservations of some in the community, the many prepared a warm welcome and a support network for people who must feel as if they’ve been whisked to another planet in the green, wet and windblown Bute of their arrival time. At The Buteman, Craig Borland’s editorial courage has been a standard bearer for journalistic integrity. He published an unequivocal support for the responsibilities of humanity to itself, in an action he knew could cost his paper some readers. If it has, that action will have confirmed the support of a great local paper by the vast majority of Brandanes.
Island hopping takes us to Mull, where the endless resourcefulness of the Mull and Iona Community and its Trust has come up with another enlivening and achievable initiative aimed at securing community sustainability. Mull has followed the Garmony Hydro Scheme with a proposition to take community ownership of Craignure Pier from Argyll and Bute Council. The structure was long neglected by the council, giving ferry operator CalMac, recurring headaches from its condition. As the terminal for the lifeline CalMac ferry services to the island, Craignure Pier matters directly to Mull and Iona. Community management would maintain it responsibly and the considerable annual revenues they would get from CalMac in carrying and berthing dues would contribute markedly to community development. With Tobermory Harbour Association a model of imaginative and competent management, expert support is on hand.
Their respective RNLI lifeboats link Mull and its instantly recognisable Tobemory [Severn-class Elizabeth Fairlie Ramsey] to the other end of their ferry route – the crescent mainland bayside town of Oban [Trent-class Mora Edith Macdonald] – and to their peers in Islay [Helmut Schroder of Dunlossit II] and Campbeltown [Severn-class Ernest and Mary Shaw and D-class [IB1] Alastair Greenlees] ; and to the inshore lifeboats at Tighnabruaich in Cowal [Atlantic 75 Alec and Maimie Preston] and Helensburgh [Atlantic 75 Gladys Winifred Tiffney. The spread of types of life support the RNLI’s lifeboats supply to the public who fund them is immense – from dealing with errant merchant navy vessels in trouble, often in groundings with the potential for environmentally toxic leakages; to going to the aid of distressed fishing vessels; to rescuing members of the public from the otherwise certain consequences of their own irresponsibilities; to towing in leisure sailors in trouble with their craft and in difficult sea conditions; to carrying out the medevacs of patients from the islands which save lives – and bring them into the world. The Oban lifeboat has, to date, had four babies born aboard en route from Craignure to Oban hospital. The crew are volunteers, their skills and knowledge breathtaking. The extent to which they put themselves in harms way to save the lives of others is humbling. In a place as water-defined as Argyll and the Isles, they are irreplaceable.
Staying with the water and with Oban, Oban Bay Marine wrapped up this year, having spent eight years in total commitment to do all it would take to see a walk-ashore transit marina for visiting sailors on the Oban town centre waterfront. In the past year they saw Argyll and Bute Council finally commit to making this happen – an initiative Oban Bay Marine and the Oban business community knew, on good evidence, was important to the economic development of the town. With the end gained, the company wound up, saying in the approaches to that decision: ”The directors of Oban Bay Marine [OBM] are pleased to learn of A&B Council’s Area Committee decision to proceed with the option to deliver a permanent berthing facility for Oban by 2017, including cruise ship tender berth and transit marina for visiting vessels. After 8 years of developing proposals and campaigning for such a facility, OBM are pleased that the Council have finally made this decision and wish them every success.’ In the process of what they achieved, OBM lost to tragic early death two bulwarks of their effort, Chair, John Macgregor and Director Adrian Lauder. This seems a good place to record their contribution and their loss.
Back to the land. The Kilfinan Community Forest Company at Tighabruaich in Cowal remains the brightest of leading lights in its serial initiatives to create sustainable rural living in a forest environment. They have bred skills, built homes, offered plots for designed woodland crofts, bought another 434 hectares of forest, opened a run-of-the-river hydro electricity scheme and had their affordable housing Masterplan approved by Argyll and Bute Council. You almost never know what they’re doing until they’ve done it. They have proved remarkably resilient and durable in a context where such initiatives too often tend to run out of steam – and that speaks for the committed buy-in by their community to the concept of what they’re doing.
Since the great majority of CalMac‘s ferry routes serve Argyll or depart and return to it from the outer isles, we feel able to include the company in the tally of 2015 Argyll achievements. Old faithful, the state-owned, state subsidised ferry operator, lifted her skirts in 2015 and did a merry and successful dance down south. Taking everyone by surprise, CalMac formed a business partnership and bid successfully to run the military port of Marchwood in the Solent – a management challenge with powerful commercial potential for its owner, the Ministry of Defence and for the partnership. Solent Gateway Ltd, the successful bidder, is a joint venture between transport specialists David MacBrayne Ltd [DML] and global logistics firm, GBA [Holdings] Ltd; and the Marchwood Seamount is one of the UK’s busiest military port. 2016 will see the opening moves in Solent Gateway’s strategic management at Marchwood – worth watching,
We could say a lot about other great initiatives and achievements in Argyll in the past year – but these are a heartwarming representative sample of the many strong positives of 2015.