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29 May 2020

New dawn in the Coronavirus crisis

Dawn over Stranraer this morning

THE sun rose this morning on a new stage in the Coronavirus lockdown regime. The Scottish Government has confirmed that the first phase of easing of restrictions, as laid out in its roadmap last week, has begun. It means you can now meet with one other household at a time meetings must be kept to a maximum of eight and they are outside in places such as park or a private garden. Some non-contact sports, including golf, tennis, fishing and bowls can return as long as social distancing is observed. The council has confirmed its recycling centres will open on Monday on a limited basis. Sunbathing in open areas is now allowed, as is travelling locally for recreation - although the Scottish Government "strongly advises" that no one should travel further than five miles. Outdoor work that has been paused may resume, garden centres can open again and the construction industry has been cleared to begin "site preparation." Nicola Sturgeon has said there has been a "sustained and unmistakable" downward trend in the spread of the Covid-19 virus, meaning changes could now be safely made. However, the First Minister has also people should still stay at home as much as possible. More detail was issued last night on the Scottish Government's website: https://www.gov.scot/news/lockdown-begins-to-ease-in-phase-1/

28 May 2020

Tunes of glory for NHS

AFTER ten weeks of clapping and banging pots and pans as a gesture of solidarity with frontline NHS staff amidst the Coronavirus crisis, there is a suggestion the Thursday night 8pm ritual is ending. Some suggest it should become an annual tribute to medical staff. In Stranraer, piper Harrison Gibb – the Clayhole Piper – has been a stalwart of the event, piping a selection of tunes at key locations including the Galloway Community Hospital. For what could be the final NHS event, he was at Loreburn Housing's Milllburn Court – site of the former Hannays Mill. If the NHS event is coming to a close, Harrison saw it out in style.

A step along the road to restrictions being lifted

IT'S a relaxation, not a repeal... where we are on the restrictions roadmap. https://t.co/y3sU2MKoc3?amp=1

The weakest links: A75 and A77

Willie Scobie

THE A75 and A77 are the weakest links as transport infrastructure servicing the Cairnryan ferries are improved elsewhere. That's the claim after Highway England confirmed a £1bn upgrade of the A66 in Cumbria and made specific reference the ferry traffic it carries. They said: The A66 is both a nationally important road, linking Penrith in Cumbria with Scotch Corner in North Yorkshire and a key regional route. It is a hugely important route for freight traffic across the United Kingdom and as the main link to the Lake District and North Pennines to the East of England. "Upgrading the A66 route will provide enormous benefits to people living locally but will also change the way people travel round the UK, improving connections from Scotland to the east coast of England and Belfast's port traffic, via Stranraer, onwards to ports including Hull and Felixstowe." UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are investing a record £13 billion to improve journeys across the North of England. "Dualling the A66 will not only mean drivers' journeys are quicker, safer and more reliable across the Pennines, but is part of our pledge to ensure that the business opportunities of the Northern Powerhouse spread out from the great cities of the North of England to every city, town and rural community from the Midlands to the Scottish Lowlands.” Campaigners for improvements to the A75 and A77 say there is also impetus for investment from Northern Ireland. Councillor Willie Scobie has been a key figure in the fight to have road links in the area upgraded dramatically. He has now contacted all the South of Scotland MSP's and MPs to involve them in the campaign to have both the A77 and A75 upgraded to dual-carriageway standard. "I have deliberately made contact with the MSPs and MPs to involve them in bringing about the needed improvements to the A77 and A75 roads for us to have any economic recovery in the South West of Scotland. “The revelations that have emerged from a communication from Highways England, and further correspondence received from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council that recognise the important and crucial transport links between all England,Scotland and Northern Ireland. "But it also flags up that Scotland is the weakest link and what we need from all our parliamentarians is for them to secure the funding for a 10-20 year upgrading programme for the A77 and A75 similar to the A9 improvements taking place on the A9 in Scotland and the A66 in England. “We need both these major trunk roads that serve the international port of Cairnryan upgraded to dual carriageway standards if we are ever to economically recover from COVID 19.”

Test and Trace programme goes live

Scotland's Test, Trace, Isolate system - Test & Protect - is live. If you have symptoms of Coronavirus - cough, fever, loss/change of taste/smell - book a test here https://nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/coronavirus-covid-19/test-trace-and-isolate/coronavirus-covid-19-testing…. Or call @NHS24 on 0800 028 2816.

Crime takes a dip

DUMFRIES and Galloway continues to be a safe place to live, say Police Scotland, as new figures highlight reductions in serious assaults and housebreakings. It also comes as a total of 41 offences in the first year of a new domestic abuse law were recorded in Dumfries and Galloway. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 was introduced to cover coercive and controlling behaviours and created a single offence covering the full range of abusive behaviours, whether physical, psychological, financial or sexual. Of the 41 offences recorded, the victim was female in 36 cases and in five cases the victim was male. The Performance Report, introduced by Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor, and Quarter 4 Management Information figures also highlight an increase in fraud offences being recorded, from 286 to 318. The increase in fraud is a trend being reflected across the country, with cyber-related offences contributing to the overall picture. The Quarter 4 report also shows that the number of speeding offences is down from 4,355 to 4,025, however recorded dangerous driving offences are up from 141 to 150 and drink/drug driving offences are up from 190 to 208. A reduction in common and serious assaults is also reported in the report, from 1598 to 1498 and from 93 to 78 respectively. There has, however, been an increase in common assaults on emergency workers, from 203 to 247. Chief Superintendent Linda Jones, Divisional Commander for Dumfries and Galloway Division, pictured, said: “Protecting the public from risk and harm is our priority and Police Scotland officers continue to work hard in local communities to deter and detect crimes in order to keep people safe. “While it is pleasing to see a reduction in serious and common assault offences, it is extremely disappointing to see an increase in common assault offences on emergency service workers being recorded. Being assaulted is not part of the job and we will continue to take action to protect our people. “An increase in wildlife offences, from 10 to 24, has been recorded after an investigation in the Stewartry area resulted in a 64-year-old man being charged and reported to the Procurator Fiscal. “Proactive patrols will also continue across our road network and in local communities to deter those intent on putting others at risk by driving dangerously or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. “As DCC Taylor said today, we are here to help and support our fellow citizens to keep them safe in all aspects of their lives.” See more at www.scotland.police.uk

Phone service tackles isolation

A volunteer on the phone

ISOLATED amidst lockdown? A new phone-based service could be just the tonic. Touch Base is provided and monitored by charity Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway and will build a relationship between a volunteer and resident during the Covid-19 crisis. The initial volunteers are part of Dumfries and Galloway Befriending Project, but additional support is available if required. Tesco Mobile and Dixons Carphone have donated phones to allow the service to be set up. The role of the volunteer is to form a trusting relationship and provide informal social support to the service user to reduce feelings of isolation during lockdown. The service responds to referrals from Dumfries and Galloway Council's contact centre, which processes requests for support from vulnerable individuals and groups. The helpline number for this is 03033 333000 or the national number for Scotland is 08001 114000. The volunteer will perform two key roles: ensure basic needs are being met and reduce feelings of social isolation. If the volunteer feels that the resident requires more targeted support, then this can then be arranged through health or social care support services. Norma Austin Hart, chief executive officer of Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway, said: “Our volunteers will have a ‘blether' with the resident on topics that they enjoy. The main aim will be to reduce isolation of our more vulnerable residents, but it will also be an opportunity to see if they require any further support.” Kesah Trowell, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Dixons Carphone, said: “We are very pleased to donate mobile phones to help this volunteer-led COVID-19 support service provide vital support to residents across Dumfries and Galloway. Technology is an important way to connect with people at the best of times, but this crisis highlights just how integral it is in helping us to access support and maintain some sort of normality amid unprecedented circumstances.” A Tesco Mobile spokesperson added: “It's our privilege to be able to help people stay connected, especially those that are vulnerable. We hope our Little Help makes a difference during this difficult time.”

What's up? Tell the BBC

IT'S NOT too late to have your say on what matters here as the BBC's Debate Night turns its attention to Dumfries and Galloway. The BBC Scotland show is inviting people from the region to join the audience from home via laptop or PC and have the chance to put your questions to Scotland's politicians and public figures. Says presenter Stephen Jardine: "Our Dumfries and Galloway episode will take place next week on Wednesday 3rd June. "We welcome applications from members of the general public applying as themselves and not as representatives of a company or organisation. "Why take part? Debate Night is the only place where people are regularly able to put their questions and experiences directly to Scotland's policymakers in their own words. Despite the restrictions in place we are determined to continue to give people the opportunity to question those in charge. "Maybe you are a key worker, have been self-isolating or your work has been affected by Coronavirus; whatever your situation, we want you to apply and be part of the discussion." Visit www.bbc.co.uk/debatenight today and click ‘Join the Audience'. Previous episodes are available to watch via BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000htfx

Enjoy the countryside but please be sensible, says MSP

GALLOWAY and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has encouraged people to remain responsible when out in the countryside as lockdown restrictions begin to ease. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP's call comes as the SNP Government prepare to move the country into Phase One of their route map out of lockdown. While Mr Carson is encouraging those to enjoy outdoor activities and exercise, he says this must be done in a respectful way in order to protect farmers who have continued to produce food and drink in order to support the economy during the pandemic. Mr Carson says that people should take measures including not disturbing farm animals and wildlife, keeping dogs under control, taking litter home, avoiding farmyards and buildings and closing gates and adhering to signage requests. Mr Carson said: “As we begin to ease lockdown restrictions, I hope people will continue to act responsibly and respectfully while accessing the countryside. “Those working in the countryside have continued to produce food and drink through the pandemic and have supported the economy, especially in our rural communities. “I encourage everyone to continue taking responsible measures such as keeping animals under control, picking up litter and closing gates, which will go a long way to respecting the countryside.”

Fancy a pint...

...of milk, that is! South Scotland MSP Emma Harper is supporting a £1million joint-funded marketing campaign which supports the Scottish dairy sector and encourages people to buy more milk. Milk Your Moments is a campaign to drive consumption of milk and other dairy products, by inspiring moments of connection as people stay apart due to Coronavirus. The campaign is funded by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) Dairy UK, Scottish Government, Defra, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, to address the fall in milk sales due to the closure of food services caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The South West of Scotland is home to 48pc of Scotland's dairy farms and Miss Harper has raised the value of the dairy sector in Rural Committee when questioning the Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing, Miss Harper commented: “I've been continually raising the importance of Scotland's dairy sector as part of my committee and constituency work since election as well as recently over the last few weeks and months. “Milk Your Moments is a great campaign, supported by the Scottish Government, which recognises the value of milk and the dairy sector. I'm delighted to continue to help raise awareness of the importance of the Scottish dairy sector and I'd like to encourage everyone to buy milk from their local shops and supermarkets or have it delivered. “Milk is incredibly versatile and nutritious and I am promoting the use of it by sharing recipes on my social media, and encouraging others to share their own favourite milk containing recipes over the next few weeks of this campaign and I'll of course be sharing my own #MilkYourMoments favourite foods”. Milk and dairy have always featured in situations taken for granted before the lockdown, such as catching up with friends and family over a coffee or buying an ice-cream. The campaign uses a mix of promotions via social media alongside advertising on radio and television as well as outdoor advertising on billboards near supermarkets.

Buy local when lockdown lifts

BUY local – that's the message from an organisation championing food and drink produced here in the south west. The food and drink brand Savour the Flavours is calling on people to continue to support local businesses as lockdown eases. The call comes after Savour the Flavours launched its first industry consultation. Following a relaunch of the brand on Saturday, 23 businesses met online to discuss emerging issues and challenges being faced by the industry. Liz Ramsay of Savour the Flavours said: “Our region's local businesses swung into action to meet the needs of our communities when lockdown hit. It was fantastic to see so many businesses going the extra mile to make sure that vulnerable people, particularly in rural areas, had deliveries of the products they needed. It must be remembered, when the big supermarkets closed their online doors to many people in this region – our local businesses stepped up and did an absolutely amazing job. “My big concern now is how exposed these businesses are. Businesses might look busy, but I can absolutely guarantee people that no one is ‘benefitting' from this crisis. Many of these businesses have changed their trading models completely, which has huge financial implications. Several have needed to source new equipment or staff to manage demand, and all will have experienced cashflow challenges. “I know for a fact that several local businesses have put people ahead of profit by running at a loss to meet the home delivery needs of people in rural areas. Because that's what we do in Dumfries & Galloway – we look out for each other. “So we're calling on the people of Dumfries and Galloway to now look out for our local businesses by, wherever possible, buying local and supporting local.” Ronnie Graham of Barony Country Foods in Lochmaben was one of the business owners who took part, and he said: “This first meeting was a breath of fresh air after all the stress that small business owners like myself have been under. It was great to speak to other people who are going through the same, or worse, things than our company is, and there were a lot of ideas getting shared and that was really helpful. “Emotionally what hit me the hardest was seeing our friends and customers in the industry look crushed. I find it really upsetting to be honest. We are very, very lucky compared to most because we have been able to change our business and keep going. My heart goes out to every person running a hospitality business right now. “When this crisis hit it was difficult to know where to turn. As a small business you put so much of yourself into what you do, and when you think you're going to lose absolutely everything it's a terrible time. It's actually difficult to explain just how hard that is. “One thing I would say to local people is, please don't forget about us when life starts to return to normal. A comment I've heard a lot recently is ‘we maybe can't travel, but by god we can eat well'. So many people didn't realise the quality of local food that's available to them in this region. Food production is a real strength of our local economy, and we need local people to continue to support it.” Roan's Dairy is another business who has continued trading throughout the lockdown period. After the meeting, Tracey Roan commented: “Being able to bring so many producers and local businesses together virtually was great - I think it was just what we were all needing. You can get so much from just listening to others - this new type of networking is priceless. It was great to hear how we have all adapted to the challenging times we are in and just how important it is to share experiences and information, and I've come away from the meeting with some new ideas. “Local businesses pride themselves on what they do, and our local food and drink businesses have a passion to make Dumfries and Galloway proud of what it produces. Tonight just emphasised the need for this type of networking and Savour the Flavours is just the ticket. This is our opportunity to really shout about what we do here, many of us just don't have the time to blow our own trumpet. But we are all in this together, so the more we can come together and do this as an industry, the better.” The insights and business feedback shared during the meeting will now be consolidated and made available to industry partners and public agencies to help inform recovery planning. The next industry meeting will take place on Tuesday 2nd June at 7pm. Businesses can register to take part at www.savourtheflavours.co.uk .

Welcome for NHS restarts

Jeff Ace

NEWS that NHS Dumfries and Galloway is restarting some services and clinics which were stopped due to the Covid-19 crisis has been welcomed by MSP Colin Smyth. However, he has expressed continued concern about the consequences of postponed operations and clinics, as well as those people who did not attend health care to have problems investigated out of concern about catching Covid-19 or not wanting to burden the NHS. NHS Dumfries and Galloway chief executive Jeff Ace said a plan for restarting clinics and services had been submitted to the Scottish Government but he warned that it would be a gradual process and dependent on the continued suppression of the virus. Colin Smyth said: “I welcome the news that NHS Dumfries and Galloway is slowly restarting some services and clinics which were stopped due to Covid-19. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful local NHS staff, as well as all health and social care workers for their dedication, professionalism and hard work through this unprecedented and very frightening time. “Our NHS and health and social care workers have stepped up the mark and ensured we are as safe and as well cared for as possible. As lockdown measures are slowly lifted, it's more vital than ever that people continue to follow government advice about what they should and shouldn't do, the last thing anyone wants is a second wave of the virus. “However, I do still have concerns about the consequences to the NHS in the future of so many non-urgent operations and procedures which were rightly cancelled or postponed during the pandemic. There will also be many people who decided not to visit their doctor to get something investigated because they did not want to burden the NHS or catch Covid-19. “I am worried this will cause our NHS problems in the future and I would like to once again urge anyone with a health query or concern to call their GP in the first instance or 999 in an emergency.” Meanwhile, a virtual meeting of NHS Dumfries and Galloway Board featured updates on the implementation of national directives around Covid-19. Board members agreed new governance arrangements aimed at restoring some committees as much as is possible within the current coronavirus epidemic. As part of those discussions, it was confirmed that a Public Health Governance Committee will be created. Discussion took place around strategic planning, with members agreeing the need for NHS Dumfries and Galloway to have its own operational, strategic framework. NHS Dumfries and Galloway Chief Executive Jeff Ace then provided an update on the approach to Covid-19 in which he identified four main strands of work. The first of these is the management of Covid-19 cases throughout the various services. Noting that the numbers of Covid patients has been declining, he described this as stable, manageable and one of the most straightforward aspects of current work. Secondly, Mr Ace noted work to support care homes and pointed to a new national directive received last Monday. This sees NHS Boards taking on new responsibilities in relation to care homes. Mr Ace acknowledged the resources required to support this across the region's 31 care homes, but hailed good progress. Local implementation of the national 'test and protect' programme was highlighted as the third strand of work. Mr Ace spoke of significant progress, and a confidence that the programme can be maintained – but with a reliance on numbers remaining manageable. The fourth area of work is the expansion of non-civid services. Mr Ace noted that there were still services which had continued to operate throughout the epidemic, particularly around cancer treatment and mental health. He said that work was taking place to look at how, across a wider range of services, a model of care can be developed. Mr Ace noted challenges around any care models which require people to share confined spaces and that work is taking place to create a safe model while monitoring activity around Covid flow. NHS Dumfries and Galloway Chief Operating Officer Julie White and Interim Director of Public Health Valerie White then also delivered an update. They said a Care Home Oversight Group has been established and is now meeting daily, in line with national directions. Covid-19 -19 testing arrangements are in place. This includes surveillance testing at care homes where no confirmed cases of Covid-19 are currently identified. Towards the end of Monday's meeting, discussion turned to concerns around mental health amid the effect of the epidemic and lockdown. It was agreed that more needs to be done to promote the support which continues to be available locally during this time.

27 May 2020

Coastal communities to collect cash

COASTAL communities are set to receive funding from the council to start new projects. Members of the Ad Hoc Covid-19 sub committee will be asked to approve funding of more than £300,000 for these new initiatives. Scottish Ministers agreed more than five years ago that 100pc of the net revenue from the Scottish Crown Estate marine assets would be provided to local authorities for coastal community benefit. The total funding for the whole of Scotland is more than £7million, with over £300k coming to Dumfries and Galloway, the seventh highest award in Scotland. Information about the fund and invitations to apply were carried in the Free Press, sent to all community councils, organisations and published on the council website. Applications were open for a total of 10 weeks and 42 applications were received. Officers from across the region scored the applications. The projects were split into two pots – small projects with a value less than £5k and large strategic projects with a value of £5k and over. 18 different projects from across the region have been recommended for an award from the available funds. These projects include: Portpatrick Community Development Trust - Portpatrick School Garden (pictured) Wigtownshire Stuff – Wigtownshire Wheels for All Chair of the Communities Committee, Councillor Andy Ferguson, said “Our council is committed to work with communities to help deliver projects for the benefit of local people. The quality of the applications was very high which demonstrates the commitment local people want to make to their local area. Our officers will now work with these successful groups on the delivery of the projects, all of which will assist our communities to recover from the impact of Covid-19.” Vice Chair of the committee, Cllr John Martin, said: “We've got a proven track record of working well with coastal communities in the region. The number of applications for this fund demonstrates the demand there is for community-based projects for tourism, social cohesion and environmental safe-guarding of our coastal towns and villages. I'm looking forward to receiving updates on the delivery of these projects.”

The very dab! Praise for charity fundraiser

David's picture of the Cree bridge

HE'S known as Dabby as he's a dab hand at all he tries and readers of the Free Press are familiar with his ability with a camera... Now the work of firefighter David McCreadie as a fundraiser has been recognised by Holyrood. Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has heaped praise on the Newton Stewart man, whose photography skills are helping to support the NHS and fire service. Mr Carson welcomed Dabby's special calendar which he has produced in order to fund-raise for the NHS and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Support Service Fund. "David is carrying out a completely selfless act alongside a local printer who has waived any fee for their work and acts like this go a long way to showing the community spirit that is existing at this time," said Mr Carson. “This is wonderful news and I praise David for his completely selfless act while at the same showcasing some fantastic pictures. “We must all come together at a time like this and David is supporting two causes which deserve our utmost respect. “It is a great idea to see him take his photography skills into supporting our emergency services and the support he is receiving shows the community spirit that is alive and well. “I wish him continued success with his fundraising efforts.” Mr Carson has lodged a motion at Holyrood which states: 'That the Parliament congratulates David McCreadie, who is a firefighter from Newton Stewart, on his extensive fundraising efforts for the NHS and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Support Fund; understands that David has achieved this by publishing a special calendar that includes pictures of the Newton Stewart area; recognises that his hobby of photography has resulted in him building a blog with over 6,000 followers; praises David for this selfless act during the COVID-19 pandemic; applauds the local printer on waiving its fees for work; understands that David has been a firefighter for 28 years; commends him for his service, and wishes him all the best with his ongoing funding efforts.' David said: "Photography is a keen hobby of mine and I'm really proud to be able to create something that people enjoy seeing on my blog but also using this following to help raise funds for two very important beneficiaries. "I'd like to say a special thanks to the local printer I work with regularly as they have waived their fees ensuring I can donate all proceeds to both the NHS and SFRS Family Support Trust.” David, who works as a landscape gardener, joined the fire service in 1992. Since then, he has attended at emergency incidents across the region, ensuring that communities are kept safe. Just like 282 other retained and volunteer stations across Scotland, firefighters at Newton Stewart respond to emergencies via a pager system and will immediately drop everything to respond to a 999 call. Speaking about the job as a retained firefighter he said: “Even after all this time I still love being a retained firefighter. It's an extremely rewarding job and there is a thrill aspect. It's funny, because I'm always thinking about how to get to the station if I'm elsewhere in the town – it's even to the point where I'll always park my car facing that direction for ease just in case.” You can see more of David's work at his Facebook page, Dabhand's Blog and order his calendar from there too.

Home testing to tackle illness

WITH thousands of women not taking up the offer of a smear test for cervical cancer, moves are being made to roll out self-sampling kits to tackle the illness. Emma Harper, South Scotland MSP, has welcomed progress towards the Scottish rollout. Miss Harper is a former nurse and is pictured in her nursing days. She has worked with the Scottish Government and NHS Dumfries and Galloway on the issue of self-sampling for cervical cancer screening – raised a question directly with the minister for Public Health last week. In the question, she asked whether delivery of self-testing could be expedited in light of Covid-19 to limit the number of women physically presenting for appointments, whilst simultaneously allowing some cancer screening services to restart. Cervical cancer is a preventable disease yet is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers globally. Self-sampling screening test processes have already been developed in Denmark, Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands and have proven to both reduce the numbers of people receiving a late diagnosis of the disease and increase the number of people who take up the offer of a test. The self-test swab kit tests for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) with HPV being the cause of 99.7pc of cervical cancers. In a statement, Miss Harper's office said: "Currently, across Dumfries and Galloway there are around 6,000 women who have defaulted, or not taken up their offer of a smear test which screens for cervical cancer. Across Scotland this number is expected to be around 192,000." NHS Dumfries and Galloway originally started the ground-breaking work on a self-test for the board area and are now working with the Scottish Government to allow the wider-rollout of the test. Miss Harper said: “Six thousand women have not attended for their smear test. This seems like a number that can be reduced by implementing self-sampling screening. “I welcome the opportunity to raise the issue of self-test screening for cervical cancer directly with the Minister for Public Health. This is an issue which I have been pursuing for some time, and I thank NHS Dumfries and Galloway for originally leading the way and spearheading this work ahead of partnering with the Scottish Government to allow a Scotland-wide roll out. “The self-sampling model has already proven to reduce late diagnoses of cervical cancer across various European countries and it has also increased the number of women presenting for a test. Based on the international evidence, I have asked whether a self-test model could be expedited here in Scotland, given the fact that cancer screening programmes have currently stopped due to coronavirus. “I thank Dr William Forson, Dr Gwen Baxter and the team at NHS Dumfries and Galloway who put in the groundwork for this model of self-sampling for cervical cancer screening to be possible and I look forward to speedy progress from the Scottish Government to allow for self-sampling, and therefore some screening services, to be resumed.” Dr William Forson, Consultant Obstetrician Gynacologist, added: “Ethics approval and funding is in place and we are currently working with the National Screening Programme and the Scottish Government and hope to roll this test out soon.” Joe Fitzpatrick, Minister for Public Health, said; “We're looking at how all the screening programmes can be brought back in but I've specifically asked if we can take forward the work around home screening for cervical cancer. “Whatever we do, we have to make sure that patient safety around any testing or screening that happens, particularly at home, is robust, and that we have all the assurances that we need. However, we are looking to see whether that work could be taken forward”.

Charity salutes volunteers

A CHARITY is launching a week-long thank you to Dumfries and Galloway's volunteers. From Monday, Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway (TSDG) will be paying tribute to the work of volunteers both during the Covid-19 crisis and every day across the region. Traditionally, the charity's flagship event is the VOscars ceremony – pictured last year – but this had to be cancelled due to the lockdown. TSDG say: "This will not stop the charity marking the efforts of all those willingly giving up their time to help others or make the region a better place." Ann Gordon, TSDG Volunteering Officer, said: “The current health crisis has brought the importance of volunteers – especially in an area like Dumfries and Galloway – even more into the public eye. “Our region depends on selfless people every day of the year in so many ways - not just in a crisis - that we want to showcase their fantastic work in their own special week.” TSDG will feature volunteers and organisations across their online channels and any group wanting to take part can contact them via social media at @thirdsectordg. The charity is also holding a children's art competition with prizes on offer for the best A4 poster thanking volunteers for their work. Entries to this can be sent to the same email address or more information can be found on their Facebook page or website www.tsdg.org.uk.

26 May 2020

Why the Highlander halted

The ferry off Cairnryan

DOZENS of people spotted the European Highlander ferry stationary off Cairnryan for a considerable time in the evening. There were concerns the P&O ferry had suffered mechanical issues or even struck a sandbar close to the Loch Ryan shoreline. A spokeswomen for the Coastguard put minds at rest. "The vessel was engaged in lifeboat drills," she said.

Recycling centres set to reopen

THE good news is council-run household waste recycling centres are about to reopen... but the less good news is that they aren't taking anything for recycling just yet. In a statement and video put out on social media, the Dumfries and Galloway Council explained: "From Monday 1 June, we are re-opening our household waste recycling centres in line with Government guidance. "Ten of our 12 sites will be re-opening on Monday 1 June - Thornhill and Whithorn will remain closed due to traffic management issues on these sites. "At the moment, we can only accept bagged waste, and due to requirement to social distance, we cannot offer any recycling on-site. We apologise for this and hope to be able to reintroduce recycling on our sites in due course." They add: "The sites will only accept household waste contained in refuse bags "It is expected that on reopening there will be a significant demand from public to access the sites. In order to manage traffic volumes, time spent on the site needs to be minimised. Limiting users to bagged waste straight into a skip or compactor ensures quick turnaround. "Larger waste items that are often disposed of at the HWRCs requires to be taken to third parties for processing, which is more difficult at this time. Bagged waste can be processed in the Council's Ecodeco MBT facility thus simplifying the process and relies only on keeping skips and compactors emptied regularly." Vans and vehicles with trailers are banned too. "At this time, it is not possible to provide a full recycling service at the HWRCs. This is principally because the nature of the sites with multiple skips for the various waste and recycling requires the public to move around the facilities. Safely managing these movements whilst maintaining social distancing is not considered operationally feasible, especially initially when sites will be very busy. "The council are acutely aware that the public are keen to recycle and currently staff are looking at ways of phasing the return of some elements of recycling in a manner that maintains social distancing. In the meantime householders are encouraged to continue to store their recyclable materials for when the sites resume a full recycling service. "All waste received will be processed in the Ecodeco MBT Facility. This shreds and through drying, reduces the volume of waste by 30pc after which it is refined to principally produce a fuel used in energy from waste facilities. Metals are also recovered as is a glass and stone content. While classed as recovery and not recycling it is important to note that only a small percentage of the waste processed through this facility has to go to landfill. No bulky waste or waste not contained within a bag will be accepted, they add. "The aim is to ensure a quick turnaround, and avoiding the time involved in unloading bulky waste and dealing with larger waste such as sofas and mattresses will aid this. "Bulky uplifts and white goods uplift from households will recommence from 1 June 2020. Bookings for this service can be made now by calling 030 33 33 3000." There's also a request for homes where Covid-19 may have struck to extra careful. "Any waste being brought from a household which has displayed Covid-19 symptoms should be double-bagged and left for 72 hours before being brought to site." There have been concerns across Scotland that the closure of recycling centres has fuelled an increase in fly tipping. The reopening of tips in England saw huge queues, pictured, forming. Borders Council are tackling the issue by opening tips to cars with even numbers on the registration plates on certain days with odd numbers on alternate days. The Stranraer facility will open six days, 9am - 6pm while Newton Stewart will opens days from 12.15pm to 6pm. See https://t.co/zbfUzQDnGI?amp=1 for more.

Politicians of all hues tip Stranraer Oyster Festival for glorious 2021 comeback

POLITICIANS have backed the Stranraer Oyster Festival – axed for this year – to roar back in 2021. Organisers Stranraer Development Trust on Friday said they had taken the decision to call off the 2020 event. It is understand preparations well well underway for this September. Emma Harper MSP said: “The cancellation of this year's Stranraer Oyster Festival will be extremely disappointing for many in the Stranraer area, Wigtownshire and beyond. "The event has become a key date in Scotland's events calendar and it has brought people from Scotland, and further afield, to the area – contributing hugely to local businesses such as hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and local shops. “I do, however, support the decision from the Stranraer Development Trust to cancel the festival this year in light of COVID-19 and the challenges that tackling this pandemic has brought. Public health must come first I have been in contact with the SDT Chairman, and additional local businesses in Stranraer, to see what support the Scottish Government and its agencies are able to offer. “I have attended the Oyster Festival since the first year. Following that success I wrote to Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon and she has now attended herself for the last two years. "Myself and the Minister were able to join the crew of the Vital Spark, to learn about Scotland's only natural oyster beds and the regeneration work on Loch Ryan and each year I enjoy meeting new people, participating in oyster shucking and making new friends as well as sampling the fabulous food and drink our beautiful corner of Scotland has to offer. “I will continue to work with the Stranraer Development Trust and local businesses to ensure they are supported and I look forward to attending the festival again next year once it is safe to do so.” Clin Smyth MSP added: "This was obviously a tough decision for the organisers of the festival but in the current climate and with the current levels of uncertainty about the lifting of lockdown in Scotland, it was undoubtedly the right one. “Despite this I would like to take the opportunity of saying a huge thank you to everyone involved in organising the Stranraer Oyster Festival. This event is growing in popularity and strength every year and it is down to the dedication of all those involved. “It is always a highlight of the year for me to go along with my family to the festival so I'm looking forward to the festival's return in 2021, bigger and stronger than ever.” Finlay Carson MSP told the Free Press last week: "“The Oyster Festival in Stranraer has become one of the highlights of the calendar for so many, including myself and it brings a wonderful atmosphere to the town and wider area for the locals and many visitors that attend. “It is obviously very disappointing to hear that this year event has been cancelled, one which was set to be the biggest one yet, but right now people's health and safety must come first. “I know how hard the organisers work to put on such a wonderful festival. “I am sure that their energy will be fully focused on emerging with an even better event in 2021. “I look forward to supporting the organisers in their efforts and of course attending once again in 2021 with my family.”

Emma Harper set for ground-breaking virtual surgery

EMMA HARPER is using technology to work around the problems of lockdown. The South-Scotland SNP MSP is getting in touch with constituents via a virtual surgery. Constituents across Dumfries and Galloway are encouraged to book an appointment with Miss Harper for Monday 1 June, by emailing or contacting her team by phone, to help with any queries or support they may currently need. The online sessions will run in both the morning (10am-11am) and the afternoon (5pm-6pm) and once an appointment has been made, arrangements for the online procedure will be discussed. Miss Harper says she is continuing to attend all parliamentary work via online parliamentary committee meetings and in the Scottish Parliament chamber, as well as attending to her South Scotland constituency work, said; “Since lockdown restrictions began, like many other msps, I've been unable to physically attend in the Scottish Parliament chamber and committee meeting rooms but it's business as usual otherwise and I attend virtual meetings throughout the week and with my team we deal with daily issues arising from help needed from constituents who are struggling with a variety of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since the beginning of lockdown we have been reaching out to hundreds of people we think may need support, as well as many of the region's businesses to identify immediate needs and assist them." To make an appointment, contact: emma.harper.msp@parliament.scot or call 07484 837 030

Report to fiscal over weekend death of man, 27

POLICE were called to an address in Corsewall Crescent, Stranraer, on Saturday where a young man was found dead. A Police Scotland spokesman said today: "We can confirm that the body of a 27-year-old man was found at an address in Corsewall Crescent in Stranraer on 23 May. "The death is being treated as unexplained, although there are no apparent suspicious circumstances and a report has been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal."

MSP Colin Smyth on lockdown with two small children, Holyrood's failures and a spat with Sturgeon

COLIN SMYTH has been talking about life in lockdown with two young children, his frustration at Holyrood's handling of the Coronavirus crisis and a spat with Nicola Sturgeon. The South Scotland Labour MSP talked to Holyrood magazine about home schooling daughters Evie, 4, and Hannah, 6. "You try your best to keep as much of the grim news away from the kids as you can, but they deserve to know why they can't see their friends at school and nursery or visit granny and grandad. "My home teaching report card will say “could do better”. But what do you do on a Monday morning when on a laptop in one room ploughing through the growing avalanche of constituents' casework on subjects that didn't exist two months ago and my wife, Victoria, who is a teacher, is stuck on a laptop in another room making the life-changing decisions ‘projecting exam results." He is also frustrated by what he sees as Holyrood's decision to lock itself down, shunning full-scale debate in favour of limited operations via virtual meetings. "It has been a bystander in this crisis. As the pandemic took hold, it went into recess for two weeks. Calls for its recall, even virtually, were brushed aside. "I took to Twitter to vent my frustration, asking if I should just rely on Call Kaye on Radio Scotland to put a question to the First Minister. "In a fit of FM rage, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted back, why don't you just 'email me directly'. Her reply was deleted in minutes. She knew I'd never get replies to those emails." He is under no illusion about the gravity of the situation. "This is a national crisis. There is a unity of determination from MSPs across political parties to set aside differences and work in the national interest. That means giving the support the government needs in the tough decisions they have to make. But it also means holding them to account. That includes bringing to parliament what is happening in the real world from the experiences of our constituents." See https://www.holyrood.com for full article.

Volunteers help Port weather the storm

THE latest edition of Dumfries and Galloway Council's newsletter is available to download free now and it turned the spotting on Port William's response to the Coronavirus crisis. There 30 volunteers have come together to assist in providing community resilience. The volunteers - and there are 76 such groups across the region – provide a lifeline for people who are self-isolating or shielding due to having underlying health conditions or symptoms of the virus. The team's HQ is at the King's Green Caravan Park with the community store also being used for the storage of fresh and chilled food. The day-to-day work of the resilience team varies from providing food parcels for up to 50 families in the area, to getting shopping and prescription medication for those unable to get out due to Covid-19. Along with food parcels, the team have also been delivering books, jigsaws, DVDs, and games to residents – after these items were donated by Port William Community Shop. Several other donations have come in from the local egg farm and home-baked goods. This work is a partnership effort by Port William Community Resilience Team, alongside Dumfries and Galloway Council, Re-Use Centre Stranraer and Fed Up Café, Stranraer. Food parcels can be delivered to Port William, Wigtown, Garlieston, Sorbie, Kirkinner and Newton Stewart. Download the newsletter at https://t.co/Ok3o1GrBWd?amp=1

Vital help for people with sight issues

PEOPLE living with sight loss across Dumfries and Galloway will be able to get clinical advice from a dispensing optician or optometrist to help manage their eye conditions during lockdown, thanks to the launch of a new digital service. Visibility Scotland, one of Scotland's leading sight loss charities, is working in partnership with Optometry Scotland to implement its new “Ask The Expert” service across Scotland, offering people living with visual impairments access to community optometrists and dispensing opticians over a number of virtual and digital platforms including conference calls, video chats and group text messaging. The new project is designed to give people vital access to support and advice from eyecare professionals at a time when people are trying to manage their eye conditions at home and may have some concerns. These sessions are not, they say, a replacement for patients' routine appointments but will provide extra advice on eye health and on managing eye conditions plus give reassurance to people living with sight loss during this difficult lockdown period. Lindsay McDowall, Head of Service at Visibility Scotland, said: “We're really pleased to be able to collaborate with Optometry Scotland to provide people across Dumfries and Galloway and beyond with the opportunity to access information from eyecare professionals in an accessible way during this difficult time. “Our team of staff and volunteers have been working from home since mid-March, calling hundreds of people with visual impairments to offer emotional support, advice on technology and daily living tips. We can help with enquiries around practical things, such as getting essentials and shopping as well as letting people know about other services that can help in their local community. "However, when it comes to clinical questions, queries around medication and changes to their vision or disruption to routine appointments, people sometimes aren't sure what to do, or who to contact about their concerns. “We feel this service will give people peace of mind and the chance to speak with someone from the comfort of their own home.” Jimmy Brown, from Newton Stewart, is taking part in one of the first sessions. The retired army veteran said of the new service: “A routine visit to the hospital for me is a 100-mile round trip, and I've had to make a few of those during the pandemic as I have some other things going on with my health. “I have questions about my eyes and I've been waiting on an appointment for a while, but the hospital staff are busy enough as it is just now. So this is an ideal opportunity for me to speak with someone and find out if what's going on with my eyes is anything to be worried about, or if it's a normal symptom of my condition. "I think this new service is a great opportunity, and if anybody else has questions I'd definitely recommend they get in touch and take advantage of it.” Nicola McElvanney, Chair of Communications for Optometry Scotland said: “Optometry Scotland is delighted to be working with Visibility Scotland to assist its members with any concerns that they may have about their vision and eye health during this unprecedented period. “My colleagues and I look forward to getting to know and chatting to service users about any challenges that they may face." A number of Q&A sessions will be undertaken by staff from Visibility Scotland, using platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom, Group calls and Facebook Live, depending on how people feel most comfortable getting in touch. Some of the members from Optometry Scotland will be volunteering their time and expertise to assist with the new project. Lindsay added: “If anyone is uncomfortable speaking about their eye health in a group setting and would prefer a one-to-one conversation, this will also be an option through their preferred contact method. “For more information, or to register your interest in taking part in one of the consultations, please contact Visibility Scotland on 0141 332 4632 or email info@visibilityscotland.org.uk.”

25 May 2020

Sea rescue... at the scrapyard!

A SCRAPYARD is an unlikely venue for a sea rescue... so why were the Coastguard at King Brothers in Stranraer? A signal was received from an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon – boats carry them and they automatically start broadcasting if they go into the water to alert and guide in rescue services. Coastguard teams responded quickly, checking out vessels at Stranraer harbour, pictured. When it was clear no one was in immediate danger, it was thought that the beacon might have ended up in a skip at King Bros after refurbishment work on a vessel. With full cooperation from King Bros staff, a search was made there to see if the beeping beacon was headed for recycling... In the end the Coastguard stood down, nothing having been found. But they say the incident serves as a reminder to all boat owners that they should take care to dispose of old or unwanted EPIRBs carefully, in accordance with manufacturer's instructions.

BBC TV debate show swings focus on Dumfries and Galloway

THE focus of a forthcoming BBC Scotland Debate Night show is Dumfries and Galloway and they want people from the region to be part of the virtual audience debating the issues that matter here. Says presenter Stepehen Jardine, pictured: "BBC Scotland's Debate Night invites YOU, all residents of D&G, to join our audience from your home via laptop or PC and have the chance to put your questions to Scotland's politicians and public figures. "Our Dumfries and Galloway episode will take place on Wednesday 3rd June." "Why take part? Debate Night is the only place where people are regularly able to put their questions and experiences directly to Scotland's policymakers in their own words. Despite the restrictions in place we are determined to continue to give people the opportunity to question those in charge. "Maybe you are a key worker, have been self-isolating or your work has been affected by Coronavirus; whatever your situation, we want you to apply and be part of the discussion. "We look forward to receiving your audience application." The BBC say: "We welcome applications from members of the general public applying as themselves and not as representatives of a company or organisation. " Visit www.bbc.co.uk/debatenight today and click ‘Join the Audience'. Previous episodes are available to watch via BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000htfx

23 May 2020

An old friend returns with a taste of the future

Dumfries and Galloway's food and drink brand, Savour the Flavours, is relaunching, backed by the team who delivered the original project. The goal is to help put businesses in the driving seat of shaping industry recovery in the region, with a series of online industry gatherings planned. Savour the Flavours was a ground-breaking industry-led project that ran between 2009-2013 to boost the regional food and drink industry. It encompassed the whole spectrum of the food and drink supply chain; working with producers, chefs, retailers, manufacturers, event managers, schools, caterers, market organisers and consumers to help raise awareness of local produce. Led by food and drink businesses themselves, the organisation created a stronger, more robust and more connected local food and drink industry; and it pioneered innovative approaches to food tourism, such as region-wide food festival Flavour Fortnight. The brand is relaunching as a series of online industry discussion groups, which will start on Tuesday. It will be facilitated by the core team who previously ran the regional food and drink organisation; Liz Ramsay, Lorna Young and Ian and Rachel Findlay. The industry-only online meetings are open to any business operating in the food and drink or hospitality sector. The discussions will be used to inform potential future activity and to cascade key information to the public agencies assisting with the covid economic recovery. Liz Ramsay, former Project Manager of Savour the Flavours, said:“The key to local businesses recovering from the trauma of lockdown is communication and collaboration. The food and drink industry is a community; one that is connected through complex supply chains and mutually beneficial trading relationships. It's important that we build networks of communication, and we think the Savour the Flavours brand will help create a safe space for businesses to open up about their challenges, and also explore new ideas. “The food, drink and hospitality industry in this region consists of mainly small, family run businesses that are often at the very heart of their communities. The people who run these businesses are at an all-time low - the emotional impact of this can't be understated - so we want to create a place where people can speak with others who are facing the same challenges. “Savour the Flavours was at its strongest when our industry came together under one umbrella, and the key to that was in listening to each other, supporting, collaborating and helping. That approach is needed now more than ever.” Romano Petrucci, Chair of Stranraer Development Trust, who organise Stranraer Oyster Festival, the largest food event in the region, commented: “Never has there been a better time for everyone with an involvement in food to come together. As we all react to what seems like the world pressing the biggest reset button, we now have a choice - be ready or be left behind. As my Father always said, everyone needs to eat. He would have embraced this moment, knowing full well the amazing variety of delicious and fresh produce on our doorstep. “The pressing of the reset button will bring a change and an expectation that will see more and more people falling in love with our region, I am absolutely sure of that. We have so much quality to share but it is only in a common pride in it all that we can get that message across and out there with the confidence it deserves. In 2017 Stranraer introduced the world to the Loch Ryan Oyster- the last remaining wild and native oyster in Scotland. Within two years, nearly double the population of the town came to share our weekend. The best people to map the way ahead are the owners and producers and organisers in the area. The return of Savour the Flavours is the building block we need.” Dave Smith, former Chair of Savour the Flavours, and Director of the Buccleuch Arms Hotel in Moffat said: “It was an exciting, challenging and successful time leading Savour the Flavours and being a part of highlighting and showcasing the great food of Dumfries and Galloway. “I am now even more excited to fully support the plans to revive the Savour the Flavours brand and I am delighted to see the former Savours team launch this initiative. Savour the Flavours transformed the food and drink industry in Dumfries & Galloway, and six years on it is clear that the brand - and the team - remains highly regarded and trusted by the industry. That trust, and their experience, is needed now more than ever before. “This initiative has my unreserved support, and I know this revival will be enthusiastically welcomed by the industry. I am excited for the team and the sector and will observe their future success with great pleasure.” Sarah Burchell of Annanwater and Chair of Dumfries & Galloway Farmers' & Community Markets Association said: “I'm so pleased that Savour the Flavours and the original team are relaunching the brand in this way. Many local businesses are keeping in touch and sharing ideas through social media, but it's not quite the same as having an actual conversation with people who understand the challenges of trying to navigate this crisis as a small business. “Savour the Flavours was always about the people in our industry working as a team. If we can recreate that community spirit in an online, socially distanced way, then that will help enormously in restart and recovery in this time of crisis, and beyond.” Russell Pearce of Brodies of Moffat, and former Chair of Dumfries & Galloway Chefs Association, commented: “Relaunching Savours the Flavours at a time when we need to pull together makes sense. Covid has had a massive impact on all our lives, reshaping what was once seen as normal. As we approach the easing of lockdown I can see the benefits of Savours the Flavours to help and support each other, a sounding board if you like. “Some hospitality businesses have managed to diversify a little, others like Brodies haven't. We all need to streamline our businesses to survive another winter, because the tourist season, if it happens, will be very short. This approach will give us an opportunity to share our thoughts with others who are in the same boat, and hopefully to come out of this grim pandemic stronger, together supporting the industry within our region.” Food and drink is Dumfries and Galloway's most valuable economic sector by a considerable distance, with an annual turnover of £1.29 billion, employing 13,700 people*. A regional food and drink strategy published two years ago by Dumfries and Galloway Council and DG Food and Drink, set an ambitious growth target for the sector of £2.5 billion by 2030. The strategy highlighted collaboration, localised supply chains and food tourism as key opportunities for the region. Lorna Young, who previously ran DG Food and Drink and wrote the strategy on behalf of Dumfries & Galloway Council, believes the strategic priorities identified in 2018 remain relevant to the recovery of the industry from the current economic crisis. She said: “Behind every business is a person who dreamt of creating a product, experience or service that others would value and enjoy. This is an industry that nourishes and connects our communities, creates value from our soils and waters, delivers flavour and warm welcomes to our friends, families and visitors, and which employs thousands of local people. It's an industry that will survive this crisis, but we all need to work together to figure out the best ways of getting through this. “The strength of Dumfries & Galloway's food and drink industry is the passion and creativity of its people, and the way we support each other. With the route map for moving out of lockdown now published by the Scottish Government, it is time to start planning how businesses can restart. Some sectors will be able to restart faster than others, but almost every business in our region will be changed in some way. “Every business matters and I believe that sharing experience and knowledge can only strengthen our industry, while protecting as many jobs as possible. Prioritising collaboration and supply chain resilience, while preparing for a food tourism recovery, is very much in line with what was already planned. Focusing on what's already strong in our rural economy will hopefully create the resilience needed for businesses to survive and, in the longer term, to thrive.” The first Savour the Flavours Zoom event will take place on Tuesday 26th May at 7pm with the theme of ‘How are you doing?' Businesses who want to take part should visit www.savourtheflavours.co.uk and register their details. The first meeting will encompass the full span of the region's food and drink sector, from primary producers to chefs to festivals.

Mind how you go!

A LORRY driver involved in an accident on the A77 north of Cairnryan pulled away after exchanging details with the other driver involved... and clipped a police car at the scene. It's understood the Wigtownshire-based driver of a car was involved in the initial incident. Police from Stranraer attended and confirmed no one was hurt. But as the lorry driver moved off, he clipped the police vehicle. Police Scotland told the Free Press: "We received a report of a two-vehicle crash between a lorry and a car on the A77 trunk road near Cairnryan around 10.55am on Wednesday. "There were no injuries and details were exchanged between the two parties." They added damage to the police car was confined to a door.

22 May 2020

Jobs lost as Portpatrick Hotel shuts down amid travel firm collapse

PORTPATRICK Hotel has ceased trading as a major UK holiday firm plunged into administration. Across the UK over 2,500 jobs have gone as Specialist Leisure Group crashed. The hotel and travel company included famous coach holiday brands Shearings and Wallace Arnold. A statement from the firm confirmed the clifftop Portpatrick Hotel was one of seven in Scotland that had ceased trading but did not indicate how many jobs were affected here. The firm's website said that all tours, cruises, holidays and hotel breaks had been cancelled and would not be rescheduled. It is thought around 64,000 booking will be refunded. Speaking to Travel Weekly, the firm's chief executive Richard Calvert said: "The effects of Covid-19 on our 117-year-old company and the wider travel industry have been devastating. "In the most trying of circumstances we have fought tooth and nail to save the group and the jobs of our 2,400 loyal employees serving over 1.1 million customers annually. "It is heart-breaking that the required funding or investment could not be secured to get us through this unprecedented crisis." The firm, based in Wigan, had previously tried to sell off the Portpatrick Hotel at a £1.5m price. The building, pictured, dates from 1905.

Test and trace in fight against virus

THE NHS in Dumfries and Galloway has outlined the latest step in its fight against Covid-19. They say it's part of the Scottish Government's Covid-19 – Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (TTIS) plan which outlined Scotland's approach to contact tracing. NHS Dumfries and Galloway Interim Director of Public Health Valerie White said: “The aim of this approach is to reduce transmission of Covid-19 within our community by tracing people who may have come into contact with someone infected with Covid-19 and providing them with appropriate advice and support to prevent these contacts from passing on the disease to others. “As is outlined in the Scottish Government publication, we need to learn from our experience and this means the approach we take will develop and evolve over the coming days and weeks. We will also modify our approach in line with national systems as they come on stream.” A statement adds: "A considerable amount of testing has been undertaken in Dumfries and Galloway by the NHS Public Health team. Criteria for testing has continued to evolve, with this work now being supported by a mobile testing unit operated by the military. A total of about 4,500 tests have been carried out to date." Tests can now be booked online for anyone aged five and over within a household who displays symptoms of coronavirus. For information, visit the website www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus The NHS says: "TTIS does mean that those who do test positive for Covid-19 will be asked to self-isolate for a period of 7 days (or longer if they remain unwell). In addition, it means that those who are classified as close contacts of positive cases will also be asked to self isolate for 14 days. If these contacts later start to develop symptoms, the process will begin again with regard to their close contacts. "For the purposes of contact tracing, a close contact is someone who has been physically close enough to a confirmed case for a long enough period of time that they may have had the infection transmitted to them. For COVID-19, this includes everyone who has been less than 2 meters away from a confirmed case for 15 minutes or more. The risk of the disease being transmitted is higher the closer the contact, the greater the exposure to respiratory droplets e.g from coughing, or the longer the duration of the contact. "There are several scenarios in which people could be exposed to Covid-19. Each situation needs to be carefully reviewed and risk assessed according to the risk of transmission, which is not the same in all scenarios - i.e. where appropriate PPE has been used. "It may be difficult for some individuals to self-isolate at home for a period of 14 days if they do not have friends or family nearby to help them. In these circumstances, community support will be provided to ensure that they receive any assistance they require and are able to continue to self-isolate. A network of community support and resilience teams across the region have been responding to the needs of individuals in their local communities who are self-isolating to make sure they receive support during this time. "Covid-19 is an extremely complex virus and we thank you in advance for your support and patience with the TTIS programme." Anyone who lives in Dumfries and Galloway and is notified of positive test result through the mobile testing programme should contact 01387 241350 for further information and guidance in relation to Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (TTIS). Currently the TTIS service will be open 7 days a week. Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 16:30, and both Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 to 15:00.

Laura's getting the message out!

RURAL and agrifood marketing agency Jane Craigie Marketing has strengthened its team with the appointment of Laura McCulloch as Account Executive and Staff Writer. Working out of the Dumfries and Galloway office, Laura, who recently completed a BA Hons Journalism degree at Edinburgh Napier University, will support the team across clients such as BASF, Quality Meat Scotland, and Scottish Machinery Ring Association. “Since deciding on a career in communications, I have been eager to do what I enjoy while still being able to live in a rural area that I love,” said Laura. “It's great to see organisations like JCM&Co creating opportunities for young people like myself to live and work in a rural community.” Laura is still heavily involved on the family farm, a beef and arable enterprise, located near the most southerly point of the Rhins and is a keen member of Stranraer and Rhins Young Farmers Club, recently taking on the role as secretary and playing a key role in the club's coverage in the Free Press. “Growing up on a family farm and being involved in the fantastic SAYFC organisation, has given me a sound understanding of the rural economy and I look forward to helping JCM&Co support the agricultural industry during the current crisis and into the future,” says Laura, pictured. Speaking about the appointment, Managing Director of JCM&Co, Jane Craigie, said: “Laura is an outstanding new graduate and I feel so fortunate that, during these uncertain times, we have the support of our clients which enables us to give Laura an opportunity to embark on this exciting new phase of her life. “We are a core team of six communications professionals spread across Scotland; we are all deeply embedded in the rural economy, both professionally and personally, and we're thrilled to bring Laura into the team.” Jane Craigie Marketing was established 16 years ago and has carved a reputation for delivering marketing and communications services in the agricultural, food and rural environment landscape. Jane Craigie Marketing has supported a wide range of clients such as ABP, SAC Consulting, Turriff Show, LEAF Open Farm Sunday, Interagro, Scottish Agricultural Monitor Farm Programme, Oxford Farming Conference, LANTRA, Scottish Agronomy and BASF.

MP confident Stranraer Oyster Festival will roar back

Alisterr Jack MP

DUMFRIES and Galloway MP Alister Jack expressed deep disappointment that this year's Stranraer Oyster Festival will not go ahead (see full story below) but stated that the 'difficult decision' was the correct one because of the extremely challenging circumstances. Mr Jack said: "I greatly admire what the team behind the Festival have achieved so far in raising Stranraer and Wigtownshire's profile and, from the strong foundations they have built, I hope -- and predict -- that the event will return bigger and better next year. "The hospitality industry is one of the sectors of the local economy worst affected by the Covid-19 travel restrictions and events like the Oyster Festival have potentially an important part to play in powering a successful recovery."

Going out? Stay local!


THE weather's turned a bit wild but just in case you were thinking about breaking out the Gore-Tex... Ahead of the ong weekend Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is reminding people that all of its car parks and visitor facilities remain closed as part of the response to Coronavirus. Following the publication of the Scotland Government's roadmap out of the crisis, FLS is urging people to comply with the phasing announced and stay local for exercise. The plea comes following Police Scotland interventions at an FLS forest in Fife, where a group of people – with several vehicles – had to be reminded of the current restrictions and removed from the site. Simon Hodgson, FLS Chief Executive, said; “Allowing outdoor activities such as forestry management to resume as part of Phase 1 means a selection of our key outdoor staff will – with suitable measures in place - be able to get back to looking after our national forests and land, continuing FLS's vital work. “This is the first small step on a longer journey. We all need to continue to play our part in following the Scottish Government and NHS guidance to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 such that, eventually, more of the restrictions can be relaxed. “In support of that national effort to overcome this public health crisis - and for additional safety reasons - all FLS car parks, mountain bike trails and visitor facilities across Scotland will remain closed. “Please continue to avoid unnecessary travel and stay local for your exercise – by visiting a woodland that you can get to on foot, by bike or by wheelchair.”

21 May 2020

Tariff deal 'will boost region', says MP

Alisterr Jack in the Commons

FARMERS, the environment and consumers in Dumfries and Galloway look set to benefit from the UK Global Tariff (UKGT) schedule, which was published this week. Local MP and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack made the upbeat prediction as he welcomed the UK trade policy package, due to come into force on January 1, 2021. The bespoke tariff regime is designed specifically for the UK and replaces the EU Common External Tariff which is currently applied to imports. Mr Jack explained that the cost of thousands of household products could be cut as the changes reduce red tape. Tariff levels were tailored, he pointed out, to benefit the UK economy and industries, particularly important during the coronavirus crisis recovery period. Mr Jack explained that rural Dumfries and Galloway would benefit from ensuring import tariffs are maintained on lamb, beef, salmon and poultry coming into the country. To promote a sustainable economy, the UK Global Tariff regime also includes cutting tariffs on more than 100 products to back renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon capture and recycling. Mr Jack said: “Leaving the EU means the UK can set its own import tariffs tailored to benefit its own economy. “The UK government has ensured Scotland's farmers will be protected by maintaining tariffs on products including beef, lamb and poultry. “We are determined to support our rural economy, as the world emerges from the coronavirus crisis, and the UK can look forward to a bright future of new opportunities outside the EU. “In the past few days we have also launched our Pick for Britain Scheme which will allow people who are furloughed from their jobs to earn money getting in this year's harvest, while continuing to be paid 80 per cent of their usual salary by the UK Government. “In addition, we have progressed our Agriculture Bill which will help pave the way for free trade deals around the globe, bringing new export opportunities to Scottish farmers. “Scottish farming is crucial to the country's recovery, and the UK Government will do everything it can to support it.”

Wheels come off bus bid

THE wheels have come off a bid to offer NHS workers free bus travel. Colin Smyth, South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour Transport spokesman,said Holyrood's decision to vote down his proposal for free bus travel for NHS and social care workers for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis as a “kick in the teeth” for them. Mr Smith, pictured, said in a statement: "The proposal would have cut travel expenses for all the frontline NHS and social care workers keeping Scotland going throughout this pandemic. The Scottish Government has already intervened to offer financial support for rail and bus operators during this time, so the plan would have been funded from this, not costing taxpayers more." "Free travel could have been introduced immediately as it would not have required the issuing of concessionary bus passes. Bus operators would have to allow NHS and Social Care staff to travel free in return for the financial support they are receiving from the Government. "NHS and care staff would simply have to show their NHS or social care photo ID. A similar scheme is already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland, but so far the Scottish Government have failed to introduce proposals for Scotland. “Our NHS and Care workers are putting their own lives on the line to protect others, and it is disappointing that the Scottish Government has refused to at least remove their travel costs if they have to use public transport – despite offering a large financial support package to the transport companies. “Some of these staff members have no other option than to travel to the front line by using public transport, and unlike their counterparts in some other parts of the UK they have to fork out for the privilege of doing so. “The Labour-run Welsh government has offered bus companies financial support in exchange for committing to free NHS travel, with a similar scheme in Northern Ireland. “Companies such as Borders Buses have been offering free journeys to NHS staff, despite the Scottish Government choosing not take responsibility for this and extend it to all of Scotland. All bus companies should be asked to do so in return for the millions of pounds of support they are receiving from the taxpayer at this time. It really is a kick in the teeth for local NHS and care staff that their local Tory and SNP MSPs voted down this plan.”

With this legislation, I thee wed...

WEDDINGS could soon be back on and Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has welcomed the news. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP's party colleague Adam Tomkins led the moveds to amend Holyrood's Emergency Coronavirus Legislation which will mean steps are taken to ensure weddings and civil partnerships can go ahead. Although there was no formal ban, registrars had stopped taking bookings due to a fear of an overwhelming workload in relation to deaths due to the pandemic. Mr Carson, who has been engaged since late last year, says the move is welcome and brings a bit of good news during these times. He said: “While getting married may seem like a small issue during the Covid-19 pandemic, this move to allow ceremonies to take part is a welcome bit of good news. “Obviously any weddings or civil partnerships will have to take place in line with social distancing measures, but there are many places across Scotland where this can safely be done. “I should declare an interest as someone who recently got engaged, and this has given my partner and I a little bit of hope that we can start to make more plans for our own ceremony! “The moves led by my party colleague Adam Tomkins were welcome and can begin to allow couples to carry on with the next step in their lives.”

Two jobs go in store closure

The Stranraer shop

BARNARDO'S shop in Hanover Street in Stranraer has closed permanently with the loss of two jobs. The charity confirmed the closure is permanent but said that the shut-down is not linked to the Coronavirus crisis. A spokeswoman told the Free Press: “The shop closure was in place six months ago – it's just down to the lease coming to an end. “It's unfortunate the handover back to the landlord fell during lockdown. “There were two members of staff and ideally we would have liked to place them in another store but there are no stores nearby within a suitable travelling distance. “Both members of staff were aware of the situation and made other working arrangement.” Barnardo's Scotland work with more than 16,300 children and young people in over 140 specialised community-based services and 95 shops across the country. In this, Mental Health Awrenedd Week, they launched a new film for everyone involved in educating children and young people called ‘It's All About Relationships: Embedding relational, trauma sensitive approaches in education settings'. The film, a collaboration between Barnardo's Scotland and Public Health Scotland, highlights practical examples and tips that education staff can build into their everyday practice to support positive relationships with young people. Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Children's mental, emotional and physical wellbeing are the foundations of successful learning. I welcome this video demonstrating the innovative ways schools and others are helping improve young people's health and wellbeing with the support of Attainment Scotland Funding. “The positive relationships highlighted in the film will be crucial in supporting children and families once schools return. “We are providing schools with Attainment Scotland funding flexibility to help best support the education, health and wellbeing and care of children and young people during the response to the Covid-19 and beyond. “We know that during this difficult time the mental health of pupils can be put under great strain. “Our Clear Your Head campaign looks to ensure the right help and support is in place and through this we have provided funding to Young Scot to develop online mental health resources. We are also working with the Spark organisation to deliver counselling services for children and young people throughout this challenging period.”

20 May 2020

Carson backs local papers

Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson is backing plans to give local newspapers the same financial backing that has been offered to other industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP is set to vote for an amendment to Coronavirus Legislation this afternoon which has been brought forward by his colleague Murdo Fraser MSP. The amendment seeks to gain support from the SNP Government and other opposition parties to ensure that the local newspaper industry survives the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Carson highlighted that local newspapers have lost 75 per cent of their advertising revenue and 25 per cent of circulation cash and the support offered so far does not go far enough. He says that especially in rural communities, local newspapers are a vital source of information and should be fully backed to continue during the crisis and after. Commenting Finlay Carson MSP said: “Local newspapers are at the heart of communities across my constituency and I am keen to see them being supported through this unprecedented crisis. “They have rightly been recognised as a key industry but require greater support from the SNP Government. “I am proud to be backing this amendment which would give the industry the same level of support that has been given to other vital industries like our leisure, retail and hospitality sector. “Our local press are valued as a trusted news source and need our support more than ever. “I hope this amendment will be passed and give proper support to struggling local newspapers.”

Free PPE for unpaid carers

UNPAID carers are being offered free Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) by the NHS. Graham Abrines, Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership's General Manager of Community Health and Social Care, said: “Ensuring unpaid carers are helped to protect themselves and the person they care for from Covid-19 is a priority for the Partnership. “We've been working with Dumfries and Galloway Carers' Centre to try and ensure that those carers who have a need for PPE are able to receive it – easily, safely and at no charge. “We're now very keen that any carer in Dumfries and Galloway who fits the criteria for requiring PPE contacts the Carers Centre to arrange provision.” PPE is available to carers providing personal care, such as washing and dressing, in cases where they are unable to access it through their normal routes. Carers should read the Scottish Government advice for unpaid Carers providing personal care to find out if they should be wearing PPE and which type of PPE they require for their situation. A statement said: "In addition, priority may be given if carers, or the people they care for, are in the following categories · caring situations where either the carer or the person with care needs is shielded · higher risk groups such as over 70s · those with symptoms of Coronavirus · where the carer is working outside of the home "If you require PPE and can't get it through your normal routes you will be able to access it through Dumfries and Galloway Carers' Centre, who can be called on 01387 248 600 or emailed at info@dgalcarers.org "If the Carers' Centre is unavailable and you cannot wait until it reopens, you can call the NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) Social Care PPE Support Centre on 0300 303 3020. "Upon making contact you should expect to be asked a number of questions to establish your eligibility and level of priority. Questions are likely to cover things such as the type of care you provide and how often. You may also be asked questions on whether or not you are able to travel to pick-up supplies of PPE from a local hub. "Whether you need to use PPE, and the type of PPE that you need to use, will depend on your unique caring situation. For example, if you usually wear an apron and gloves in order to carry out personal care, then you should continue to do so. If you, or the person you care for, is within the shielded group, or symptomatic for Coronavirus, you may also be required to wear a mask. You should read the Scottish Government advice and Dumfries and Galloway Carers' Centre will be able to help you with understanding what you need to wear and when. "If you are still able to access affordable PPE that you require through your normal supply routes, or if you already have a stock, then you should continue to use it. It may be that you have a stock of gloves and aprons but you now need masks. If so, you can access them through your local Carers' Centre. "Using PPE for the first time, or using items you are not familiar with, can sometimes be confusing. This video by Health Protection Scotland provides guidance https://vimeo.com/393951705 Full advice for unpaid carers providing personal care, including information on when to wear PPE, visit the Scottish Government website https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-unpaid-carers-providing-personal-care/pages/overview/

Boost for D&G LGBT Plus

DUMFRIES and Galloway LGBT Plus are continuing to support their community during the Coronavirus crisis, thanks to National Lottery funding. D&G LGBT Plus have received £23,702 from The National Lottery Community Fund to help people effected by COVID-19. D&G LGBT Plus already have a grant from The National Lottery Community Fund to support the delivery of counselling and support across the region. This additional money will cover costs associated with their community response to the current crisis. The Service Manager at D&G LGBT Plus said: “The additional money will help reach wider into the community, allowing for more support to the LGBTQI community.” Neil Ritch, Scotland Director, The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “In these uncertain times our priority is to ensure that National Lottery money continues to flow to charities, voluntary sector organisations and grassroots groups. "I would like to congratulate D&G LGBT Plus on the work they are doing. Theirs is an important project that will support people now during the current crisis, and in the future when they can physically come back together to make great things happen in their community.” Over the next six months, The National Lottery Community Fund are prioritising grant application for community activity related to COVID-19. To find out more visit www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk.

Keeping artists going

Emergency funds designed to support people working in Scotland's culturesector who are experiencing immediate financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19, are now reaching those most in need. Information published today by Creative Scotland, reveals that 865 people have now received one off grants of between £500-£2,500, in the first phase of the Creative Scotland Arts and Creative Bridging Bursary programme. A combination of existing funding from The National Lottery and Scottish Government, over £1.5million has been distributed to date to freelance artists and creative practitioners based in each of Scotland's local authority areas. Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This is a deeply worrying time for Scotland's world-renowned culture sector, which has been particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Many artists, performers and freelancers have seen an immediate shutdown of work, resulting in a dramatic loss of income, with many facing real hardship. “We want to do all we can to help and, working quickly with Creative Scotland, we have repurposed grant money and built packages of focused support for those who need it most. More than 850 individual freelancers and artists who have lost income due to COVID-19 will now receive a vital lifeline from the Bridging Bursary Fund to help them through this extremely difficult time. “Culture is central to who we are. It is one of Scotland's major strengths and it will continue to play a crucial part in getting us through this crisis as we rebuild our country and look toward the future.” Iain Munro, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland commented: “In the midst of the very serious personal and professional impacts being experienced by so many people working across the creative sector, it is encouraging to be able to report today, that these vital funds are reaching so many people so quickly. “Nevertheless, while the measures we've already undertaken are responding to the initial impact of this crisis, we recognise that they are limited when compared to the significant future challenges faced by our arts screen and creative industries sectors. Our absolute priority is now about concentrating our efforts to safeguard and protect their longer-term future.” More detailed information about today's update on the first phase of the Creative Scotland Arts and Creative Bridging Bursary can be found here. The Bridging Bursaries Programme is an important part of Creative Scotland'sinitial response to the country's creative community during the COVID-19 outbreak. To help alleviate pressure on organisations as much as possible, all existing funding awards, regardless of whether activity is cancelled, reduced or rescheduled, are being honoured. In addition, existing resources have been repurposed to provide £8.5m for individuals and organisations to sustain their creative practice and to develop new work in the coming months. The Scottish and UK governments are also offering support to those most in need and information about these alternative sources of funding alongside resources and sector specific support groups and organisations, can be accessedthrough Creative Scotland's website.

Mind your head: Mental health help boost

MENTAL Health Awareness Week is running from May 18 to 24, and this year the theme is ‘Be Kind'. It has particular significance during the current crisis, especially on children and adolescents who are currently away from school and their friends. Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Director of Psychology Dr Louise Cumbley and Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Mary Smeddle from NHS Dumfries and Galloway have produced the following insight and advice around how the current epidemic may be affecting young people. “The focus of this year's mental health awareness week is ‘be kind'. This can mean so many things. “During these difficult times, focusing on being kind to ourselves is a good place to start. However, remembering to be kind to ourselves as parents and encouraging our children to be kind to themselves can be really challenging. Children often focus on self-blame when things go wrong, focusing on themselves as the cause of the issue. During the current situation, children and adults are having to adjust to a whole new way of living, including huge changes to their weekly routines and lots of restrictions placed upon what they can and can't do. They can't go to the park or to school and their connections with other important people in their lives such as friends, family and teachers have been drastically altered. Children will try to find an explanation for all these drastic changes and may be tempted to blame or criticise themselves. Young people are having to manage their own learning at home and this can put pressure on them to be their own teacher. Parents can also give themselves a hard time for not knowing how to teach! All of these negative thoughts can lead to unpleasant feelings and can be hard to deal with. As parents we have an instinct to try to fix or take away the problems for children but in these circumstances, this is not possible “When children find a situation challenging, this can lead to changes in their behaviour as they display their feelings of confusion and upset through their behaviour rather than saying how they feel. Helping children to verbalise their feelings will help them to talk about what is worrying or upsetting them. “When we understand this with them, we can help them be kind and compassionate to themselves. “Understanding that they are not to blame for this situation and there is little they can do to change it helps them to give themselves perspective and balance “Self-compassion starts with noticing unpleasant thoughts and feelings, acknowledging that things may not be within our control and learning to accept them. There is a belief that talking about feelings can make them worse but this is not the case. Sharing a fear or worry, being listened to and offered empathy and support, will make children feel safe and secure. This is not about solving the problem that causes the feelings but acknowledging and listening to children's fears and worries. None of us have the answers and but feeling listened to and supported can make a world of difference to how our children feel. Put relationships first Look at this as an opportunity to strengthen relationships. We are spending more time with those we share a household with than ever before. What we want our children to remember about this time is how they felt and how we got through this together. “Our relationship with our children is the first step to managing behaviour, schooling or their wellbeing. “The phrase ‘connect before correct' is a key principle in parenting in challenging times. If you want to ‘correct' or change a behaviour, you first have to have a connection with that person. It is likely, given this extreme situation that we are currently all living in, that both children and their parent/caregivers may not be as patient as usual. If you have a falling out with your child it is really important, once everyone has calmed down, to make up with them and talk about how you all could do things differently next time, apologising if you need to. In these times it is important to try and be as kind and forgiving as you can be to yourself and to your child and remember that we are currently living in very stressful times and that you and your child are doing the best you can do to get through it. Showing that that we can apologise as adults, correct our mistakes and move on helps to build children's resilience for their life as adults. In order to teach our children to be kind to themselves, we have to show our children that we are also kind to ourselves. This can be hard to do, particularly if this is a new skill for us. It can be saying out loud, ‘I have worked so hard today, I deserve a treat this evening'. ‘I made a mistake but that's ok, let's move on' Dumfries and Galloway Clinical Psychology Service have also set up a webpage with lots of useful advice that you can look at. It can be found on https://www.nhsdg.co.uk/mental-health-and-wellbeing-and-coronavirus/ We are constantly updating it so please feel free to check it regularly. We have also set up a wellbeing hub devised if you want to speak to someone about mental health during this crisis – this can be contacted directly on 01387 244495.

19 May 2020

Fore! Could golf and fishing be first for a comeback?

COULD golf courses and fishing grounds be among the first to emerge from lockdown? Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has welcomed indications from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that outdoor activities could be allowed under a potential easing of lockdown. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP has lobbied SNP Government Cabinet Secretaries in recent weeks to allow outdoor pursuits to be allowed in line with social distancing. Now Miss Sturgeon has hinted that sports such as golf and fishing may well be allowed later this month when some easing of restrictions are lifted on similar lines to what is now allowed in England. Mr Carson has been contacted by individuals and organisations worried about their current financial state as a result of not being allowed to take part in these activities right now, as well as the impact on physical and mental health. In his correspondence, which Mr Carson is waiting on responses from the SNP's Health Secretary and Rural Economy Secretary, he stressed that these activities could be carried out with social distancing measures and would help with the mental and physical health of players and a welcome first step to boost to the local economy. Commenting, Mr Carson said: “While it was perfectly understandable that many of these activities were shut down in order to stop the spread of Covid-19, we have reached a point where we should be looking at ways in which these activities can be safely started up again. “That is why I have written to SNP Government Health and Rural Economy Secretary pressing the case for outdoor pursuits to be seriously considered as part of easing lockdown restrictions. “Many of these organisations are struggling without members paying fees or competitions taking place and the summer months are absolutely vital for them. “It is welcome that the First Minister appears to be suggesting that activities like this may well be allowed as part of the first easing of lockdown, as we have seen in other parts of the United Kingdom. “I will be continuing to ensure these activities will be at the forefront of easing of lockdown, where social distancing measures can be carried out in a safe manner.”

Get the message!

Roadmap to easing of lockdown to be revealed next week. Meanwhile, this sign by the A75 at Castle Kennedy spells out current advice... Stay home Protect the NHS Save lives

Union's worker concerns

THE National Farmers Union in Scotland is raising concerns about the possible impact of new immigration laws on the agriculture sector. The UK Government's Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill passed its first vote in the House of Commons on May 18. The Bill will establish the legal framework to end the free movement of workers between the UK and EU following the end of the transition period allowing the UK Government's preferred Points Based System of immigration to come into force on 1 January 2021. Whilst the Bill is framework legislation, the UK Government set out its intended future immigration system on February 18 this year which will create a points-based entry system for individuals who earn above a minimum salary of £25,600 and who are considered to be ‘highly skilled'. The policy proposes to end all routes to permanent residence in the UK for workers deemed to be of ‘lower skill' from 1 January 2021. A statement said: "NFUS urges any of its members who currently employ individuals from the EU in a permanent or a seasonal capacity to ensure that their staff have registered for Settled or Pre-Settled Status. The Scheme ensures that any individual living and working in the EU either in a permanent or seasonal capacity before 31 December 2021 are able to stay and, in the case of Pre-Settled Status, return to work in the UK for five years following the end of transition." Commenting on the Bill moving to the next stage in the Commons, NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “NFUS has always maintained that workers from outside the UK are highly valued in every sector represented in Scottish agriculture, food and drink. Quite simply, without the ability to recruit workers from outside the UK in a seasonal and permanent capacity, both on the farm and off the farm, our sector will not be able to reach its full potential and the food and drink sector's position as the biggest manufacturing sector in Scotland will be at risk. “Whilst NFU Scotland fundamentally disagrees with the UK Government's intention to end free movement after the expiry of the transition period, we accept that this is an immovable policy priority and, as such, our focus is firmly on ensuring that the future system to come into force on 1 January is fit-for-purpose. “We have been very vocal in contesting some of the assertions in the UK Government's policy paper for its future Points Based immigration System regarding its definition of ‘skilled work'. Migrant workers who work in our fields, packhouses, dairy units, veterinary practices, abattoirs and elsewhere have a high level of manual skill and are highly valued within our sector. Not only that, but they provide a vital contribution to often fragile and remote communities, and the productivity of our rural economy. We want to work with the UK Government and its Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to ensure that this is understood.”

Furlough payment deadline

TOMORROW is the last day employers can claim for 80pc of their furloughed employees' wages (up to £2,500) if they want the money before the end of the month, the taxman says. HMRC say: "The deadline is because it takes six working days for payments to be processed. Employers can make the claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme using the link here. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme "The same applies for the self-employed who want a grant from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Tomorrow is also the last day for them to claim 80pc of their average monthly trading profits covering three months (up to £7,500) if they want the money by the end of this month. "Please note this does not mean that no claims can be made after tomorrow. This is just to state that for money to reach people's accounts by the end of May, claims need to be made by close of play tomorrow." More info on the schemes is here: CJRS: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme SEISS: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

Livestock attacks: Big changes on way

BIG changes to the way attacks on livestock are dealt with could be on the way. Emma Harper, South Scotland MSP, has officially introduced her Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament where it will now be considered by the Parliament and go through the three-stage legislative process before becoming law in Scotland. The main aims of the Bill are to: increase the maximum penalty for the offence of chasing, attacking and killing livestock to a fine of £5,000 or 6 months suspended sentence; It allows courts to ban a convicted person from owning a dog or from allowing their dog to go onto agricultural land; it gives police greater powers to investigate and enforce the offence and provides greater clarity to the legal bodies - such as the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service - on how to deal with the offence. In addition to stricter penalties and more rigorous investigative powers, the Bill also extends the definition of livestock in Scots law to include additional types of farmed animal such as camelids – llamas and alpacas – which are not covered from chase, attack or death as a result of an uncontrolled dog in the current legislation. The introduction of Miss Harper's Bill – which has already been universally welcomed by Scotland's leading animal welfare and agricultural bodies – is a landmark step for Scottish farmers. The Bill allows Scotland to lead the way both across the UK and internationally in providing updated and clear protection to Scotland's hard-working farming community from loss and damage to their livestock – a crime for which the consequences can be both emotionally and financially devastating. Commenting, Miss Harper said: “I am pleased - after almost two years of rigorous consultation, stakeholder engagement and a drafting process - that I have now formally introduced my Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament where it will shortly proceed to the three-stage legislative process before hopefully becoming law in Scotland. “Throughout the consultation and drafting process, the message I received from Scotland's farmers and agricultural community was clear. People wanted the proposals and Bill to be kept simple and straightforward – and that is what we have achieved through this short 10-page Bill. “The Bill has clear principles. It aims to; increase the maximum penalty for the offence of chasing, attacking and killing livestock, it allows courts to ban a convicted person from owning a dog or from allowing their dog to go onto agricultural land and it gives Police greater powers to investigate and enforce the offence. Additionally, the Bill provides greater clarity to the legal bodies - such as the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service - on how to deal with the offence. “As well as the legalities of the Bill, I want it to be the catalyst for educating the public about the importance of having their dog under control when near livestock and for people to understand the severity of livestock being chased, attacked and killed. The consequences of the offence can be both emotionally and financially detrimental to farmers and it is only right that the penalties of the crime reflect this. “I want to thank everyone – the over 1,000 members of the public who responded to the consultation and the stakeholder groups including the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, NFUS, Scottish SPCA, Dog's Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, National Sheep Association Scotland and many others – who helped get the Bill to this stage. I also thank the Parliament's non-government Bills Unit for their exceptional support with the Bill. “I and my team are now arranging to meet all stakeholders virtually to discuss the Bill and its contents.”

Brexit trade deals 'still on,' says MP

DESPITE the Covid-19 emergency, the UK Government remains firmly focused behind the scenes on securing game-changing Brexit trade deals. That was the assurance of Scottish Secretary Alister Jack this week as he explained why he voted against an unsuccessful amendment in the Agriculture Bill aimed at preventing sub-standard food imports. The Dumfries and Galloway MP, along with five Scottish Conservative colleagues, opposed the move at Westminster last Wednesday on the grounds it could prove an unnecessary distraction during forthcoming trade negotiations. Mr Jack said: "The fact is we will not compromise on the UK's high animal and food safety standards. They are one of the factors which should help us grow the quality market for our produce around the world. "Scotland's farmers will benefit from the trade deals we plan to sign which will work for consumers, farmers and other businesses." Mr Jack added that the UK was working to maintain existing import standards in such areas as environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety, ensuring fair competition for domestic farmers. He added that proposed trade deals, including with the USA, could open the door to many new opportunities for Scottish agriculture and the wider food industry. There has, however, been anger from political opponents about the situation. MSP Colin Smyth, Labour, said: “This amendment would have helped protect the Scottish food and farming sector from sub-standard imports and it is completely shameful that it was voted down. Farmers don't believe the UK Government when they claim they will secure these standards in trade deals with countries such as the USA who will be desperate to flood our supermarkets with food created under lower standards. “This Bill is a very important piece of legislation and without this amendment there is a real fear that the UK market could see a influx of poor quality meat produced at lower environmental, welfare and food safety standards than those we currently have in place in Scotland." And MSP Emma Harper, SNP, said: "“Scotland has some of the highest food quality standards in the world – protecting consumers and helping our farmers and producers across South Scotland and the rest of our nation. “It's bad enough that Tory politicians are willing to open the floodgates to US imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone beef in this grubby backroom trade deal with Donald Trump – but who knows what else we'll be eating if Boris Johnson's mob decide to ditch current standards and sink to the level of America. “It really does make the stomach churn to think of rat hair and rat poo in our food, but that's the gruesome reality we face." The amendment, seeking to ensure only UK equivilent standard imports, was put forward last Wednesday by Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, but was defeated by 328 votes to 277.

18 May 2020

Army spearheads Covid-19 tests in Stranraer

WITH the number of Covid-19 infections in Dumfries at Galloway confirmed by the NHS and Scottish Government at 257, mobile testing returned to Stranraer. For the second week in a row, the Army were testing people - by appointment only - at Ashwood House. The first week of their operations saw them set up at the town's industrial estate. For details of who is eligible for tests, see https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested/pages/who-can-be-tested/ Details on Covid-19 cases in the region are available at http://www.nhsdg.co.uk/covid-19/

Could we emerge kinder?

MSP Finlay Carson

WE could emerge from Covid-19 lockdown with a kinder society. Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson is backing the theme of kindness during mental health awareness week which lasts until Sunday. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP says it is always important, but particularly so in this time of crisis, to show kindness in our communities and look out for each other. Mr Carson has highlighted a survey from the Mental Health Foundation which reveals that almost three quarters of those surveyed say it is important we learn from the Covid-19 pandemic to be more kind as a society. He added that he has been heartened by many of the volunteering and community led efforts throughout his constituency in order to support the elderly and those who are shielding and the backing for keyworkers on a Thursday night. Mr Carson MSP: “Taking care of our mental health is vitally important and I am pleased to be backing Mental Health Awareness Week this week. “The theme this year is one of kindness which I think is particularly prevalent at this time during the Covid-19 pandemic when we have all been looking out for one another. “I have been heartened by the many acts of kindness throughout the constituency at this time in looking out for our elderly and those who are shielding in particular. “This region has also shown an incredible level of support for our keyworkers every Thursday night on their doorsteps which is hugely appreciated by those working on the frontline at the moment. “I believe it is absolutely right that there should be a message of kindness going forward after we emerge from this crisis, including simple things such as checking in on each other and being able to offer support to our neighbours, friends and family. “It is perfectly understandable that people will be struggling right now during this crisis with their mental health and this awareness week highlights the support that is out there for people; you are not alone.”

Watch out, there's thieves about

TAKE care of that bank card – that's the message from police in Stranraer after a number of incidents where contactless cards have been misused. And there's also a warning about leaving your shed, garage or car left unlocked after a rash of thefts and the menace of cold-callers is back too. A spokesman said: "In the last few weeks the police have seen an increase in the number of crimes involving bank cards being stolen. "This crime usually starts with the victim either leaving their bank card in a cash machine within a shop or in the autoteller itself. "The perpetrator then finds it and takes it around the shops making sure that their purchases do not exceed the contactless limit and in no time at all run up a hefty balance. ":Thankfully, most banks are quick to pick up on the unusual activity on the account and will put a stop on the card until such times as they can make contact with the cardholder to check that everything is in order. "The police would urge members of the public to take great care with their bank cards. Please make sure that you have removed it from whatever machine is being used and take a second to secure it away in your purse or wallet. "It is not uncommon to lift your card and then unknowlingly drop it while your hands are full with your purchases so the essence of this story is to take your time to put it away properly and then leave the store with your goods. "The second thing the police would like to mention is not locking sheds, garages and cars. We are seeing an increase in the number of thefts from motor vehicles and from garden sheds that have not been locked. "Despite regular advice to keep valuable items locked and out of sight, some people still leave vehicles and sheds unlocked and this often leads to them becoming the victim of a crime. "During this lockdown, most people are spending more time than usual in their garden and the police would again urge you to make sure you put everything away when you are going back in the house and make sure that the shed is locked. "There have been arrests in Stranraer in recent days as a result of known thieves being caught trying car door handles whilst walking along the street. This is something that is becoming more and more common and this is due to people not locking their cars and leaving valuable items such as tablets, games consoles and handbags in full view. "The last thing to mention is cold-calling. There are individuals in Stranraer who deliberately target elderly and vulnerable people by calling at their house unannounced and offer to carry out garden work or other odd jobs about the house for a small fee. "After gaining the confidence of the victim, they then manage to get into the house by giving some form of excuse like 'Can I use your phone?' or 'Can I use the toilet?'. Once in the house, they steal cash, and other valuables and this can go on for several visits before being noticed and we have instances where several thousands of pounds have been stolen before the circumstances are reported to the police. "This is a despicable crime but is becoming more common and the police would urge the public not to employ any cold caller unless they know them personally or have come recommended by another. "If someone calls on you out of the blue offering to carry out some work and you do not know them, please tell a relative or contact the police and we will check them out. A genuine and honest worker will be quite happy to speak with the police and we would rather speak with a bogus caller before he commits a crime as opposed to dealing with him after the crime has been committed." Stranraer's Sergeant W. McEwan said : "I would like to stress that we live in an area that enjoys a very low crime rate but that does not mean that we should be complacent as there will always be people out there who will take advantge of any opportunity that presents itself. "All of the crime examples mentioned in this bulletin are easily avoidable if the public just take a bit more care of their property and think about who they allow into their house or garden. "If anyone or any group would like some one to one advice on how to best protect their property or indeed themselves, please contact the Police Community Safety Unit at Stranraer and an officer will get in touch. "We are happy to speak with groups and organisations about a whole host of subjects to help keep people safe and can also carry out security surveys on a property where required at no cost to the occupier. Our ability to carry out this function is obviously limited just now as a result of the pandemic, but there are usually workarounds and we will hopefully be back to normal service in the not too distant future. "We can be contacted by emailing WigtownCPT@scotland.pnn.police.uk or by phoning 101 and asking to speak with any officer from the community policing team at Stranraer. Thanks for taking the time to read this and please stay safe".

Moo-re support, please

LACK of demand for milk has hit the dairy sector, which has 48pc of its farms in south-west Scotland. Now there are calls to better support for the sector. Emma Harper MSP quizzed Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing on the issue at Holyrood's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. The South Scotland MSP asked: “How is the Scottish dairy industry being supported, financial or otherwise, during Covid-19? There are 48pc of Scottish dairy farms in the south west in my South Scotland region as we have seen a drop in demand for milk by the hospitality sector, including cafes and restaurants?" Miss Harper also requested information on a new milk-marketing campaign, being implemented by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (ADHB). Mr Ewing MSP, said: “This Tuesday I had a conference call with several leading farmers in dairy sector, some on the National Farmers Union and senior positions in the Scottish dairy sector and discussed in detail the complex situation across the UK. “Most producers in Scotland are in retail sector rather than service sector so they have not suffered to the same extent as dairy farmers in England where the problem is more acute. “My approach will be that if there is real hardship for dairy farmers in Scotland, we will take that very seriously indeed but the advice I had yesterday from dairy farmers themselves was that the UK Government's plan wasn't particularly appealing." Miss Harper has been calling for additional support for Scottish dairy industry, including by promoting Dairy Producer Organisations (DPOs), while scrutinising the Scottish Parliament's Agriculture Bill, and has noted that dairy farming in Scotland has challenges that are more systemic and not a direct result of lockdown restrictions in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Miss Harper said: “The Cabinet Secretary also stated that problems in the dairy industry are more systemic. We need to ensure the whole dairy supply chain process is looked at and this could include further supporting DPOs. "This is something I have been raising awareness of recently in Rural Committee, but also since I came to office. I would like to ensure my rural South Scotland region receives the best support possible. “I'll be doing my bit to encourage people to drink milk as a healthy and nutritious drink and I would encourage everyone to continue to support our great dairy industry in their cooking and drinking choices”. Mr Ewing added: “We need to look at producers organisations or some other method so that farmer and producer are able to exercise a reasonable amount of bargaining strength in the market and not be in the position of exclusivity where you could lose all your income from one source, so not be reliant on one outlet - to minimise risk.”

College goes virtual

DUMFRIES and Galloway College has launched its first virtual open week. The five-day programme will feature speakers from across the college community providing information on course content, subject areas, admissions and funding. Attendees will also have the opportunity to ask questions in live Q&A sessions with representatives from all areas of the college. The event is the first of its kind in the college's history and has been created as a way to hold an informative event during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Principal Joanna Campbell, pictured, who will join other senior staff members in welcoming attendees to the open week, praised the creation of the event as typical of Dumfries and Galloway College's innovative use of digital technology to solve problems and deliver solutions. The college has played a vital role in ensuring that life carries on in the South of Scotland and has also led the way for the college sector across Scotland during the pandemic. In addition to the focus on digital, the college is also prioritising distance learning to ensure that students have the skills they need to contribute to Scotland's economic bounce back. Dumfries and Galloway College's virtual open week runs daily between 09:55 – 10:30 and 12:20 – 13:55 with a countdown and information videos available in between. Principal Joanna Campbell said: “Covid-19 has forced us all to adjust and find new ways of working and our virtual open week is just one of the new and innovative solutions our college team has come up with to meet these challenges. “I'm incredibly proud of everyone who has worked tirelessly to make this event happen. “As a college, we will monitor the response to our virtual open week closely and will use what we learn to continue to improve the service we offer to our students in the future.”

Stepping up for charity

DUMFRIES and Galloway Blood Bikes are a volunteer-staffed charity who deliver essential blood and urgent medical supplies, in and out of hours, between hospitals and healthcare sites in South West Scotland and sometimes beyond. Now they have £2,000 to help with their vital work thanks to a huge stair-climbing effort. NHS staff in Public Health and Podiatry, along with a Macmillan Nurse and GP practice manager wanted to show their appreciation and support for the charity, for their dedication and commitment throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. They participated in the Stair Challenge, climbing a total of 5,654 flights of stairs. They were also supported by members of Dalbeattie Running Club, as well as a friend who is a home carer locally. This challenge was completed by some at Mountainhall Treatment Centre in Dumfries – pictured – with others undertaking the challenge in their own homes. They climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest, the Three Peaks (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon), and locally Screel Hill at Palnackie. Andrea Whelan, Nurse Consultant in Health Protection, said: “I'm delighted that we have raised this amount for Blood Bikes, a fantastic group of people who really deserve this support. "The Blood Bikes have provided us with a reliable service during this difficult time, helping us to transport Covid-19 tests across the region and to the labs in Glasgow. "Everyone involved did so well with the challenge. We were all a bit sore afterwards but feeling fit too!”

Hunt the aliens!

Take me to your gardener!

WANTED - alien hunters! No, it's not about Close Encounters or ET or even Alien. People are being urged to get involved in a new lockdown assault on invasive non-native species from the comfort of their own homes. The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) has today launched Alien Detectives – a fun and educational online resource to help the young, and not so young, learn more about alien - or non-native – invasive species. Originally designed as a school education pack, the huge array of activities now includes a wide range of fun games and activities that anyone can enjoy at home, in the garden or on local walks during lockdown. Alien Detectives includes crafts, quizzes, worksheets, presentations and puzzles all themed around invasive species and the river environment. Although primarily aimed at young people, anyone with an interest in the environment and the rise of invasive species can enjoy them too. Callum Sinclair, SISI Project Manager, said: “Our project team has been busy while homeworking during the lockdown to produce these fantastic resources. We hope that becoming ‘Alien Detectives' will bring many hours of enjoyment to individuals and families during lockdown, especially at a time when most young people are not in a regular school environment and might be looking for a new challenge or activities to continue their learning. “‘Invasive non-native species might be a new topic to many but it is a really important one - invasive species can have a major impact on our environment and native wildlife and are responsible for significant biodiversity loss in Scotland and across the world. We hope these resources will help raise awareness of the impacts of invasive species and inspire more young people to learn something about them. “No prior knowledge is needed and there's lots to learn and have fun with so become an Alien Detective and help us tackle invasive species today!” Vicky Hilton, SISI Volunteer and Communication Officer, added: “To help structured learning the resource pack is laid out across themes including discovering what aliens are, how they got here, what makes them successful, how we can prevent them taking over and how to find and capture them. “Each theme has several activities and in addition there is a whole section devoted to fun crafts, puzzles and games - from invasive species battleships, top trumps and making an exploding seed pod to crosswords, pictograms and wordsearches. There is also a certificate for those who have earned the sought-after status of ‘Alien Detective'.” All of the ‘Alien Detectives' resources can be found at www.invasivespecies.scot/alien-detectives The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative works with communities and volunteers to remove and control invasive non-native plant species and American mink from the countryside. The project also delivers a range of educational and awareness raising activities which includes working in schools and with community groups. To find out more about the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, including volunteering with the project, visit www.invasivespecies.scot or contact the team on sisi@nature.scot

Reassurance in Mental Health Awareness Week

THIS is Mental Health Awareness Week and sight loss charity RNIB Scotland is reminding people of the emotional reassurance and practical help it offers during the Coronavirus lockdown. Its Need to Talk telephone counselling service remains available in Dumfries and Galloway for anyone diagnosed with sight loss, as well as families, friends and carers. "Losing some or even all your sight can be devastating news to take in," says director James Adams, "but our trained helpers can support you in coming to terms with your condition and finding the way forward." The charity is concerned the lockdown situation might be affecting people who are blind and partially sighted, many of whom which are older, particularly hard. "The uncertainty over access to basic shopping and medication, to information in accessible formats, the social isolation, the barriers to being guided because of social distancing - these can all add and compound to the mental and emotional stress people are experiencing," said Mr Adams. "As well as our Need to Talk service, the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 is available for anyone with sight loss and we continue to organise a range of social and leisure activities over the phone and social media. We want people with sight loss to know they are not alone and that help is available." See also www.rnib.org.uk/scotland

Harper goes high-tech

Harper goes high-tech… South Scotland MSP Emma Harper is offering online advice and support in the first of her virtual advice surgeries being held soon. Constituents across Dumfries and Galloway are encouraged to book an appointment with the South Scotland MSP, for Monday 1 June, by emailing Miss Harper or contacting her team by phone. The online sessions will run in both the morning (10am-11am) and the afternoon (5pm-6pm). Miss Harper has already been involved in a series of virtual meetings as Holyrood moves its business online during lockdown. She said: “Since lockdown restrictions began, like many other MSPs, I've been unable to physically attend in the Scottish Parliament chamber and committee meeting rooms but it's business as usual otherwise and I attend virtual meetings throughout the week and with my team we deal with daily issues arising from help needed from constituents who are struggling with a variety of challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Since the beginning of lockdown we have been reaching out to hundreds of people we think may need support, as well as many of the region's businesses to identify immediate needs and assist them.” Anyone seeking an appointment for the virtual surgery should contact Emma.Harper.msp@parliament.scot

Brooke at the double!

AMBULANCE crews in Stranraer and Newton Stewart are sitting pretty thanks to Brooke Stewart, 8. Brooke, a pupil at Minnigaff Primary, has been hearing all about ambulance work. Her mum Dana has a long-time schoolfriend – Sam Wright – who's now a paramedic based at Stranraer. Dana told the Free Press: 'Brooke had done things for Sam such as making a NHS rainbow painted stone for her. "Then she said; "Can we donate a bench for Sam?" The family run Greengrass Landscaping & Garden Furniture, but it has been affected by the Covid-19 lockdown – as have so many firms. 'We thought it about it,' says Dana, 'and decided we'd do what we could.' Stranraer was first to get its bench and after an official handover at the end of last week, pictured, now Newton Stewart have their bench too.

15 May 2020

Teenager rescued from Loch Ryan

UPDATING our previous story about the rescue of a person from the waters of Loch Ryan last night, Police Scotland say the incident involved a teenager. "Officers in Stranraer were called to reports of concern for a person in Loch Ryan near to Stranraer harbour around 9.05pm on Thursday, 14 May. “A 17-year-old youth was recovered from the water with assistance from partners at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and was then placed in the care of the Scottish Ambulance Service.” No information on the youngster's status was given by the police.

Lifeboat in rescue drama

STRANRAER inshore lifeboat was launched late yesterday (Thurs) evening after reports of a person in the waters of Loch Ryan. The person was located by police officers and taken aboard the lifeboat for initial medical treatment before being transferred to an ambulance.

Concern over help for businesses

GALLOWAY and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has raised concerns that almost one in five businesses in the region are still waiting for funding grants to be processed. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP has highlighted the latest statistics for business support grant funding, which shows that 19.2 per cent of businesses in Dumfries and Galloway are still waiting on vital grants being processed. While Mr Carson accepts that council staff are working tirelessly to deliver support, he is concerned that discretion on funding awards is not being used nearly enough by the council and businesses are having to wait too long for funding. The figures show that out of the 3,407 businesses in the region who have applied for support, over 650 of them are still waiting to receive their funding. Mr Carson is continuing to take up many complex cases from constituents in order to solve their funding issues and says this backlog must be tackled as a matter of urgency. Mr Carson said: “I fully appreciate that council staff and officials are working tirelessly to try and deliver vital funding support to businesses across my constituency. “However as we approach almost two months of being in lockdown, it is concerning to see that almost one in five businesses are still waiting on applications being processed. “I have been dealing with many complex cases for constituents who are still desperately seeking funding in order to protect their business at this time. “It is clear to me that the council should be using greater discretion than they are currently in terms of awards in order to process these grants quickly. “Seeing over 80 per cent of businesses who applied receive funding is welcome, but over 650 businesses in the region haven't had applications processed which is far too high a number. “I will be continuing to explore every avenue in order to support businesses in my constituency in order to speed up the process of these applications.”

Big changes for Wigtown Book Festival

ALL change for Wigtown Book Festival... The Festival will take place online, organisers announced today. Maintaining its pre-announced dates (25 Sept - 4 Oct), the 2020 festival will have two main themes: Resilience and Connection. Creative director Adrian Turpin said: “A key aim this year will be to raise the profile of Scotland's National Book Town in Wigtown, its businesses and the cultural attractions of Dumfries and Galloway. "The Wigtown Book Festival has a powerful role to play as we all look forward to eventual recovery, when the region will be able to welcome visitors again. “Nobody wanted this situation but a digital festival gives us opportunities to reach new audiences locally, nationally and internationally.” Inspired by Wigtown's rebirth as a Book Town, the Resilience theme will explore the explosion of creativity that has emerged in response to the current crisis. It will also feature a digital showcase for the town's many bookshops, plus The Kist, a virtual marketplace for artisan crafts and food producers. Connection will celebrate Wigtown and its region's international links in a number of events. This will include link-ups with other Book Towns around the world. As well as live online speaker events, the 2020 festival will feature its usual mix of art exhibitions, film events, music and performance. A crowdfunding campaign will be launched later this summer to help support the Festival. Since March, Wigtown Book Festival has been offering a wide-ranging menu of digital content in response to lockdown, supported by Baillie Gifford. This includes a programme of live-streamed midweek events (#WigtownWednesdays) with writers such as Sally Magnusson, pictured, Hallie Rubenhold and Natalie Haynes, new writing commissions and a dedicated festival podcast. All are available on the festival website (wigtownbookfestival.com), Talking about her involvement in the festival, Sally said: “I'm delighted that the Magnusson Lecture will be online and that the festival will bring some of the previous lectures to a wider audience through the creative use of digital. Wigtown has already been engaging wonderfully with audiences during the crisis, and I've enjoyed participating myself. I can't wait for the autumn festival.” Mr Turpin added: “We have already put a lot of effort into creating original digital content, because we felt it was vital to engage our existing audiences and attract new ones throughout the crisis. This experience will stand us in good stead as we deliver a fully digital festival this year, with the hope that in 2021 we can all gather together again in one place.”

Brooke's bench boost!

BEING rushed off your feet is part-and-parcel of life on an ambulance crew and it sure makes you appreciate the chance to sit down for five minutes. Now staff at the Stranraer depot can take a well-deserved break in style thanks to young Brooke Stewart. Brooke, 8, a pupil at Minnigaff Primary, has been very keen to hear all about ambulance work. Her mum Dana has a long-time schoolfriend – Sam Wright – who's now a paramedic based at Stranraer. Says Dana: 'Brooke had done things for Sam such as making a NHS rainbow painted stone for her. "Then she said; "Can we donate a bench for Sam?" The family run Greengrass Landscaping & Garden Furniture, but it has been affected by the Covid-19 lockdown – as have so many firms. 'We thought it about it,' says Dana, 'and decided we'd do what we could.' So now Stranraer has its bench – that's Brooke pictured trying it out with paramedics Sarah, Andrea and Sam – and now tonight the plan is to present Newton Stewart ambulance station with a bench too. Brooke's not a girl to sit back when there's a good cause to be supported!

14 May 2020

Easing of lockdown 'may come sooner in rural areas'

Miss Sturgeon on the BBC

WE could be among the first to see Covid-19 lockdown restrictions eased as infection rates in rural areas are lower than in the Central Belt. Nicola Sturgeon said today that the Scottish Government is "not ruling out" easing restrictions in some areas before others. At her daily briefing on the crisis, the First Minister indicated some parts of the country are less badly affected by Coronavirus, with - for instance - fewer cases currently in hospitals in Dumfries and Galloway, Orkney and Shetland. However, Miss Sturgeon stressed she was not proposing an easing up at this stage, simply emphasising that a phased approach might be a possibility. Currently Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have stricter restrictions than England, after Boris Johnson slightly easedthe lockdown south of the border. Information from the National Records of Scotland indicates the highest rates of death linked to the virus were recorded in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lothian health board areas, while none have been reported in the Western Isles. The latest Scottish Government figures say there were fewer than five cases in hospitals in each of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and Dumfries and Galloway, and only five in the Highland region. Miss Sturgeon said: "I've never ruled out regional variations if both the evidence backs up that kind of approach and we judge they can be implemented in a practical and clearly understandable way. "We don't rule that out, but we are not at this stage proposing that kind of regionally varied approach in Scotland. "We still have a virus reproduction rate and incidence of the virus that are still too high for us to meaningfully at this stage ease up on lockdown. "That is something obviously which is under ongoing monitoring. We will monitor that on a Scotland-wide basis, but if the evidence leads us to think things could be done on a regional basis, we've never ruled that out." The NHS in Dumfries and Galloway says the total number of positive Covid-19 cases within the region is currently 255. "As of noon yesterday, there have been 44 deaths in the region (either within a hospital setting or within the community) in which Coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death." The NHS D&G added that as at noon today, there have been 35 deaths within a hospital setting where Coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death. The total number of hospital inpatients with Covid-19 who have since recovered is put at 79 by NHS D&G. More detail on the figures and how they are compiled by he NHS is available at http://www.nhsdg.co.uk/covid-19/

MP vows to travel for work

Alister Jack in the Commons

MP Alister Jack has said he would like to see out lockdown in 'bonnie Galloway' but that he will travel to Westminster next week. Mr Jack was taking part in a virtual session of the Scottish Affairs Committee chaired by MP Pete Wishart. The session was mainly concerned with the divergence of approach between the Scottish and UK governments over the easing of lockdown. Mr Jack, MP for Dumfries and Galloway and Secretary of State for Scotland, said people in Scotland should, where possible, follow Holyrood's Stay At Home advice. He said that he personally would be travelling to the Commons next week in line with advice for key workers who cannot work from home. 'My place is at the despatch box,' he told Mr Wishart.

Covid-19 latest

THE NHS in Dumfries and Galloway says the total number of positive Covid-19 cases within the region is currently 255. "As of noon yesterday, there have been 44 deaths in the region (either within a hospital setting or within the community) in which Coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death." The NHS adds that as at noon today, there have been 35 deaths within a hospital setting where Coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death. The total number of hospital inpatients with Covid-19 who have since recovered is put at 79 by the NHS. More detail on the figures and how they are compiled by he NHS is available at http://www.nhsdg.co.uk/covid-19/

Good to talk

PEOPLE isolated by the Coronavirus pandemic living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can seek support and assurance thanks to a new remote chatting service. The MS Society have set up the Keep in Touch (KIT) service in response to a large number of the MS community shielding and socially distancing, ahead of a planned full befriending service later this year. Staff from the charity are stepping up to be a part of KIT and making weekly calls to contact and chat with people affected by the ‘lockdown'. Anyone affected by MS including carers and family members can receive a phone call as a check-in to let people know they are not alone. Moran Simpkins, pictured, has been director of MS Society Scotland for five years. She is one of the charity's team members who has put herself forward to be part of the calls with people accessing the service. She said: “I really wanted to be part for this service as I know how vital it is to offer people different options for support to suit them. “Keep in Touch gives people an opportunity to connect informally, have a conversation one-to-one and, perhaps now more than ever, that's key. “There's no set subjects and callers don't need to be looking for anything in particular, we're just providing a space to chat and a friendly voice on the other end of the phone, but of course can signpost to other services including our helpline if needed.” MS is particularly prevalent in Scotland, with the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) saying prevalence in Scotland is 188 cases per 100,000 people in the population, higher than the 138 cases in Wales and 162 in England. Keep in Touch aims to provide anyone affected by MS with a weekly phone call as a check-in to let people know they are not alone. The call is to reassure that someone will be checking in with them and to provide warm and friendly social contact as uncertainty may be touching other aspects of their life. More than 15,000 people live with MS in Scotland – one of the highest rates in the world. Morna continued: “We know that a lot of our community have been significantly affected by the pandemic because of work, shielding or because local groups aren't able to meet up and socialise in ways they're used to. “Our helpline receives many calls from people looking for support or information on specific subjects and we're delighted to be offering KIT as a chance to just speak without any pressure on anything at all. “For many people life has changed dramatically and there is a lot of uncertainty ahead. KIT offers an opportunity to have regular contact and speak about what you like. “If you think someone you know might like a friendly chat with one of our team, please let them know how to get in touch with our KIT service by calling our free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000 or emailing KIT@mssociety.org.uk.” A recent MS Society survey1 of more than 1,100 people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the UK, many of whom are at particular risk, found that over a third of respondents (34%) said their mental health has suffered as a result of the pandemic2, more than a quarter (26%) feel ‘scared' about what COVID-19 could mean for them3 and only 55% said they are ‘coping'4. MS damages nerves in the body and makes it harder to do everyday things, like walk, talk, eat and think. Having MS in itself does not increase your risk of getting Covid-19, but many with MS are at an increased risk of infection or complications. Thousands with the condition have been told to shield at home by the government. The The MS Society says there has has seen a significant increase in those relying on its services, as many existing support structures have had to be overhauled in response to Coronavirus. This includes healthcare professionals being redeployed, online food deliveries – which many people with disabilities relied on before the crisis – stretched beyond capacity, and family and friends unable to visit to provide essential care and companionship They add: "If you'd like to get in touch with our KIT service by calling our free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000 or emailing KIT@mssociety.org.uk." For more information on the services currently being offered by the MS Society or to donate visit mssociety.org.uk/ms-never-alone. Anyone affected by MS who needs support can call the charity's free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000.

Festival's thank you

NEWTON Stewart and Minnigaff's Traditional Music and Dance Festival is off this year by has a social offer for key workers for 2021. Festival director Nathon Jones says: 'As a thank you to everyone who is working on the front line to protect and support us all during the Coronavirus crisis, Trad Music Trust would like to offer a 50pc discount on Weekend Passes for Key Workers for next year's festival over 9th-11th July 2021. 'Whilst we may have had to close The Vault Arts Centre and cancel this year's Newton Stewart and Minnigaff Traditional Music & Dance Festival, it pales into insignificance when you consider the extreme conditions under which our NHS and front line key workers are having to work just now. 'We are hugely grateful for your professionalism, commitment and support at this time and hope that we can offer some relief next July and the chance to relax and unwind with some fantastic music, dance and entertainment in this beautiful part of Scotland.' The discount will be available to all NHS staff, health and social care workers, emergency services, key public services, shop assistants and anyone who works to deliver and distribute food and other neccessary goods. Weekend Pass tickets for 2021 are on sale now.

Button 1 for guilty Button 2 for not guilty...

PROSECUTORS have made ‘virtual' appearances at Dumfries Sheriff Court this week, helping some criminal cases to proceed as safely as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic. An audio link to the court and the use of iPads to access case files meant prosecutors were able to work remotely to deal with a wide variety of cases. On Tuesday the court, which also hears cases from Stranraer, dealt with a number of serious matters where the accused appeared remotely from prison and the court was addressed by the prosecutor from home. Les Brown, Procurator Fiscal for South Strathclyde, said: “Scotland's prosecution service is committed to keeping the public safe from harm and maintaining the fair and effective administration of justice within the constraints of health guidance. “We are working with justice partners on a system-wide response to the current challenges to ensure the prioritisation of essential casework while maintaining public safety and protecting public health. “This was a great example of COPFS working as part of a collective effort to progress serious casework safely and effectively where possible.” Meanwhile, in other examples of embracing technology Stranraer Community Council and Wigtown Community Council have held virtual meetings.

NHS D&G looks at its Covid-19 response and its finances

Army Covid-19 testing in Stranraer

THE board of NHS Dumfries and Galloway has been updated on the Covid-19 response and been told the organisation is is good financial health. A statement said: 'An update on continuing work to address the challenge of COVID-19 was submitted to the NHS Dumfries and Galloway Board this week. 'The Board met virtually on Monday, and were briefed on new developments including the move towards the introduction of Test, Trace, Isolate and Support - in line with national directions. NHS Dumfries and Galloway Chief Executive Jeff Ace described the scale of work to implement this approach locally – explaining that this will involve the recruitment of new staff and the introduction of new IT solutions. Mr Ace said the testing system in Dumfries and Galloway had significantly expanded, and been joined by mobile testing delivered by the British Army for people over 65 and non-health and social care key workers. The military have been testing pre-booked patients at a variety of locations across the region, including at Stranraer and Newton Stewart. They return to Stranraer on Monday. Mr Ace said 'relatively small number of Covid-positive patients' were currently in the critical care unit at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary in Dumfries. He noted 'an increase in activity around non-civid matters, with a rise in attendance at emergency departments.' NHS Dumfries and Galloway Chief Operating Officer Julie White provided an update on work aimed at anticipating and managing the future potential demand on services generated by Covid-19. Mrs White said that this work included availability of beds and staff, as well as matters ranging from medication supplies to PPE. Mrs White reported that testing has increased in care homes, in line with instructions from the Scottish Government and said work is taking place to see what increase can be delivered around elective work, with a focus on using NHS Near Me or telephone appointments. There had, Mrs White noted, said been an increase in referrals to the crisis team for young people, particularly around anxiety and stress. 'Quick responses had been possible,' said the NHS statement. 'Mrs White also pointed towards work to bolster the arrangements for Home Teams, which will be able to provide health and social care support more directly within communities.' Director of Finance Katy Lewis reported that 'despite considerable challenges, a break-even position had been able to be achieved for NHS Dumfries and Galloway in the financial year 2019/20.'

Irish checks WILL be needed, it's claimed

Stena and P&O sail via Cairnryan

THE Government has conceded there will be post-Brexit checks on goods crossing the North Channel, the Guardian newspaper is reporting. The claim comes months after Boris Johnson insisted there would be no such barriers and after suggestions any checks might be carried out at ports this side of the water, such as Cairnryan. The Guardian says that In a letter to the executive office in Stormont, the Government confirmed there would be border control posts in three port – Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint. This issue is controversial as there are claims the Good Friday Agreement precludes the return of a 'hard border' between Northern Ireland – part of the UK – and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the EU. There are also claims it could affect cross-Channel trade, with red tape making business more expensive. The Free Press revealed in April last year that should checks at Belfast and Larne slow traffic out of Cairnryan, Stranraer's East Pier has been earmarked as a holding park/overflow area for lorries and drivers. That too is controversial. While some welcome the potential boost for trade if hundreds of drivers have to be accommodated, others warn it could damage the town's tourist appeal and affect plans to make the waterfront the centre of regeneration. A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We have always been clear that there will be requirements for live animals and agri-food, building on what already happens at ports like Larne and Belfast. “We want to work with NI businesses and the executive to ensure new admin procedures are streamlined and efficient. The protocol puts legal obligations on both sides. We are committed to complying with ours, just as we expect the EU to comply with theirs.”

13 May 2020

MP hails lifeline for firms

AN EXTENSION to the UK Government furlough scheme will provide a lifeline to many Dumfries and Galloway businesses. Welcoming the announcement, constituency MP Alister Jack described the measure as a key component in helping the region's economy recover from the Covid-19 health crisis. He said: "I know many employers in my constituency are relieved that the scheme is being extended for another four months. "This should help safeguard jobs and, from the start of August, some furloughed workers will be able to return to work on a part-time basis with employers paying a percentage towards salaries." The extension was announced on Tuesday by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and takes forward the existing scheme in which the taxpayer meets 80-per-cent of the salary of furloughed workers up to a maximum £2,500 a month. Mr Jack, who is Secretary of State for Scotland, acknowledged there were great challenges ahead but predicted the latest phased adjustment offered the best prospects of more businesses returning over time to normal trading. He explained he was keeping in contact with employers in his constituency and monitoring the impact of the crisis in all sectors, including food, tourism, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing. Mr Jack stated the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furloughing) and the other packages such as grants and loans should assist enterprises of varying sizes. He said: "The support programmes, some administered through the Scottish Government and the local authority, should give reassurance to businesses and individuals and, when the time is right, help people safely back to work. "The UK Government has listened carefully before bringing in this extension and will continue to do so going forward." ENDS.

Anger over jobs threat

P&O's European Causeway in a choppy Loch Ryan

COLIN Smyth, South Scotland MSP, has condemned the news that P&O is cutting more 1,100 jobs, while National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has also confirmed staff are at risk of redundancy. P&O Ferries, which operates services between Cairnryan and Larne in Northern Ireland, has said the downturn in business because of Coronavirus has left it with no choice but to reduce costs. Jobs are at risk across all levels of the business which is owned by Dubai-based DP World. NTS operates Threave Garden and Estate near Castle Douglas, as well as Broughton House and Gardens in Kirkcudbright. It has said 429 staff are at risk of redundancy across Scotland and that the charity's very future is in doubt. NTS said its income had been virtually eradicated during the Covid-19 lockdown, a time which is normally its busiest period. Colin Smyth said: “The announcements from P&O and National Trust for Scotland are deeply worrying for the workforce here in Dumfries and Galloway. “Job losses are a real blow to the local economy and my thoughts are very much with any staff affected and their families. “With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, it will be a long road back for companies and charities, and unfortunately we need to brace ourselves for the possibility that there could be more job losses on the way. “It hammers home again that the economic support from Government is simply not going to scratch the surface of the economic tsunamis which are continuing to hit the region. “This needs to be a wakeup call to both the Scottish and UK Governments that our area needs action to save jobs now.”

Crime rolls on

VANDALS and thieves aren't acting any differently under lockdown – they're still preying on society. Police are looking to speak with any member of the public who may have seen a male dressed in blue joggers and hoodie and carrying a Morrisons bag who was trying car door handles in Hamilton Court, Stranraer, around 9.30am on Sunday May 10. Between May 7 and May 10, a number of items were stolen from a white Vauxhall Aguila motor car that was parked at the rear of Laburnum Grove, Stranraer. Anyone with information regarding this crime should contact Stranraer Police and ask for the enquiry officer, Pc McNairn. Between May 3 and May 10, a silver Mazda motor car parked and unattended in King Street, Stranraer, was vandalised. The paintwork of the car was scratched and the police would like to hear from anyone who has any information regarding this crime. Between 11.30am and 12.30pm on Monday, two hanging plant baskets were stolen from a garden at Belmont Crescent, Stranraer. Enquiry officer Pc Gayle Allison would live to hear about who might be the green and light-fingered culprit.

Domestic abuse – help is at hand

MSP Emma Harper

FOLLOWING rising reports of domestic abuse due to lockdown measures, South Scotland MSP Emma Harper is reminding people that help is available, even during lockdown. National charity Refuge has reported an increase of 25pc in calls just in the last week and on 18 April UK charity, Crimestoppers, has recorded a 50pc increase in domestic abuse cases with many organisations throughout the UK reporting the same trend – a situation which is expected to be worsened by lockdown. When Miss Harper contacted both Rape Crisis Dumfries and Wigtownshire Women's Aid, both organisations reported an increase in reports of domestic abuse as compared with the same six weeks last year. Grants from the Scottish Government's £350million Communities Fund have been made to both Scottish Women's Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure that access to these key support services is maintained and victims still have access to methods of reporting crimes during the crisis, including using online video platforms, text messaging, phone calls and face-face. Boots pharmacies in towns across Dumfries and Galloway are offering private consultation rooms and assistance to victims where they will have access to help and support. Boots staff are also being supported and being given education on how to recognise potential victims. Miss Harper is reminding all residents across the region that these domestic abuse services are still available and encourages people to absolutely use them if they need to. Commenting, Miss Harper said: “Firstly, we need to recognise that domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is extremely distressing, difficult and can often be hard to spot. “Reports from council social work teams and organisations such as Rape Crisis Dumfries and Wigtownshire Women's Aid are reporting an increase in the number of calls they're receiving from victims of domestic abuse during the last few weeks which is unfortunately part of a UK-wide trend. “We know that staying at home may mean some people are exposed to a greater risk of abuse, harm or neglect. “If you or someone you know needs support, help is available and there are many options for support with helplines and the likes of Boots pharmacies across the region who are now offering confidential consultations and training their staff specifically to identify those at risk. “Police Scotland is also committed to tackling domestic abuse and that has not changed during the pandemic. To report a crime contact Police Scotland on 101 or dial 999 in an emergency. There is also Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline remains operational and can be contacted 24/7 on 0800 027 1234.”

Carson's call on NHS restart

MSP Finlay Carson

Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has backed calls for the SNP Government to urgently outline a plan for restarting health services in the region. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP says that patients who have been affected by the pausing or cancellation of cancer screening programmes in particular should be given an outline as to when these services will be up and running again. Mr Carson has re-iterated his calls for additional support for NHS Dumfries and Galloway's health board to deal with the backlog of operation in terms of ensuring that the right resources are in place to help staff on the frontline. He has been contacted by constituents who are concerned by the on-going pause in the cancer screening programmes, and he shares concerns that many people are staying away from the NHS in the current climate. Commenting Finlay Carson MSP said: “The Covid-19 outbreak naturally meant that more resources in our health service were directed towards tackling the crisis. “Difficult clinical decisions had to be made in terms of many programmes, especially in relation to cancer screening programmes, but we now need to see a plan outlined for the resumption of these services in our health boards, including in NHS Dumfries and Galloway. “Constituents have raised concerns with me on the services continuing to be paused at the moment, with no date yet given as to when these services will be up and running again. “This won't be easy for our health board to plan in order to deal with the backlog of operations and appointments and I am committed to ensuring that the proper resources are in place for our health service staff on the frontline. “We have seen NHS services start up again south of the border, so I hope the SNP Government can outline a plan to help support the people who need these vital health services as soon as possible.”

The amazing film club – for people who have sight issues

Charlotte and her guide dog Christie

LOSNG her sight hasn't stopped Charlotte Bennie enjoying a lifelong love affair with cinema. Film runs in her family. She grew up next door to a cinema in Whithorn, her husband is a director of the cinema in Newton Stewart that's now run as a community asset, and family members have worked behind the scenes on everything from Bond and Star Wars to Harry Potter. Charlotte (67) has had the eye condition gyrate atrophy since her early forties. "On a good day, I can tell my laptop screen is on, see vague blobs as I walk around and tell where the cinema screen is, if a film is on. On a bad day, I bumble around in a mist, which can be golden, lilac or a range of pretty colours. Pretty but not very useful! "But I had been a film fan for about 30 years before this happened. Audio-description has made a big difference, bringing a hobby back to life for me." Right now, Charlotte is a member of a film club with a difference. All of its members have varying degrees of sight loss. They meet by phone every week to chat about the films they have chosen to watch and discuss as a group. "Blind and partially sighted people can still enjoy a good film now that more are available on the screen or DVD with audio-description," explains organiser Margaret Jackson, a community coordinator with the charity RNIB Scotland. Charlotte certainly does. "Many people think it is so odd that I am still addicted to films but I have been going to the pictures since the age of two, in 1955," she says. "I saw a cartoon and remember being terrified!" "My dad was part of a group which ran the picture house in Whithorn but that before I was born. For a while, we lived next door to it and I could sit in the garden or go up to my bedroom, and listen to the films playing. It's long been demolished. "Later in life, about the same time as my eyesight began to fail, the cinema in Newton Stewart closed but the community rallied around and raised the money to have it restored. We now have an art-deco cinema run by the community with seats the same as those in the Paris Opera House. My husband has been a director of it for many years and was its chairman for a while. "When the cinema reopened, I had to rely on whispered information from him to know what was happening. However, when the cinema went digital I was involved in persuading them to install audio-description, which by then was starting to be available on television. The first audio-described film I saw was 'Alice in Wonderland' and, walking home, I was telling my husband about effects which had been described but which even he hadn't noticed. "I always take my guide-dog Christie with me to the cinema. Usually, she sleeps through a film although I did have a dog previously who would sit up and lick the head and neck of anyone sitting in front of me! Another dog used to snore very loudly. Everyone heard him during quiet sections of a film and eventually, realised it was him and not me." Several members of Charlotte's family actually work in the British film industry. "My niece's father-in-law received a Lifetime Achievement BAFTA for his work on the special effects in the Harry Potter films. My niece's husband and her two boys also work in films, most recently, the new and unreleased Bond film, the JK Rowling spin-offs and the final 'Star Wars' films. Also, '1917', the most recent film I've been to at the cinema and one of the best war films I've ever seen." So what are her own favourites? "I have dreadful taste!" Charlotte confesses. "I love a good science-fiction film, thrillers, war films, horror films. I don't like American comedies, though, as I don't get their sense of humour. Nor do I like chick-lit type films. "I can never decide if it is worth seeing the film of a book. Saying which, I enjoyed the Potter films and the early Bond films, which were based on books. And, I've been lucky enough to watch 'Gone With the Wind' on a big screen many years ago but never managed to finish reading the book." "I am very fond of old classics like cowboy films and the type of gangster film which starred Edward G Robinson or Humphrey Bogart. In my opinion, the last, decent cowboy film was The Shootist, John Wayne's last film and a homage to both him and the western itself. "In the recent Oscars, I thought the best film should have been either '1917'' or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'; both were so good." A true film fan, she still much prefers watching a film on the big screen rather than on television. "There is something about a cinema audience all laughing together, or all gasping together. Watching a film at home cannot match that." Margaret Jackson points out that many of the RNIB film club's members didn't always have sight loss. "Films can hold a lot of personal memories for people, from childhood, first romantic outings, family gatherings, inspiration. Films can mean different things to different people, sometimes quite important things." The film club Margaret has organised meets by phone every Monday for an hour with people from all over the country joining in. Anyone wishing to join can email Margaret at margaret.jackson@rnib.org.uk. CHARLOTTE AND THE WICKER MAN IN 1973, the cult horror film The Wicker Man - starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland - was mainly shot on location acrorss Dumfries and Galloway. Charlotte has her own memories of it, and even a small memento… "Unfortunately, I missed the filming of 'The Wicker Man' as I was a student in Glasgow," she recalls. "My Mum kept me up to date, though. Back then, when a film was released, it could be ages before it eventually reached the provincial cinemas, so it was shown in Glasgow long before it reached Newton Stewart, although I think it had a premier in Stranraer, which had a cinema then. "With this delay in its appearance in Wigtownshire, I was always getting phone calls from my Mum asking me to take visiting locals to the cinema in Glasgow so they could see it. So I had to sit through the film on several occasions accompanied by douce wee wifies. It was the B-movie to 'Don't Look Now, and that's a seriously scary film! Now, both these films are decidedly risqué and there I'd be with the President of the Women's Guild and the like beside me! However, whenever they saw themselves, or anyone they knew in the film, they would shout, 'Oh look!' or similar. Never mind, they always paid for my ticket and popcorn and often had brought me some home-baking. "There's a scene in 'The Wicker Man' with a procession of weans gathered outside a house with a pale-blue storm door, decorated with a brass knocker in the shape of a lion's head. This was my Mum's house. The weans were pupils from Drummore Primary School. It was the lion's head which caught the director's attention; it looked so pagan, he said. As a reward, my Mum received a still photo of the procession, signed by the star of the film Edward Woodward." * The RNIB Helpline is available to help blind and partially sighted people and their families and carers on 0303 123 9999. RNIB's Need to Talk counselling service for people with sight loss can also be contacted through the Helpline or email needtotalk@rnib.org.uk.

12 May 2020

Sudden death in Stranraer

Police at the scene

POLICE are looking into the death of a teenager in Stranraer. A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "Around 11.50am on Tuesday, 12 May, officers in Stranraer were called to the Tilly Close area following the sudden death of an 18-year-old-man. The death is currently being treated as unexplained and enquiries are ongoing."

Blow for key festival

IT had been hoped that the Covid-19 lockdown would have eased sufficiently to let the Newton Stewart and Minnigaff Traditional Music and Dance Festival go ahead in July but organisers have confirmed that the event is off. Festival director Nathon Jones, pictured, said in a statement: "Just now, we would usually be full steam ahead with preparations for the annual Newton Stewart & Minnigaff Traditional Music & Dance festival, due to take place over 10th-12th July 2020. It is with a very heavy heart indeed, therefore, that we announce the cancellation of this year's event. "Those who have attended the festival before, or any traditional music festival for that matter, know how much it relies on social gathering and human interaction; concerts, workshops, Highland dancers, pipers, packed sessions and the best of craic' with good friends and family. "We have been regularly monitoring the information and advice from the NHS, Scottish and UK governments and, as difficult as that as has been at times, what remains our utmost priority is the health and safety of our staff, volunteers, artists and crew, audiences and local communities. "With many people expected to travel to the region for the festival this year, and with no way of predicting the course of Covid-19 over the coming months, it was felt that we simply couldn't risk running the event in early July nor would it be possible to accurately predict an alternative date this year. "We are not unique. Many local, national and international events are cancelled too and our hearts go out to those who work so hard to make those events happen as they deliver huge cultural, social and economic benefits and we must make sure that we support them, more than ever, once we are finally able to do so. "If you have already booked tickets for this year's festival, you should have already received an e-mail detailing how you can apply for a full refund. Alternatively, all tickets purchased for this year will be valid for next year's event. "Our aim is to completely reschedule this year's programme to next year's dates - 9th-11th July 2021 - and we are thrilled to have already confirmed Gráinne Brady, Ali Levack and Cameron Nixon for that. We will also look forward to welcoming back all the fantastic Highland dancers and pipers who we know were very much looking forward to competing at the event this year. "Not forgetting you too of course; our fantastic audiences and festival goers who make the event the success it is and who we dearly cannot wait to see again to enjoy tunes and songs with at the festival. "We're also very pleased to announce that we'll be back at the Creebridge House Hotel for the full weekend in 2021 so please make sure you book early as we're expecting a very busy weekend next year. "We appreciate your patience and understanding at this time and wish you all the very best of health."

Academy entrepreneurs score a first

FOUR Stranraer Academy students will become the first to achieve the equivalent of a Higher for their entrepreneurial skills. Despite lockdown, and the need to complete their assignments online, the studentswill be informed by their teachers that they have successfully completed the Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) “Company Programme” - making them the first in the country to gain the new SCQF accredited qualification, introduced at the start of the 2019/20 academic year. The students had to establish an operational business to demonstrate practical skills in management, finance and marketing as well as show an entrepreneurial drive. As schools closed and timetables were disrupted, Young Enterprise Scotland continued to liaise with students online to encourage them to complete the programme. When surveyed, the vast majority of students participating believed that gaining a qualification for their hard work was the most important aspect of the YES Company Programme. The element of competition was a close second. Geoff Leask, CEO of Young Enterprise Scotland congratulated everyone who took part in this year's company programme under particularly challenging conditions. He said: “This is the first year that students participating in our Company Programme could achieve a ‘Higher' equivalent qualification and Credit Points for their hard work and I applaud everyone who took part. As it turned out, they could not have faced a more challenging set of circumstances and yet their commitment and resilience during the coronavirus lockdown has paid off. These students can justifiably call themselves leaders as the first to hold the new qualification.” He continued: “The aim of YES is to reach young people from all backgrounds and the accredited Company Programme opens up opportunities to those who perhaps don't respond to traditional, academic subjects but have a drive and an ability to succeed. The numbers taking up the qualification in the first year is hugely encouraging. “The need for education to innovate has never been more profound and enterprise skills provide both a basis for personal development and future career options. As we move towards the next academic year and the uncertainties that this still holds, YES is working hard to migrate more of its courses and learning materials online to support enterprising young people of all ages.” The Level 6 qualification for the Company Programme, equivalent to 26-30 Credit Points, is the result of a collaboration between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership (SCQFP), Glasgow Kelvin College and Young Enterprise Scotland. In total, 45 schools in 14 different regions of Scotland took part, with 355 students completing unit 1 to achieve eight credit points before lockdown began. In total, 230 went on to achieve the Level 6 qualification, by completing two additional units.

On the road again

When the team at Whithorn and District Community Bus project heard that the Riverside Centre's minibus was off the road, they immediately stepped aboard to help. The Riverside Centre in Newton Stewart provides vital meals on wheels service across the Machars area to those over 60 years of age and to anyone in need who are self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic. With their minibus unavailable they were struggling to meet demand for deliveries. Hazel Smith, from the project tole Dumfries and Galloway Council's Community Bulletin: “we were delighted to help our community by providing the Riverside Centre use of our minibus to allow them to continue their essential service of delivering meals on wheels. We are all so pleased the Whithorn and District Community Bus is out and about helping people across the Machars in these dif cult times.” Susan McCalman, Riverside Centre manager said ”we want to thank the Whithorn and District Community Bus partnership for the use of their minibus and for delivering it to us so quickly.” The Whithorn and District Community Bus project is a partnership between South Machars Community Centre and Whithorn Parent Council. The project was originally funded by Dumfries and Galloway Council's Tackling Poverty Fund to provide a lifeline community service You can download the D&G Bulletin @ https://t.co/uMqcFrt9rQ?amp=1

House about that!

No.11 now

IT'S a building that helps illustrate the transformative power of Wigtown becoming Scotland's official Book Town as 11 North Main Street went from being a dilapidated state to the beating heart of the Book Festival. Now a consultation is being launched on whether a bid should be made to take the building, used as the Wigtown Festival Company HQ, into community ownership. The building is currently rented and community ownership would pave the way for it to be renovated and upgraded, providing a new venue for events and activities for local people and visitors. Anne Barclay, Operational Director of the company, said: “Wigtown Book Festival has had a very significant impact in the community. The company that runs it, and other initiatives, has the potential to bring further social and economic benefits to Wigtown and beyond. “Community ownership of Number 11 might be a way forward, but we need to know what the people of the town and surrounding area think about the idea before going any further.” The Festival Committee has commissioned Community Enterprise to undertake an independent and objective feasibility study which will gauge support and allow people to think about the opportunities and any risks. Further details are available from the Wigtown Festival Company Facebook page. One of the easiest ways to give your view is through the online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/WFC_Community_Survey. Due to Coronavirus, paper copies of the survey are not available but if anyone is unable to complete it online they can call Douglas on 07989 306374 or email douglas@communityenterprise.co.uk. If the feasibility study concludes that ownership is beneficial for the community and for Wigtown Festival Company then funding would be sought from the Scottish Land Fund. See wigtownbookfestival.com.

Call for support for new and expectant mothers

MENTAL health is a huge issue during lockdown and there are particular concerns for expectant and new mothers. Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has sought assurances from the SNP Government that the right support will be in place to support the mental health of expectant and new mothers during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP questioned Mental Health Minister Claire Haughey during a virtual question time, highlighting that one in five woman suffer from mental illness during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. Mr Carson and his partner are expecting a baby later this year and says that in his own constituency, from feedback from his fiancée's engagement in a new-mum networks, people feel there is insufficient mental health support during or after pregnancy – and the current pandemic will only increase those concerns. In response the Minister said the issue was "extremely close to her heart" and highlighted that the Scottish Government had announced funding for Third Sector organisations in order to ensure mental health support can be delivered for expectant mothers and their families, including in Dumfries and Galloway. Mr Carson also praised the Dads Rock organisation who are currently providing support online for fathers in the form of antenatal and postnatal workshops, which he has found hugely beneficial. Mr Carson said: “With my fiancée and I expecting a child later this year, I am conscious of the need to support expectant mothers and fathers mental health alongside physical health, especially with the current circumstances during the Covid-19 outbreak. “It is clear that there are serious issues regarding a lack of support networks available right now, which is worrying when one in five women suffer mental health illnesses either during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. “I know from my experience that the Dads Rock organisation have been providing invaluable online support to me at the moment in the form of antenatal workshops. “It is welcome that the SNP Government have recognised that there has been a need for further funding to help support the Third Sector and charities to deliver this vital network of support. “There are always greater issues in rural communities in terms of resources and that is only heightened right now during the Covid-19 crisis. “I hope that there will continue to be an improvement in the situation facing many expectant and new mothers who don't feel there is adequate support available to them.”

11 May 2020

Have YOUR say on a water sports plan

Skiffies 2019

THE Skiffies rowing event was a huge success last summer and the hope is that developing Stranraer as a top-flight water sports venue can drive the town and surrounding area forward. The Stranraer Water Sports Association Centre has a questionnaire designed to help plan the new moves. Says SWSA's Wendi Cuffe: "Given that Stranraer has an amazing location on the protected waters of Loch Ryan, a strong tourism appeal (with potential to develop an even more robust tourist industry at the heart of the Stranraer area) and a community that has shown it is keen to engage with water based activities the SWSA has identified a unique opportunity to develop a new and market-leading water sports training, activity and regatta activity centre. "The project team believe that there is a tremendous opportunity to develop a unique approach to getting people afloat, building enthusiasm and creating clubs for long term use. "Part of the feasibility study process is community engagement. We need to understand what you would like to do and how you would like to be involved, and in light of the current Covid-19 restrictions the team have prepared a short questionnaire - see link below - to capture peoples thoughts and ideas. Can we ask you to take a moment of your time to complete, please "Thank you for your support with this - closing date for completed questionnaires is Monday May 18. We ask you to share widely through your networks both locally, regionally, nationally and internationally." https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfcIBD2pZSkjGiYBZjzg0UUFMY1adMF_dx7qUeq8m5ZtrWeWw/viewform?usp=sf_link

Spring Fling's leap onto the internet

Liz Gilbey in action

ARTISTS across the region were preparing to throw open their doors for Spring Fling, a hugely popular arts and crafts event. Covid-19 has forced changes but all is not lost in lockdown. The organisers of Spring Fling are launching SF | At Home – a new programme of digital activities. The initiative is to support Spring Fling audiences and artists though this period of isolation and fill some of the gap left by the postponement of Scotland's leading open studios weekend. A total of 87 artists and craft makers across Dumfries and Galloway were expecting to welcome around 12,000 visitors through their doors between 23 and 25 May. Despite having to delay the long-running annual event its parent organisation, Upland CIC, has worked with artists, makers and supporters to go digital. Some studios will offer virtual tours, there will be an online exhibition plus workshops and demonstrations suitable for all ages. The website is also being updated to showcase all the studios selected for Spring Fling 2020 and with a variety of art and craft to browse and buy. Joanna Macaulay, Assistant Director for Upland, said: “The next bank holiday weekend just won't be the same without Spring Fling. It is one of the most successful events of its kind in the UK – a much-loved highlight of the year for visitors and participants alike. “We hope that SF | At Home will fill some of the gap. Even though the artists and makers can't open their doors in the usual way – people can still meet some of them online to see their studios, watch demonstrations and even take part in workshops. “And hopefully it will inspire those who aren't familiar with Spring Fling, or this beautiful region of south-west Scotland, to come and see us later in the year. “It is really important for us to keep our artists engaged with their audiences and to do our bit in providing creative opportunities for our Spring Fling visitors. “Art and craft are good for wellbeing and we hope that our workshops and demonstrations will be welcomed by those in isolation. The timing is especially appropriate as 18-24 May is Mental Health Awareness week.” Anyone wanting to use lockdown to develop their own art skills should watch out for the tutorials by established artists Bella Green and Liz Gilbey among others Bella, who has 50 years' experience in art education will run two sessions under the title of Making Your Mark. Liz is filming short videos that introduce simple drawing techniques making use of materials available around the house when a full art kit is not available. She said: “We are all eating and cooking at home at the moment and, so one of the things I'll be doing is looking at the beauty of the ordinary in the kitchen – the fruit and veg, the glass and ceramics. I'll be encouraging a free and loose approach to drawing and full expression in colour.” Emily Tough will present an online exhibition and virtual tour of the artwork she created as the Spring Fling Wigtown Book Festival Artist in Residence last year. This saw her use recycled materials to create puppets inspired by stories and people at the book festival – all within a miniature big top. The SF | At Home online activities are also an important way for Upland CIC to help support artists, makers and small businesses – many of them facing substantial challenges due to the lockdown. Upland plans to announce a new date for Spring Fling 2020 in the coming months. As Dumfries & Galloway's art and craft development agency Upland CIC is also introducing projects to support artists and makers. Digital Diversions kicks off with live advice sessions to support and develop members' skills in online selling and reaching audiences through video. These will be led by Upland members Kim Ayres, a photographer from Castle Douglas, and Suzi Plunkett, of Little Dot Creations in Newton Stewart. A further suite of sessions will take place in June and will see other members share their expertise. Upland also plans an online exhibition A Postcard from D&G – We Wish You Were Here. The idea is for members to come up with 2D and 3D works that can be easily posted. Amy Marletta, Upland's Projects Director, said: “Our members are hugely talented and accomplished people, but many face extraordinary difficulties – with events and exhibitions cancelled, and galleries and studios closed. “By sharing expertise we can give them additional skills to help rebuild and diversify. At the same time, A Postcard from D&G – We Wish You Were Here, provides an opportunity to prepare work for an exhibition and hopefully make some sales.” The organisation has also adapted one of its planned major projects, Artful Migration, so it can go ahead under Covid-19 restrictions. The artist residency project, in partnership with Ginnie Wollaston and Nicholas Parton Philip of Moving Souls Dance, will focus on the ospreys nesting at NTS Threave Garden and Estate to look at wider issues of climate change and migration. Amy said: “While human society may be on hold, the ospreys are continuing their cycle of migration and breeding as usual. “Even though the artists may not be able to spend time at Threave in the way we had hoped, the current pandemic may well raise interesting issues about our future relationship with the natural world.” SF | At Home workshops and live tours are free but registration will be needed – check www.spring-fling.co.uk for details. Digital Diversions activities are for Upland members and information will be available at www.weareupland.com.

Questions over submarine incident

Vanguard submarines carry Britain's Trident missiles

Questions continue to be asked about an incident in the North Channel in which a Royal Navy submarine and a ferry from Cairnryan came into close contact. The incident took place in November 2017, but MSP Emma Harper is still pressing the Ministry of Defence over the issue. Miss Harper says that despite the incident taking place on November 6, 2017, it only became public knowledge in early 2019 following the announcement that an investigation into what happened would be carried out by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch. In March 2019, Miss Harper wrote to the then Secretary of State for Defence to seek clarification and to ask to be kept up to date with the progress of the investigation. Miss Harper also raised the incident at First Minister's Questions in Holyrood. Miss Harper received an initial response from the UK Government stating that the ferry involved was confirmed to the Stena Superfast VII, which has a capacity of 1,300 passengers and a combined capacity of 650 cars and lorries. The UK Government refused to release any further information as the investigation 'was currently ongoing'. To date, despite numerous requests for updates, Miss Harper has received no updates on the progress of the investigation and has therefore called on the UK Secretary of State for Defence to meet with her to provide an update on the investigation which, she says, "could potentially have risked the lives of constituents and those traveling on the Stena vessel." Commenting, Miss Harper said: "There have been 789 nuclear safety events at the Faslane and Coulport nuclear bases since 2006, and in 2019 we found out that a nuclear-powered submarine - yet to be confirmed if it was carrying nuclear weapons - was involved in a near miss with a passenger ferry travelling from Dumfries and Galloway to Belfast. "The news of this incident was, and indeed still is, deeply, deeply worrying and I am extremely interested to learn exactly what happened and how close this nuclear submarine was to colliding with the ferry. The consequences of such a collision could have been extremely serious and so I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Defence on this matter and I raised this with the Scottish Government to ask if they have been briefed by the UK Government at any stage regarding this incident – to date they haven't. “Neither the UK Government nor the Marine Accident Investigations Board have responded to my numerous requests for information and I am therefore escalating the situation to the new Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to request a meeting so I can find out the detail of what happened when this nuclear submarine came into close contact with a passenger ship. My constituents deserve to know what happened, and deserve reassurances that steps are being put in place to ensure such an incident is not repeated in future. "The UK's Trident nuclear deterrent has no place in Scotland and incidents such as these only reaffirms the need to get rid of these grossly expensive and utterly useless submarines from our waters."

Coastguards check mystery object in Luce Bay

Coastguards at Luce Bay

COASTGUARDS have investigated another object spotted in the sands of Luce Bay. It's thought that Spring tides and the constantly shifting sands are uncovering a variety of items inside the weapons-testing danger area. The latest find was checked at the weekend. The Coastguard said: "The item was located and identified as a non-explosive training device linked to the nearby MoD range." The find follows a similar discovery on an inert object last week and from a controlled explosion carried out at Portpatrick. There a shell, thought to be part of the estimated million tons of surplus ammunition dumped in the sea off the Rhins after the Second World War, was brought ashore aboard a scallop dredger. Royal Navy ordnance experts checked the shell, removed it from the boat and took it to the Dashers Den area to make it safe. The harbour area of Portpatrick was cordoned off for several hours as a precaution.

09 May 2020

Return of the Army testers

Testing in Stranraer

ARMY mobile test centres for Covid-19 continue to operate in Dumfries and Galloway and return to Stranraer on Monday. The appointment-only drive-through centres are part of the UK Government testing programme in support of the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland. Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership said in a statement: ‘Testing for health, social care and Council staff continues to be delivered by the NHS at their testing sites in Dumfries and Stranraer. ‘Mobile testing for Covid-19 is now available for more residents of Dumfries and Galloway. ‘Other key workers (including food chain, transport, delivery, essential manufacturing – full list at https://www.gov.scot/…/coronavirus…/pages/who-can-be-tested/), those older than 65 years of age, and household members of both of these groups can be tested at one of the mobile testing units that are being staffed by the Army throughout Dumfries and Galloway.' Testing locations include: Monday 11th May – Stranraer – Ashwood House, Stranraer Thursday 14th May – Newton Stewart – Douglas Ewart High School Corsbie Road, Newton Stewart Monday 18th May - Stranraer – Ashwood House, Stranraer Says D&GHSCP: ‘Anyone who falls into one of the categories above, and has symptoms of COVID-19 can book an appointment on the Scottish Government website https://self-referral.test-for-coronavirus.service.gov.uk/.' Latest figures for Covid-19 in the region show 255 confirmed cases with the number in intensive care reported only as being ‘fewer than five'.

08 May 2020

Tea for victory!

Kathleen Lindsay in Forties costume

V for victory? Try Tea for victory! People have been commemorating the end of the fighting in Europe 75 years ago with a series of events including street tea parties – socially distanced, of course. Zee our Facebook page for pictures from Stranraer and the Lochans today showing the action as Wigtownshire remembers how victory over Hitler's Nazis was secured - at great cost - in 1945.

Wigtownshire's war

Piper Colin Modrate at the bandstand

ON land, sea and air, people from Wigtownshire played their part in delivering victory over Hitler's Nazi regime Seventy five years on from the signing of the German surrender which ended the fighting in Europe, Britain is commemorating the enormous sacrifices we and our allies made to confront and defeat the tyranny of an evil despot. Covid-19 lockdown means the commemorations have had to be scaled back, but Stranraer Community Council was determined not to late the significant moment pass unmarked. They arranged for piper Colin Modrate to play his pipes at the bandstand in Stair Park to salute 'the greatest generation.' As well as soldiers, sailors and airmen – many of whom did not return and who are commemorated on war memorials across the county – Wigtownshire played a key role in the war. Wig Bay was a key base for RAF Coastal Command and flying boats from Loch Ryan were pivotal in the fight against the U-Boat menace while its communications outposts were key to getting the shipping lanes open. Air operations took place from Castle Kennedy, Wigtown, and West Freugh airfields. Cairnryan was transformed into Military Port No.2 and thousands of Canadian and American troops – as well as millions of tons of vital supplies – poured through its piers and the railway system that linked it to the Transit Camp on the edge of Stranraer. Garlieston was where the top-secret Mulberry harbours were tested. They would prove essential after D-Day when the work of liberating Europe gathered pace. Today you can still find many traces of Wigtownshire's war – and there are still many alive today who we can number among that 'greatest generation.' https://www.solwaymilitarytrail.co.uk

Attention! It's VE Day 75

TODAY marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day, when the fight against Hitler's Nazi regime ended and the guns in Europe at last fell silent. Britain is not celebrating the anniversary, given the horror the war entailed, but it is right that we honour the sacrifices made by what's often called 'the greatest generation' as they fought to ensure tyranny could not prevail with a commemoration today. Leading the way in Stranraer was Murdo MacLeod, veteran of the Royal Tank Regiment, saluting the heroes of the past at 8am along with thousands of Royal British Legion members across the country.

07 May 2020

NHS boss: Caution over lifting lockdown

NHS Chief Jeff Ace

THE head of the NHS in Dumfries and Galloway is urging caution over any possible easing of the Coronavirus lockdown. Jeff Ace, NHS Dumfries and Galloway Chief Executive, said: “It is worth reiterating that we remain in a very precarious situation. We are faced with a highly infectious virus that will cause serious illness in a significant proportion of those infected for which we have very limited treatments. "Covid-19 has a high mortality rate, particularly among older adults or those with co-morbidities. At the moment, it is estimated that only a very small percentage of the population has been exposed to the virus and that the vast majority of us have no acquired immunity." He touched on the latest briefing from Holyrood. “The Scottish Government has made clear today that, in Scotland, existing lockdown arrangements will continue to apply. Any minor easing of restrictions will only be introduced when supported by evidence of reduced community transmission of Covid-19. “In this context, it remains essential that we follow Scottish Government's guidance on: · staying at home whenever possible · maintaining effective social distancing when in the workplace, shopping or exercising · practising good hand hygiene “If we do this, we will save lives; lives of our colleagues, friends, neighbours and families. “A huge thanks for everyone's efforts so far. Everyone in Dumfries and Galloway can feel proud of how we have responded, and continue to respond, to the challenges of COVID-19. There is, however, a long way to go yet.” Meanwhile, Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has offered his support to NHS Dumfries and Galloway as they begin to tackle the backlog of operations that have occurred during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP as written to Mr Ace to enquire what plans the health board are currently exploring in order to carry out operations as soon as it is safe to do so. Mr Carson has also asked the Chief Executive if he feels in the circumstances if the health board would require further resources than they currently have in order to achieve the best possible outcome for patients. Mr Carson also praised the extraordinary work being carried out by NHS staff across the region and says their efforts should never be forgotten during this crisis. Commenting, Mr Carson said: “Our NHS staff on the frontline across Dumfries and Galloway have done an extraordinary job during the Covid-19 crisis and everyone will be forever grateful for their above and beyond efforts in helping to save lives. “Understandably resources were directed away from operations and other programmes in order to tackle Covid-19 in recent weeks meaning many operations had to be cancelled. “As we begin to try and emerge from the lockdown and return to a sense of normality, I have been keen to offer my support to NHS Dumfries and Galloway to carry out operations when it is safe again to do so, both in terms of social distancing and on resources. “I have offered to help support the health board in pushing for greater resources that they require in order to give patients the treatment they need and to return our health service back to some form of normality. “Our health service has continued to be there for people at this time, not only during Covid-19 and I hope that there can be plans put in place soon to carry out the backlog of operations.”

VE Day party plan with a twist

The 75th Anniversary of VE Day – which marked the end of the war against Hitler's forces in Europe – falls tomorrow. Covid-19 has forced many changes to commemoration plans but Stranraer Museum has a quirky take on alternatives. They're suggesting a stay-at-home street party – and would love to see your pictures of the events you stage. See their Facebook page for more.

There's more to looking after yourself than this virus

Health is about more than the Covid-19 teating going on here

SIXTY four per cent of people in Scotland are less likely to access non-emergency health services amid the Coronavirus lockdown according to a survey. The YouGov Direct poll, commissioned by drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, found that the biggest barrier to people accessing health services was concerns about placing extra strain on the NHS (55pc). This was followed by fear of catching Covid-19 (18pc) and needing to remain in self isolation (6pc). The news comes as Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership said: "Please be reassured that your GP practice is there to support you and therefore please continue to access your GP services when you need them." The new findings mirror We Are With You's own UK-wide data which shows that referrals into treatment across its drug alcohol and mental health services have dropped by 52pc since January. In particular, alcohol referrals have fallen by 72pc during the lockdown period when compared to January 2020. The charity said: "However, the number of people contacting We Are With You's online webchat service has increased in March and April compared to the first two months of the year. And calls to We Are With You in Scotland's helpline have risen by 200pc during lockdown. The percentage of alcohol related calls has risen from 32pc of all calls, to 50pc of all calls during this time." The survey also found that more than six million people are worried about the drinking of someone they know during the current restrictions. The most common reasons people in Scotland think someone may use alcohol at the current time are boredom (80pc), loneliness (60pc) and anxiety (54pc). 92pc of people surveyed think support from a family member or friend is important in helping someone with an alcohol problem, but only 23pc would be very confident in starting discussions. Meanwhile, people are most likely to access advice online if they are concerned about a friend's or family member's drinking. Sammie volunteers with We Are With You and is in recovery from alcohol. She said: “I told myself that because I used to drink in fits and spurts rather than every day I didn't have an issue. Alcohol made me feel confident and dulled my anxiety but once I started, I struggled to stop - with serious consequences for myself and my family. “When I first started working with We Are With You I was really sceptical about what they could offer. But the staff were warm and didn't judge or label me. My key worker Dawn asked me what I wanted to achieve and worked alongside me to get to that point. Now I'm using my experiences to support others. “The current restrictions are tough for people like me who are in recovery. Isolation, boredom and anxiety are big factors which lead to people drinking more. And without work or other obligations to keep people in check, some people may go into spirals of drinking like I used to. But the support is still out there; online support groups are helping me cope and I still speak to Dawn on the phone. You don't need to go through your GP or worry about putting extra strain on the NHS.” Meanwhile, Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership said: ""It is clear that COVID-19 will continue to be with us for some time and GP practices will need to maintain many of the measures that have been in place over the past few weeks in order to protect patients and the practice team. "Wherever possible, patients needing to access GP services are receiving telephone and video consultations, with patients attending the practice premises only where necessary. Patients should feel reassured that online appointments are completely safe and secure and the technology is very easy to use. These types of appointment allow patients to access the care they need while staying at home, helping to reduce the spread of the virus. "If you do need to be examined then you will be invited to attend for appointment in the surgery. Please be reassured that all practices have arrangements in place to support social distancing and do not be unduly concerned that some of the practice team may be wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). "Access to all GP practices is now by prior arrangement, so, if you need help from your GP practice please do get in touch by telephone and do not attend the surgery in person without an appointment. "In the first instance, anyone experiencing mild symptoms of coronavirus should look at the information relating to COVID-19 on the NHS Inform website www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus. "Should further advice or guidance be needed, call NHS24 on 111."

Stay on the Home Front for VE Day. urges MSP

MSP Colin Smyth

CALLS have been made to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day – the end of the war in Europe against Hitler's Germany – at home. South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth says extensive plans had been made to commemorate the occasion across the south of Scotland but that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced organisers to postpone everything, with several virtual events taking place instead. Nationally, a virtual service of remembrance will be broadcast live from the Legion Scotland Facebook page at 10:40 am tomorrow. The service will be conducted by Legion Scotland Padre Rev Dr Karen Campbell and will include a two-minute silence at 11 am. The service will then be followed at midday with an hour-long VE Day virtual tribute concert. The programme will include performances, reading and messages from a host of celebrities and performers. In Dumfries and Galloway, a virtual service looks set to be broadcast at 1 pm through the council's social media channels. Colin Smyth said: “Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, it is important that we still commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day at home and I would like to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of all those who fought in the Second World War, as well as the many who served on the home front. “Those brave men and women who fought and gave their lives for our freedom must never be forgotten. As we face the most challenging times since the end of the Second World War, it is more important than ever that we come together, even if it is from our own homes. “Like many people, I was scheduled to attend events this week to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Instead, I will be taking part in online and virtual events taking place across the south of Scotland and if anyone is looking for ideas on how to commemorate the occasion and perhaps raise some money, Poppyscotland has a huge amount of information on its website. “This charity continues to support our Armed Forces community and by supporting them, local people are supporting the men and women who continue to sacrifice for their country.”

Keep Galloway bonnie!

Waste in Stranraer

Fly tipping amid lockdown has been raised as an issue by MSPs Finlay Carson and Emma Harper. As our picture from Stranraer shows, waste is a problem in town and countryside. Though bin collections continue, people staying at home have found they generate more waste. Meanwhile lots of us have been doing DIY projects that also create junk. The plea from politicians and public alike is to store inert waste until it can be disposed of properly – don't dump it in Bonnie Galloway!

Milestone for support service

Loading up parcels for D&G

THE EatWell Service from landlord Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership now delivered more than 1,000 emergency food parcels to customers in need across Dumfries and Galloway. DGHP, part of Wheatley Group, hit the milestone just five weeks after the EatWell service was introduced across the region. EatWell provides emergency food each week to people who are self-isolating or facing hardship and have no one else to turn to for support. DGHP's Managing Director, Matt Foreman, said: “Our team are delivering parcels of much-needed household essentials to communities across Dumfries and Galloway and we know how much these are appreciated from the many calls we are receiving from people saying ‘thank you'. “We also know that it's not just families who are struggling financially who are in need of the service – we have customers who simply can't leave their homes due to the fact they (or someone in their household) is shielding and it's proving very difficult to get much-needed items – especially in some of our more rural locations. “I would encourage our customers to talk to us if they are in need and if they need some help – our staff are here to help.” Also, this week, DGHP's Tenancy Liaison Officer, Susan Smith, picked up some activity packs from EatWell's depot at Skypark in Glasgow. The packs will be given to adults and children across DGHP. And in recognition of the benefits of the service, one of DGHP's contractors, Ashleigh (Scotland) Ltd, this week announced a donation of £1000 towards the EatWell project. David Smith, Managing Director of Ashleigh, said: “We are very aware that the food parcels being delivered across Dumfries and Galloway, as part of the EatWell service, have become a lifeline over the last few weeks. “It's a huge effort that has quickly become a key support service and we hope that our contribution helps them reach out to those who really need it.” The lifeline service was awarded £350,000 from Scottish Government recently to provide 8500 food parcels across Scotland over the next three month. If you would like to speak to DGHP about the EatWell project, contact Freephone 0800 011 3447 or email customerservice@dghp.org.uk

06 May 2020

Fury over filth

An SLE example of fly tipping

FLY TIPPING cases continue to surge amid lockdown, with a bin bag of human excrement found among items illegally dumped in the Scottish countryside during lockdown. Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the rural business membership organisation has drawn up a list of the top 10 most random items their members, which include farmers and estate owners, have reported being found among piles of rubbished dumped illegally on their property since lockdown. Concern about the issue in Dumfries and Galloway has already been raised by MSPs Finlay Carson and Emma Harper. Now SLE has written to Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform calling for commitment from the Scottish Government to allow local household waste and recycling centres to re-open if social distancing measures can be safely met – as has recently been seen in England. Sarah-Jane Laing, Chief Executive of Scottish Land & Estates said: “At a time when rural businesses are being hit hard financially, it is heartbreaking that people continue to think it is OK to dump their rubbish on other people's property in the countryside, leaving the owner of the land to foot the bill to clean it up. "At a time when farmers and rural businesses are working harder than ever to produce vital food supplies, protect the environment and support jobs in their local communities, this is an unnecessary burden to deal with. “We are extremely concerned about the damage flytipping is causing to Scotland's environment, the harm it can cause to animals and wildlife and the overall public and private cost of cleanup. Employees at farms and rural businesses suffering from flytipping are also being placed at risk, having to remove what could potentially be hazardous material and taking on extra work at a time when we are being encouraged to only travel when it is absolutely essential. “That's why we are calling on the Scottish Government to allow local tips to reopen if social distancing measures can be followed safely by staff and the public. We also want assurances that landowners who have been a victim of flytipping will not have to pay to dispose of the rubbish, which unbelievably sometimes happens.” Some of Scotland's local authorities already uplift fly tipped waste on private land as long as it is reasonably near public land. Where feasible and resources allow, SLE would like to see this supportive approach taken by all 32 Scottish Local Authorities. Sarah Jane concluded “The message to the public is clear: if your bin is overflowing or you are having a clear-out, please keep your rubbish on your own property until the tips reopen. How would you feel if you had to clear up someone else's asbestos, dirty nappies or human faeces from your property?” The 10 most random items found among illegally dumped rubbish on SLE members' properties are: Black bin bag of human excrement (found in Angus) 40 empty vodka bottles (Aberdeenshire) Unicorn ride-on toy (Aberdeenshire) Clinical waste in white bags (Falkirk) Pick-axe head (Stirling) Commode chair (Aberdeenshire) Old driveway (Midlothian) 4 X 20 litre empty oil drums (Perth & Kinross) Christmas card (still in its wrapper) (Ayrshire) Bag of chips (Aberdeenshire)

Cash boost for carers 'on way'

OVER 2,500 carers in Dumfries and Galloway are due to benefit from a one-off payment during the Coronavirus pandemic, says an MSP. The Scottish Government has unveiled plans to invest £19.2million to provide further support to Scottish carers during the Covid-19 crisis. If approved by Holyrood, around 83,000 eligible carers across Scotland will get an extra £230.10 through a special one-off Coronavirus Carer's Allowance Supplement in June - with around 2,505 in Dumfries and Galloway gaining from this additional financial support. The extra payment will be paid automatically to people in receipt of Carer's Allowance. Emma Harper, South Scotland MSP, said: “Carers in Dumfries and Galloway make an absolutely vital contribution to our society, and it's only appropriate that their hard work is valued and they are properly supported by the Scottish Government. “This one-off payment will benefit carers who are on low incomes and already have some of the most intense caring roles, providing at least 35 hours unpaid care weekly to a disabled child or adult in receipt of higher level disability benefits. "This additional payment will be an acknowledgement to carers that we know they are providing vital support to family, friends and neighbours, and playing an absolutely crucial role in our collective efforts to slow the spread of Coronavirus. “I am delighted that carers in Dumfries and Galloway are being recognised by the Scottish Government for the important contribution they make to our communities in these extremely difficult circumstances.”

A poem from Park

Mrs Baillie, a teacher at Park Primary in Stranraer, has crafted a poem for these strange days. Marks out of ten? Schools stand dignified and silent, No children to be found, Hollow, empty buildings, With not a single sound. Dinner halls deserted, Chairs sitting all alone, The corridors abandoned, With children all at home. Lids remain on glue sticks, Sharpened pencils in their pots. Lonely books unopened, Avid readers in their thoughts. The ever-hopeful bell remains, Knowing that one day, Many pairs of little feet Will line up in the age-old way, Waiting for their special place, Another brand new start. A school is just a building – It's the pupils that are its heart.

VE Day anniversary message from the Secretary of State

MP Alister Jack

ALISTER Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Dumfries and Galloway, has issued a statement paying tribute to national sacrifices ahead of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, which brought to a close the war against Nazi Germany in Europe. "This Friday, like many people across Dumfries and Galloway constituency, my thoughts will turn to a day 75 years ago when the Second World War in Europe officially came to an end. "Like most today much of my knowledge of the emotional outpouring of that day comes from older relatives and friends who had lived through more than six years of global conflict which, together with the remaining part of the war in the Far East, helped preserve the freedom and survival of our family of nations. "For those old enough to remember the war years, the VE Day anniversary will not only be an occasion to recall the often spontaneous celebrations that broke out at what was a crucial milestone on the road to peace but will likely be tinged with sadness for those in the forces and civilians who lost their lives. "Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 emergency, communities will not be able to mark this important anniversary in quite the same way initially envisaged. "In the midst of this unprecedented battle to control coronavirus, in which NHS staff, care teams and a vast army of key workers and volunteers have gone above and beyond for the common good, I believe we can feel a greater empathy than ever with the generations who witnessed VE Day in May, 1945. "This Friday there will be a thoughtful revised programme of events in which people can safely become involved whilst social distancing in their own homes. "There will be special programming on the BBC and other networks, including an 11 am national two-minute silence, Winston Churchill's historic announcement that the war in Europe was over, a nationwide rendition of Dame Vera Lynn's 'We'll Meet Again' and a special address by Her Majesty The Queen. "I believe Friday will be a time to honour the wartime generations, be inspired by their courage and fortitude whilst not forgetting those that faced the war in the Far East, who will be commemorated on VJ Day on August 15."

05 May 2020

Bombshell! Safety questions over bridge

THE official response to a World War Two shell found aboard a scallop dredger has been praised – but questions raised over safety issues around a proposed bridge to Ireland. South Scotland MSP Emma Harper has raised a motion in the Scottish Parliament to commend the Dumfries and Galloway Division of Police Scotland, the Royal Navy and HM Coastguard over their swift response to dealing with unexploded ordnance which was picked up by the boat and brought into Portpatrick harbour. In the motion, while thanking the emergency service response which led to a safe and successful controlled explosion of the device, Miss Harper highlighted what she has described as the 'very real dangers' posed by the munitions dumping ground – Beaufort's Dyke – situated in the North Channel between Scotland ad Northern Ireland. In the motion submitted to the Parliament, Miss Harper quoted official statistics from the Ministry of Defence which show that in excess of one million tons of surplus conventional and chemical weapons have been dumped around the 1,000ft subsea abyss. The motion calls on the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland – who have stated publicly their intention to build either a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland – to publish plans on how they would deal with the dangers. Miss Harper said: “Firstly, I want to wholeheartedly thank the Dumfries and Galloway Division of Police Scotland, the Royal Navy and HM Coastguard for dealing with the unexploded ordnance which was picked up by a local scallop dredger and brought into Portpatrick Harbour. The action led to a safe and controlled explosion of the device, which ensured the safety of the dredger's crew and of people locally. “However, given the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland's recent comments of their intention to build a bridge or tunnel connecting Scotland with Northern Ireland, it is important to point out we have a 300 metre-deep, 3.5 kilometre wide, 50 kilometre long trench – Beaufort's Dyke – which, according to the Ministry of Defence, contains over a million tons of surplus conventional and chemical weapons. The site is also an active route of passage for Trident nuclear submarines. “I therefore think that it is only sensible for the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland to publish plans on, should a bridge or tunnel be built, how they would deal with this underwater toxic and explosive dumping site and I look forward to their response on the matter. “Again, I thank Police Scotland, the Royal Navy and HM Coastguard for dealing with the unexploded device in Portpatrick and would encourage anyone looking for any further information to contact me at any time.”

All-clear over Luce Bay 'weapon'

AN object spotted off Sandhead in Luce Bay was feared to be a weapon, a legacy of the bombing range there. Coastguards checked it out this morning and found it was non-explosive and posed no threat. They said: 'Police Scotland were made aware yesterday of a sighting of a suspicious object within Sandhead beach area. 'This morning, a Coastguard rescue team from Portpatrick was sent at 4am to search, locate and identify the object in question. 'Working with the appropriate agencies the object was identified as non-explosive and of no threat to the public.' It follows a controlled explosion at Portpatrick on Monday after a shell was removed from a scallop dredger in the village harbour. The area was closed off for several hours as a precaution. Royal Navy ordnance disposal experts examined the shell and removed it to the Dasher's Den area where a 'small' explosion was used to make the weapon safe. It is thought the shell may have been part of an estimated million tons of war-surplus ammo dumped off the Rhins coast after the war. Critics say the ditched ammo in and around Baeufort's Dyke poses a threat to the mooted 'Boris Bridge' from Portpatrick to Ireland.

Marking VE Day anniversary

SOUTH Scotland MSP Emma Harper has welcomed the commitment from the Scottish Government to hold VE Day Commemorative events online this year, given that the current COVID-19 restrictions mean that gatherings of people are not currently possible. The South Scotland MSP has also made her own video on social media to mark the day and people can view it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. An online service of remembrance and a two-minute silence will lead Scotland's public commemorations of the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has meant that plans for the landmark anniversary – which were to include a parade, public concert and reception – will now take place online, with a video message of thanks from the First Minister and a concert in addition to the service and silence. Several local organisations and churches are also holding their own online services to mark the landmark day . Commenting, Miss Harper said: “As the 75th anniversary of VE Day approaches, it is only right we pay tribute to the determination and the sacrifices made by the men and women who lived through the Second World War. “Commemorations and events like VE Day are absolutely crucial in remembering our history, and also in the promotion of international peace, tolerance and respect for one another which allows us to ensure the atrocities of war – and particularly of World War Two – are not repeated in the future. “Despite the difficult circumstances we are currently in, Legion Scotland and Poppy Scotland – as well as local churches across Dumfries and Galloway - are doing outstanding work in helping people across Scotland come together virtually on the 8th May to give thanks to our World War Two generation. “I would encourage everyone to join with me online in honouring a generation whose contribution continues to impact on us all in many ways, as well as to promote international tolerance and respect. “I have posted a short video to mark the day which people can access on social media channels.” Dr Claire Armstrong, Chief Executive of Legion Scotland, said: “The 75th anniversary of VE Day is an important milestone in the nation's history and we are excited to launch our virtual programme. “While the lockdown restrictions have forced us to postpone the planned physical events, we are confident that our virtual events will bring people across Scotland together in a memorable, shared moment of commemoration and celebration.” Poppyscotland Chief Executive Mark Bibbey said: “We had just issued VE Day learning resources to every school in Scotland when the lockdown came into effect. Nevertheless, these have been amended and are now an excellent way for young people to find out more about the significance of VE Day while learning at home. “We've had incredibly positive feedback from the parents who have already made use of them and would encourage anyone home schooling utilise this comprehensive digital resource.”

Beat the boredom (and learn a skill!)

LOTS of people are stuck at home with a lot of time on their hands right now. Dumfries and Galloway College is offering free access to online courses that could stave off the boredom – and improve you skills. Full details at: https://www.dumgal.ac.uk/dumgalportal/index.php?newsid=1588316652

Lessons in helping

TECHNICAL departments at schools across the region have been making safety equipment for the NHS. The latest of the council's Community Bulletins has more detail on how specialist visors were made at Douglas Ewart High School in Newton Stewart. Technical education teacher Kirsteen Hogg proposed the idea of making visors to Head Teacher George Webb. A team of 20 volunteer staff members organised themselves in a mini production line, laser-cutting and assembling the visors. After going through a rigorous NHS quality assurance process, the visor design was approved, and the school has now been in production for a couple of weeks. Over 500 visors have been delivered to nearly 40 organisations from Stranraer to Castle Douglas, including health and social care workers in residential and home care. Kirsteen said: “We've been overwhelmed by the generosity of local businesses and the community, who donated materials. We hope to produce hundreds more visors, so we're still seeking donations. "The visors are being used by key workers such as NHS staff, carers, shop assistants, and bus drivers. Being able to fulfil this need makes us all very proud. Our volunteers include teaching and non-teaching staff, and more are coming to join us each day.” The bulletin is available online at https://supportdg.dumgal.gov.uk/communitybulletin

04 May 2020

Portpatrick drama ends – but bridge questions remain

PORTPATRICK harbour has reopened after police sealed off the area for hours on Monday following the discovery of what's thought to be a wartime shell aboard a fishing boat. A Royal Navy bomb squad took the explosive away from the village for examination but there are concerns it came from a huge weapons dump off the Wigtownshire coast - which lies in the way of the ‘Boris Bridge' to Ireland. The drama began yesterday afternoon when the crew of a scallop boat berthed in Portpatrick spotted a suspicious object as they worked on the boat's steel dredge bags. The picturesque harbour was sealed off while the Navy bomb squad made their way to the scene. The experts examined the shell, said to be about nine inches in length, and decided it was safe enough to remove from the boat. It is estimated that over a millions tons of surplus ammo was dumped into Beaufort's Dyke, between Scotland and Northern Ireland, after the Second World War. Some of the shells contained mustard gas and nerve agents we stockpiled to retaliate if Hitler used chemical weapons on us. Although most of it was to be dumped in the 1,000ft-deep Dyke, the crews ditching the ammo would sometimes throw it over the side of their ships early in bad weather or if they wanted to get back to Cairnryan in time for a drink. It means ammo is scattered all over the seabed and no one knows exactly where it is or what state it's in. A similar dump off the Belgian coast was said to be leaking mustard gas last year. Boris Johnson has publicly back the idea of a bridge linking Portpatrick to Northern Ireland, but there are big worries about the ammo, which could still be dangerous even after 70 years. Phosphorous sticks from RAF incendiary bombs have washed up on the coast of Wigtownshire before. When they dry out , they burn furiously and the public were warned not to go near anything suspicious looking. With political support for a bridge on both sides of the North Channel, the UK Government is ‘scoping' possible bridge sites. In order to avoid the Dyke, one suggestion is that a tunnel section could go under the ammo dump. But at over 1,000ft down, it would become the world's deepest road tunnel. Scottish Secretary Alister Jack – MP for Dumfries and Galloway – said earlier this year: “The best solution is a tunnel. We will look at the other options, but it could be a hundred days a year when you wouldn't be able to use a bridge.” The bridge/tunnel could, Mr Jack suggested, be open by 2030.

Testing ramps up as Army goes mobile

MOBILE testing for Covid-19 will now be available for more residents of Dumfries and Galloway, says the NHS At the same time, testing for health, social care and Council staff continues to be delivered by the NHS at their testing sites in Stranraer and Dumfries. 'However, other key workers (including food chain, transport, delivery, essential manufacturing, etc – full list at https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested/pages/who-can-be-tested/), those older than 65 years of age, and household members of these groups can be tested at one of the mobile testing units that are being staffed by the Army throughout Dumfries and Galloway. 'Having been in Stranraer over the weekend - pictured - the unit will now be available at the Mountainhall Treatment Centre in Dumfries on Wednesday this week, and then will be travelling around the region. 'Anyone who falls into one of the categories above, and has symptoms of COVID-19 can book an appointment on the Scottish Government website (https://self-referral.test-for-coronavirus.service.gov.uk/)."

Explosives alert at Portpatrick

Portpatrick this afternoon

PORTPATRICK harbour is currently sealed off by police and Coastguard after a scallop dredger with what is thought to be an unexploded shell or bomb aboard berthed in the village. Military ordnance disposal experts are en route to determine what has been brought up. The seabed off the Rhins is littered with over a million tons of discarded war-surplus ammunition. It was supposed to go into the depths of Beaufort's Dyke but much was dumped closer to shore in shallower waters.

Farming's role in recovery

FARMING will have a key role helping the country's economy after lockdown ends, says a key industry figure. Writing on the NFU Scotland website, Director of Policy Jonnie Hall says that when the nation's thoughts turn to recovery, it is "crystal clear" that active farming and crofting have vital roles to play. He writes: “If we enable and promote active agriculture, and all that it delivers, it will make a significant and positive contribution to the health, social and economic well-being of Scotland. "That said, we must recognise that Scottish agriculture faces an array of political, socio-economic and environmental challenges but industry is up for it.” Coronavirus rightly dominates but, according to Mr Hall, there are chronic challenges the industry still faces: Brexit; future trading arrangements; labour; future support; dysfunctional supply chains and a new agricultural policy platform. “Lessons are already being learned, and recovery is likely to take many years. Even then, it is certain that we will all have to operate in a very new and different ‘normal'. Scottish agriculture and all that it underpins will have to change and adapt to what is and will be a very new operating environment. It will not be ‘business as usual',” he warns. He adds that within all these challenges and uncertainties there lies opportunity too. The resetting and restarting of food production, processing and distribution, while meeting a raft of major government policy objectives, will provide the catalyst for change. Taking the lead, NFU Scotland's primary goal will be to secure a profitable and sustainable agricultural industry that meets society's needs more than ever before. As a first response, NFU Scotland has initiated four-point plans for different sectors of Scottish agriculture. Each plan looks to establish specific objectives and associated actions for each of the policy phases of the Covid-19 outbreak and beyond – namely response, reset, restart and recovery. “As Scotland begins to think and act to bring about recovery, it's vital that all the interlinked cogs of the rural economy and agri-food supply chains keep moving. The real prime mover, however, and the driver of both upstream economic activity as well as agri-food supply chains, is active agriculture,” concludes Mr Hall. Read the full blog at: https://www.nfus.org.uk/news/blog/director-of-policys-blog-4-may-2020

Spotlight on the short sea-crossing

THE latest visitor to Loch Ryan is the Stena Estrid, StenaLine's newest ferry which only entered service late last year. Initial information supplied to the paper was that the vessel – which normally plies the Holyhead/Dublin route – was temporarily adding capacity to the Cairnryan route as all ferry firms grapple with the problems caused by Coronavirus restrictions on movement. However, StenaLine have said the vessel is undergoing 'maintenance and outfitting' work. Her arrival coincided with concerns about the lifeline short sea-crossing from Colin Smyth, MSP. Scottish Labour's transport spokesman, Mr Smyth described the UK Government announcement of a £17million support package for ferry services between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as a step in the right direction - but warned more will be needed. The money will be made available to Stena Line, P&O and Seatruck to maintain five key trade routes, including Belfast to Cairnryan and Larne to Cairnryan. “This support is a long overdue step in the right direction. “The jobs at Cairnryan are not only vital to the local economy of Dumfries and Galloway but the ferry routes to Belfast and Larne are crucial to the wider economy. “In return for this support I would urge the companies to pull back from redundancies and cuts to staff terms and conditions. “It is clear that in the long term it will take time for services to recover and the need for social distancing will massively reduce passenger numbers even when people start to travel more. Further support will be required for ferry services, including tackling the long term poor transport links to the port which really would give the economy a boost.” Labour MP Ian Murray, Shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “Labour had been calling for financial support and this announcement is a welcome step in the right direction. “But the UK Government needs to do more to ensure the continued flow of goods during the coronavirus crisis. “This requires joint working with the devolved administrations in the interests of everyone in the UK.” Louise Haigh MP, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, said: “Labour backed calls for support and this limited announcement is welcome, but the UK Government must go much further to safeguard regional connectivity. “The next step has to be support for hauliers, who keep vital supplies moving and who are under serious pressure on Irish Sea routes. “And it is over a fortnight since NI airports warned support was needed ‘within days'; every day of delay puts them under further strain. The UK Government must act to ensure this public health crisis does not become a long-term crisis for regional connectivity.” The financial support for ferry operators will now be made available to Stena Line, P&O and Seatruck to maintain five key routes; Warrenpoint to Heysham; Belfast to Liverpool, Cairnryan and Heysham; and Larne to Cairnryan. This support is for a period of two months and is estimated to cost between £10.6 and £16.6 million. The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to cover 40pc of these costs. At 215 metres in length, Stena Estrid is one of the most advanced vessels in operation with space to carry 120 cars and 1,000 passengers.

Tribute for a fundraising hero

A PAINTING of Captain Tom Moore was delivered to Dumfries Infirmary to help mark the NHS fund-raiser's 100th birthday. Artist Mark Bellingham captured Tom in his famous thumbs-up pose. Staff Nurse Dale Stewart and ACA Garry Edgar of the Scottish Ambulance Service show off the work. Meanwhile in Stranraer, piper Harrison Gibb took to the streets to play Scotland the Brave to honour the fundraising heroics of Captain Moore. Captain Moore has raised almost £33m for the NHS with a sponsored walk.

Keeping the NHS in stitches!

FOR the Love of Scrubs is a national network with groups all over the UK who aim to use their sewing skills to help provide essential clothing for the NHS and other health and social care settings. The group is making scrubs, pyjamas, nightgowns and drawstring bags for facilities across the region. A large number of volunteers have come together, from all over Dumfries and Galloway, to help in any way they can. The group has set up a network across the region and are co-ordinating their work to include social distancing measures. The group have named NHS contacts and are ensuring deliveries of goods are co-ordinated to minimise footfall to health and social care facilities. Pictured: Kirsty Wilson from For the Love of Scrubs makes a delivery to DGRI Support Services Supervisor Ellie Neill

01 May 2020

Man dies in fire

A MAN has died following a blaze at a flat in McDowall Drive, Stranraer. Police Scotland say: "A joint investigation is ongoing with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to establish the cause of the fire."

Army opens Stranraer Covid-19 test centre for first time

AN ARMY-OPERATED test centre for symptomatic key workers opened for the first time in Stranraer this morning. The centre is a drive-through facility for designated key workers or their families who feel unwell. It means those who have Covid-19 can follow isolation procedures while those who are negative can return to work in critical sectors more quickly. The Scottish Office said: "The system is part of a UK-wide initiative intended to increase testing to keep vital sections of the economy operating amidst the ongoing crisis. "The UK Government is funding and operating five drive through testing facilities (in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness so far, with Perth opening later this week). "The UK Government has funded these testing centres throughout Scotland to ensure testing capacity across the UK is maximised. "As public health is devolved in Scotland it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to define key workers and their eligibility for testing. Key workers can now also book their own test via the UK Government's online portal. "The military are also providing the Scottish Government with 13 pop up mobile testing sites across Scotland. "The UK Government is funding a new ‘megalab' in Glasgow, operated by Glasgow University, which is now mass processing COVID tests for key workers." If you are symptomatic and qualify as a key worker you can seek an appointment at the Stranraer centre via this link: https://self-referral.test-for-coronavirus.service.gov.uk/ For more on the scaling up of testing programmes see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-scaling-up-testing-programmes

Tourism's views sought

THE Coronavirus crisis has had a huge effect on tourism and the industry's views on the situation are being sought by Holyrood. MSP Joan McAlpine is leading a Parliamentary enquiry into the effect of Covid-19 on tourism and culture and has urged businesses across Dumfries and Galloway to share their experiences and views. The enquiry is being carried out by the Scottish Parliament's Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, which Miss McAlpine chairs. The Committee will use feedback received to recommend how the Scottish Government should provide effective support in the face of the devastating impact the virus is having on the industries. Commenting, Ms McAlpine said: “The committee is seeking views on how best the tourist and culture sectors can bounce back in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis and I'm urging businesses and individuals across Dumfries and Galloway to make sure their voices are heard. “As the weather warms our tourism industry should be coming into its high season. Instead hotels are empty, pubs are dry, and theatres are quiet. Visitors have been told not to travel to rural areas for understandable reasons, but that will have a devastating impact on already fragile local economies. “The protection of life and the ability of the NHS to cope as the virus spreads has rightly been the priority but the long-term impact that Covid-19 has created will last beyond any lockdown. The committee has set no deadline for responses but Miss McAlpine urged all those interested to share their views soon, so that their concerns could be put to Scottish Government ministers when they appear before the committee in May. The call for views can be found at the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot/parliamen…/CurrentCommittees/115008.aspx

30 April 2020

Army sets up Covid-19 test centre in Stranraer

Military personnel will carry out tests

A MILITARY centre to allow key workers who think they may have Coronavirus to get tested opens in Stranraer tomorrow. The pop-up centre – which is for pre-booked workers only – is part of ramping up of testing by the UK Government to make sure key staff can work safe in the knowledge they are free of Covid-19. It comes after MSP Finlay Carson raised concerns over the lack of a testing site in the area. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP highlighted that out of the 43 testing sites available in all four nations of the United Kingdom, the nearest for many in Wigtownshire might actually be in Northern Ireland. He wrote to the Health Secretaries in both the UK and Scottish Governments highlighting the issue as well as a report showing that rural and remote areas could be disproportionately affected by the virus. Mr Carson said: "A recent report highlighted how rural and remote areas could be disproportionately affected by Covid-19 showing the importance of having easily accessible testing sites." News of the military pop-up came late on Thursday and Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Dumfries and Galloway, said: "It's great news that the MoD are setting up a mobile Coronavirus testing unit in Stranraer. "That means that more local keyworkers will be able to book tests, so that more of them can get back to work on the front line. "The UK's military are playing a vital role, right across Scotland, in helping to tackle this pandemic. We are all very grateful to them for their contribution.” The UK government has established a new network of Covid testing facilities for key workers. The programme runs alongside the existing programme of testing in the NHS for clinical purposes and testing of key workers in health and social care. Testing will allow symptomatic key workers and their household members to know whether or not they have the virus. This will in turn keep essential services running. All symptomatic people categorised as key workers and members of their household can be tested at the pop-up site but only those pre-registered and confirmed as key workers can be checked. You can check your eligibility against a Scottish Government checklist online and, if you qualify and have symptoms you think might be Covid-19, seeks a booing at: https://self-referral.test-for-coronavirus.service.gov.uk/ Employers can register at portalservicedesk@dhsc.gov.uk

The height of generosity

TALK about stepping up to a challenge… Finn Milligan climbed the equivalent of Ben Nevis on his stairs to raise money for charity. The five-year-old Belmont Primary pupil has, says mum Sinead, “masses of energy.” “During lockdown I've been encouraging Finn to watch Newsround on CBBC and he saw a Scout group who were climbing the height of Everest.” That was a bit steep for one boy so they looked at Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. At 1,345m (4,411 ft), they reckoned he would need to climb the stairs at his Garrick Gardens, Stranraer, home 48 times per day over seven days to reach the virtual summit. Finn took it in his stride, pretty much running up and down the stairs each day of his challenge. “We decided to time him and he was doing it in about 15 minutes each day,” says Siobhan. Finn's initial target was £100 and he's smashed that thanks to dozens of generous sponsors. With his JustGiving page about to close, he already has a smashing £885 amassed. Says Siobhan: “It's going to Coronation Day Centre to help with the meals-on-wheels service they launched in lockdown. “To be honest, we've been blown away by the response of the community,” she added. Local firm Sweet Moments gave Finn an award, Loch's grocers dropped off treats for him and the Ryan Centre – where Finn goes swimming – have offered him a family cinema ticket for when lockdown ends. And there's still time to donate to Finn's mountainous effort: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/siobhan-milligan/updates/53bba?utm_term=2MVBwmE9y

Hear hear!

THE work of a group which helps people with hearing difficulties has been recognised with an award. Dumfries and Galloway Hard of Hearing Group received confirmation that they have achieved the prestigious investing in volunteers award. This national award, which is independently scrutinised, confirms that the charity has achieved the highest standard of volunteer management and it comes after a lengthy process of reviewing and improving all aspects of volunteering within the organisation. On hearing the news, the charity's chair Ann Ferguson said: “This is not an easy award to achieve. It required us to examine, and where necessary, improve our volunteer recruitment, management and support, including how we inform and involve our volunteers in all that we do”. Jon Joy, a volunteer who runs one of the charity's care and maintenance drop-in clinics in Whithorn was delighted with the news. “At a time when we are bombarded with so much bad news it's great that the charity and especially the volunteers who deliver the services have succeeded in their efforts to achieve this significant award.” He concluded “We certainly have a lot to celebrate” Service co-ordinator Sián Woolner's response was to thank all of the volunteers for embracing the challenges and opportunities going for the award has brought. She said, “This is the culmination of months of work, but it has been so rewarding” She encourages other organisations with volunteers to consider applying. She added “No organisation should be afraid of closely examining what they do and to be told at the end that we have reached the high standards required for this award has just been fantastic” Although suspended because of Covid-19, the group last year held 363 hearing aid care and maintenance drop-in clinics in 20 different locations across the region covering from Stranraer to Langholm. The charity also provides a home visit service for people unable to attend a drop-in and supports residents in 20 care homes by maintaining their hearing aids.

Springing onto the internet

Aisle and Jack

Spring Fling artists are migrating to the internet to help others, explore new ideas and to strengthen their businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Right now 87 specially selected artists and makers were expecting to be hard at work preparing paintings, photography, prints, jewellery, woodwork and much more in readiness for Scotland's leading open studios weekend. But the postponement of the event, due to take place from 23-25 May, and the huge impact of the pandemic on all areas of life has changed everything. With many parents facing a big challenge in keeping children positively occupied while the schools are closed, Ailsa Black and Suzi Plunkett, both put delightful artwork online that families can download and colour in for free. Ailsa, pictured, based in Kirkbean, said: “I know how frustrating it is for people stuck at home, especially if they have children to think about. So I decided to put some pictures online they could download and colour in themselves. “The response has been great and it's such a pleasure when they share photos of what they've done.” Ailsa is well known for her pictures of birds and animals (including her faithful collie Jack) inspired by village life and her local environment. Her jigsaw puzzles are also popular – one has been named among the top 10 to do during lockdown (https://bit.ly/2YiVlPk). Suzi Plunkett specialises in pictures made up from dots – and describes the downloads she has posted as DIY (dot it yourself). High end creative photographer Kim Ayres has started a regular Facebook group and is creating videos passing on the skills for taking fantastic photos. Kim, from Castle Douglas, said: “It struck me that there are lots of people who love taking pictures but don't have much opportunity to get tips, or have their own work critiqued, by a professional photographer. “People have been really interested in finding out about different ideas and techniques. Something that's really impressed me is that people have started sharing their pictures with the Facebook group for each other to comment on.” At a time when so many creative people are stuck indoors staring at the walls, David Rushton has assembled an international online group of artists who are coming up with unusual and creative ideas for interesting wallpaper patterns. David, who runs the MERZ Gallery in Sanquhar, said: “The idea for the MERZ Wallpaper Collective came about as we were preparing for Spring Fling, and due to the lockdown it's grown digital legs. “The idea is to bring together artists and designers from all across Europe with their ideas for wallpapers. The submissions we've had so far have been excellent. So the hope is that we'll ultimately go ahead and get them printed.” Potter Clare Dawdry has been bringing a smile to people's faces by posting “mugshots” every Monday and, with galleries and stores all shut, is launching her own web shop on what would have been the Spring Fling weekend. Clare said: “Without shops, galleries and events we've been having to think of new approaches. The Monday mugshots have been popular – and lots have sold. “My next step will be to launch a proper web shop, which I plan to do on what would have been the Spring Fling weekend. Even if people can't come to Dumfries & Galloway to see our studios over the bank holiday weekend, they can at least see some of the work online.” Spring Fling 2020 is Scotland's premier open studio weekend and is the flagship annual event of Upland CIC – Dumfries & Galloway's visual art and craft development agency. Not all artists are taking a technological approach to the lockdown. Hope London, from Wigtown, is putting paintings in her windows, and outdoors on sunny days, to give people something different to look at when they venture out for their daily exercise. Artists who rent studios can face particular problems as they don't have access to equipment or materials. Renowned watercolourist Hazel Campbell said: “The last visit to the studio, with lockdown imminent, made me grab two A4 sketch books and a motley assortment of crayons, pencils and charcoal, with the brave thought that 'this would be good for me!' “No paint and no brushes. I realised very soon that this wasn't easy, but then, why should it be easy. Fingers dipped in water over soft pastel looks amazing. I found a bottle of ink and cut some bamboo from the garden – wet fingers in among that looks different! “I realise that 40 years of having everything I needed, and doing what I was confident in, wasn't necessarily the way forward. I now see beauty where I didn't expect it, I enjoy seeing other people's work on social media. That said, I look forward to being back in the studio with a very large tube of white paint and some brushes.” Joanna Macaulay, Assistant Director for Upland, said: “Spring Fling artists and makers have been responding to the huge challenges of life under lockdown with tremendous creativity. “They have come up with all sorts of unusual and imaginative ways to help others, reshape their businesses and try out new ideas. “And even though this year's Spring Fling has been postponed we hope to announce some initiatives of our own in the near future that will help connect artists, makers and the public in new ways.” Spring Fling is one of the UK's most successful contemporary visual art and craft events having attracted well over 100,000 visitors (who have made more than 300,000 studio visits) since it began in 2003. Visitors from the UK and beyond enjoy meeting the creators of high-quality work and see their studios in country and coastal cottages, farms, converted chapels, custom-built studios and a multitude of other settings.

29 April 2020

Health boss: This isn't over

THE head of the NHS in Dumfries and Galloway has warned the Coronavirus crisis is “far from over.” The Comments from chief executive Jeff Ace came as the total number of positive Covid-19 cases within Dumfries and Galloway was put at 243. Figures released by the NHS at noon showed there have been 34 deaths in the region, either within a hospital setting or within the community, in which Coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death. The total number of hospital inpatients with Covid-19 who have since recovered was listed as 66. There have been 27 deaths within hospitals where Coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death. Mr Ace said in a statement: “The virus has changed many aspects of our lives and, for a growing number of families in the region, it has brought the tragedy of bereavement. Its impact could, though, have been much worse in terms of the numbers of people hospitalised or requiring critical care, and in the number of patients dying from the virus. “Staying at home, social distancing, practising good hand hygiene, working from home and working safely in essential roles in your place of work have all contributed greatly in helping to minimise the impact of COVID-19 in Dumfries and Galloway. “But we can see from the extraordinary number of patients who continue to be cared for by our critical care teams, or by the challenges in our care homes across the region, that this problem is far from over. “That is why it is so important that every single one of us continues in these containment efforts in the weeks ahead. By doing so we will save lives. “Our containment efforts succeeded to the point that we weren't overwhelmed by Covid-19 in its first wave, but we now recognise that we're going to have to live with a ‘new normal' for some time. We will need to work out what that means for all of us, and how we can continue to help and support each other and our communities.”

Click with The Kist

FINE food, drink, art and craft direct into your home sounds pretty good right now. Thirty artisan food and drink producers, artists and craft makers from Dumfries and Galloway, and beyond, will take part in this weekend's annual Spring Kist. Normally held in Wigtown's outstanding County Buildings, Covid-19 restrictions mean it is migrating to the internet. The plus side is that people can enjoy this online showcase no matter where they are in the world. They will be able to meet the makers and producers, take virtual tours, see demonstrations and order anything that takes their fancy. Claire Nash, Manager of Wigtown Festival Company which has organised the event, said: “We were disappointed not to be able to hold the Spring Kist in its usual format, but really wanted to show our support for the local businesses that usually take part. “An online showcase seemed the obvious way to go and we are delighted that so many businesses were enthusiastic about taking part. “Making the event digital will be a new experience for The Kist and the exhibitors – we look forward to welcoming virtual visitors from all over the world and it's something we hope to build on in the future.” Among the digital Kist participants will be The Galloway Fudge Company, KGR Glass Design, natural yarn producers Quirky Paintbrush, Copeland Walker Art, Solway Silver, Machars Memories photographers and Drakelaw Pottery. They will be joined by: The Jam Garden – fruit growers and makers of luxury small batch jams and preserves Toadstool Tots – designers and makers of bespoke, traditional-style children's and baby clothes (Pictured) Farm Boy Brews – purveyors of superb coffee that does some good in the world Ninefold Distillery – producers of premium handmade Scottish rum Hare and Boathouse Creations – handmade bags, purses and accessories including fabrics such as Harris Tweed. Linda Irving – a felt artist who uses fibre to create wonderful land and seascapes inspired by the Mull of Galloway. Others taking part are Bine Designs, Puffin Patchworks, The Butterfly and Toadstool, Roo Waterhouse Art, Scottish Art Scapes, Emily's Designs, The Wee Shade Shop, Five Kingdoms Brewery, Co Co Co, KB & Co., Keepsakes by KT, Fountain Stone, Lambleys, Selkirk Distillers, Shabby & Pretty, Life is a Beach 33 and Little Dot Creations Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Festival Company Artistic Director, added: “At this time it's more important than ever to be supporting local and small businesses, many of whom are facing immense challenges. We hope people will take this opportunity and support some of our food and craft heroes who have supported the festival so well in the past.” The Spring Kist takes place online on 2 and 3 May from 10am.

Step into the past in the Rhins

A DRAMATIC archaeological project in the Rhins is being highlighted. The latest edition of Tidelines, from the Solway Firth Partnership – usually in print format but available to download because of the Coronavirus crisis – looks at the ‘Rhins Revealed' programme. Say the Partnership: “The Rhins Revealed is an exciting new community archaeology initiative that is part of the 83-mile walking route. It sets out to record, investigate and conserve some of the most important archaeological sites found on the Rhins, and is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Coastal Communities Fund and Dumfries and Galloway Council. The Rhins Revealed commenced in autumn 2019 and will provide opportunities for the public to be involved in research, site monitoring and learning new skills along the route of the Rhins of Galloway Coast Path. AOC Archaeology Group have been appointed to deliver the two-year programme which aims to inspire the community, young people and visitors about the archaeology of the Rhins through talks, workshops, site visits and the engagement of volunteers in the assessment, improvement and monitoring of heritage ‘Sites at Risk'. The Rhins of Galloway has a rich cultural past and a wide range of important heritage sites. These sites include prehistoric forts, medieval churches and castles, historic farmsteads, harbours and lighthouses and Second World War military installations. Many of these sites are on or close to the route of the coastal path but few people are aware of them. Graeme Cavers, Director at AOC Archaeology said, “We want to encourage local people to take a leading role in caring for the heritage sites on the Rhins, particularly sites that are at risk from erosion. There are opportunities to learn skills in archaeological recording working alongside professional archaeologists on one of our field workshops, and to contribute to the study of Galloway's past.” The first site that AOC Archaeology are investigating is Doon Castle Broch, Ardwell Bay, pictured, which is nationally important and a designated Scheduled Monument. Following some introductory talks about the archaeology of the area in late November, a group of intrepid volunteers made their way to the remains of the Broch, located on the top of the sea cliffs, to help survey the historic site. The archaeologists had already undertaken a laser scan and the volunteers then carried out some further surveys needed to provide a full, detailed record of the site. The survey data indicates that although collapsed and damaged, the structure is in relatively good condition. AOC Archaeology have prepared a proposal for conservation and consolidation of this significant prehistoric site and consent is being sought from Historic Environment Scotland to do some limited conservation and consolidation work to stabilise the structure. Brochs are normally associated with northern Scotland and are not common south of the Clyde. Doon Castle Broch is one of three known brochs in Dumfries and Galloway, however it is not characteristic of other ‘typical' brochs. The Rhins Revealed project will enable us to investigate the purpose, location, and date of this intriguing building and how it fits/compares with other similar structures. Dumfries and Galloway Council is working in partnership with landowners, local communities and other organisations to create the Rhins of Galloway Coast Path. The route builds on the existing Mull of Galloway Trail, which runs down the east coast of the peninsula, to create a complete loop around the Rhins. It will link to the wider network of long- distance routes, including the Southern Upland Way and the Ayrshire Coastal Path, and take around five days to walk. It is hoped that once complete the new coast path will be recognised as one of Scotland's Great Trails. As well as providing opportunities for people to actively explore, access and enjoy the spectacular coastline and seascapes of the Rhins the project is developing a range of activities for visitors and residents to investigate and learn about the rich cultural and natural heritage of the peninsula. Currently on hold due to the Covid-19 restrictions, project partners are discussing how to proceed in line with Government guidance on social distancing once restrictions are eased. To find out more about The Rhins Revealed and the Rhins of Galloway Coast Path please contact Anna.Johnson@dumgal.gov.uk or check out www.facebook.com/Rhinsofgallowaycoastpath To download Tidelines, see https://www.solwayfirthpartnership.co.uk

Health help at hand

Staff at GCH observe a minute's silence for lost colleagues

THERE are fears people are not seeking treatment for health issues unrelated to Covid-19 for fear of being exposed to the virus in healthcare settings, or of burdening the NHS. Nationally the message is to get help and the NHS in Dumfries and Galloway says they are prepared. GP Clinical Lead for Wigtownshire Dr Charlie Dunnett said: “Anyone with a concern which they feel requires attention should phone their GP practice – as these are all still running. “Some changes in procedure, however, mean that we are likely to phone you, or that you may be offered a video consultation. Face-to-face consultations have been reduced but are still available, and in those circumstances staff may be wearing personal protective equipment. “Prescriptions will be sent directly to your pharmacy and certificates will be posted.” The Emergency Department in Stranraer's Galloway Community Hospital continues to operate as normal, and anyone who requires urgent medical treatment should always attend their closest emergency department in the first instance. As spokesman said: “People should also be assured that great care is being taken to ensure that no one is exposed to the risk of transmission of coronavirus, and that patients with Covid-19 have a specific, separate route for treatment.” In Scotland, specific assessment centres have been set up to deal with patients displaying symptoms of Covid-19. There is one at GCH, by appointment only. The spokesman said: “If you are concerned you may have the symptoms of Covid-19 you should first be guided by the NHS Inform website and if still concerned telephone 111. “Coronavirus is a particular concern for older people and those with underlying health conditions. A shielding programme is working to help protect those most particularly at risk, allowing them to remain at home with very limited interaction. Dumfries and Galloway Council and volunteers are working hard to deliver vital supplies to those who are shielding at home.” Dr Dunnett said: “Here is what you can do to protect the NHS and save lives: ]Please stay at home, aside from work, essential shopping or for health reason Wash your hands more often and for longer, especially when you get home and before eating. When out, make sure you stand two metres, or 6 feet, apart; this may appear rude, but it will save lives ]Queue outside shops if busy If someone in the household displays symptoms of the Coronavirus, they should self-isolate by remaining at home for seven days. In a household where someone becomes symptomatic, the other household members should self-isolate for 14 days. “These changes in how we act can potentially save hundreds of lives in Dumfries and Galloway – the lives of our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. “Prevention is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and helping to save lives. “We have a great history of team working in Dumfries and Galloway, and by working together we will get through this. Thank you.”

Scam scum

INCREDIBLY, scammers are attempting to use the present crisis to steal from people trying to help others. Dumfries and Galloway Council is warning of an attempt to get bank details from a voluntary organisation using the local authority's Small Business Grant scheme as a front. They say they'd never ask for bank details and add "We're appalled people would stoop so low in such testing times." Full details of the grant scheme are available online. https://t.co/0pCRiA7BCL?amp=1

Care concern

CHARITY Age Scotland is calling for more investment in social care staff and resources, as well as support for unpaid carers, in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. The charity says that the pandemic has highlighted the extremely fragile state of the health and social care system. Figures obtained by the BBC show that thousands of older people and those with disabilities in Scotland have lost their home care in the last few months. The BBC Disclosure investigation found that Glasgow had seen a reduction of 1,884 home care visits – more than a third - between January and April, while Inverclyde saw them fall by 4,589 (27 per cent). West Dunbartonshire has reduced numbers by 284, almost 20 per cent. Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership did not supply figures, the BBC said. Health and Social Care Partnerships across Scotland, which manage the services, report major staff shortages due to Coronavirus, with many only able to cater for those with the most critical needs. Age Scotland's own research in 2019 found that many HCSPs were already struggling to meet demand before the health emergency, with 43 per cent of people with substantial or critical care needs waiting longer than the recommended six weeks for a care package. Unpaid family members, who may have health needs themselves, often take on the strain, while other older people are stranded in hospital as they wait for the care they need in their community. Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said: “These figures back up what we have been hearing from older people who have been calling our helpline, and serve to highlight the extremely fragile state of our social care system. This current health emergency threatens to tip it over the edge. “Even before this pandemic, our research found that thousands of older people in Scotland with critical or substantial needs were already waiting too long for the social care they desperately needed. “Not surprisingly, staff absences due to illness and self-isolation have increased the strain on this service, leaving thousands more people across Scotland struggling to cope. Our helpline hears from older people and their families every day who urgently need help with everyday activities, such as getting washed, dressed, eating and taking their medication. “Care workers are truly unsung heroes on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, putting their own health and even their lives at risk, often for low pay and little recognition. We must ensure they have all the support and equipment they need to do this vital work. At the same time, we must not forget the massive impact of unpaid carers across Scotland, who work selflessly each day without financial support or personal protective equipment. “As we come through this crisis, we urgently need to reassess our social care system and invest in recruiting, training and retaining staff. It is an essential part of our healthcare system and should never be treated as second-tier. "As demand for social care is only going to grow as our population ages, we must do more to make social care an attractive career option, and make sure care workers have the support, pay, and recognition they deserve.”

28 April 2020

Fighting the fly-tippers

EMMA HARPER, South Scotland MSP, has questioned the Scottish Government's Environment Secretary over a reported increase of illegal fly-tipping across communities the length and breadth of Scotland including in Dumfries and Galloway. The question, which followed a motion laid before the Parliament by Miss Harper to raise concerns over this issue, asked the Government what action it is taking to work with local authorities to support people who are looking to dispose of additional waste, and to tackle the illegal dumping of waste. A number of organisations – including the National Farmers Union Scotland and COSLA which represents Scottish local authorities – have spoken about the damaging impacts of fly-tipping. Reports have shown that illegal fly-tipping is putting additional strain on their resources at a time when they are responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Miss Harper said: “Following the motion I laid before Parliament last week to raise concerns over illegal fly-tipping across Scotland since the Covid-19 restrictions have been put in place, I was pleased to have the opportunity to raise the issue directly with the Environment Secretary. “Fly tipping is illegal and dealing with the issue – whether it be through having to clean up the mess left behind or catching and prosecuting those responsible – is putting additional strain on the resources available to local authorities who are already responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. “I was pleased with the Cabinet Secretary's response to my question and I have written to Dumfries and Galloway Council to ask what further arrangements can be put in place to help people deal with additional household waste – particularly as the local authorities recycling centres are currently closed. However, the local authority is best placed to address this issue as staffing needs and suitable deployment of appropriate workers is a key issue in all refuse collection and disposal and I am keen to support the best decisions to be made. “My question and answer from the Environment Secretary – as well as my motion - can be viewed on the Scottish Parliament's website and on my own social media channels.” Roseanne Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “There is a weekly waste forum in place at the moment which involves partners in SEPA, local government, Zero Waste Scotland and the waste sector, to support resilience in disposal arrangements and waste arrangements and this is something we're keeping a close eye on. “Fly tipping is illegal, dangerous and unnecessary, regardless of the current circumstances, and absolutely should not be happening. “So the waste forum is part of the process to monitor the impact of disruption on the consequential illegal activity. Local authorities do remain responsible for managing local waste services, including fly-tipping, but that partnership working is active and ongoing and again, it's about communication as well, about how to best manage and dispose of waste at this time. “I'm sure we're all aware of situations where we can see that there has been recourse to informal waste dumping so that will continue to be a serious conversation we're having across all the parts of the sector”. Gemma Cooper, NFU Scotland Head of Policy Team, said: “Fly tipping is serious issue for many of our members and the clear increase since the lockdown measures have been so disappointing. Dumping garden waste and other materials is not only a terrible eyesore in the countryside but it can also be extremely dangerous for farm animals and other wildlife. “Animals are naturally curious and will investigate foreign objects left in their environment. Hazards can include injury from sharp edges and protruding objects or the risk of becoming caught up or entangled in waste materials. “NFU Scotland is happy to back the motion set out last Friday by Emma Harper MSP and is glad to have the matter raised in Parliament. This is a serious, nationwide issue and needs to be addressed immediately.”

Minute's silence for key workers

A MINUTE'S silence has been held across the UK to commemorate the key workers who have died with Coronavirus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who returned to work on Monday, joined the tribute at 11am. More than 100 NHS and care staff have died with Covis-19, as have many transport and other key workers. In Stranraer, staff from the Galloway Community Hospital gathered outside to mark the silence. Our photographer also caught Constable Claire Rankin observing the minute's silence while out on her daily exercise run.

Help with essentials

STRUGGLING to get essentials? Supermarket Morrisons is offering a doorstep delivery service to vulnerable and elderly members of the community, unable to go shopping in-store. The firm says: "Call 0345 611 6111 and select Option 5 to place your order. "Your order will take 24 hours to process and payment will be taken through a contactless card by the delivery driver, please have this ready." They add that items can be selected from the following list of essentials: Milk - 2 pints Butter Eggs Cheese Bread Bananas Oranges (Tangerines/Clementines) Apples Grapes Potatoes Broccoli Carrots Tomatoes Lettuce Cucumber Chicken Breast Fillets Unsmoked Bacon Sausages Corned Beef (Fresh) Corned Beef (Tinned) Chicken Slices Beef Mince Salmon Fillets Pasta Beef Oxo Cubes Beef Gravy Granules Ready Salted Crisps multipack Cornflakes Custard Creams Chopped Tomatoes Tomato Soup Marmalade Self-Raising Flour Sugar Tea Coffee Diet Lemonade Diet Coke Chips Scampi Peas Cottage Pie Lasagne Toilet Roll 4 pack Kitchen Roll 2 pack Ariel Liquid Bleach 750ml

Dig for victory

Soil Association Scotland is hosting farmers and growers across Scotland for an online discussion on May 7 about direct selling, to help businesses adapt to the coronavirus crisis. Denise Walton of Peelham Farm (Scottish Borders) and Reuben Chesters of Locavore (Glasgow) will talk about the impact of the crisis on their businesses, and how they have pivoted to direct selling as a result. Farmers and growers will learn how Denise and Reuben introduced direct selling to their businesses and get tips and advice on how to implement this themselves. Soil Association Scotland's Supply Chain Officer Lucie Wardle will also discuss public procurement opportunities for small producers. Denise Walton farms pigs and cattle organically at Peelham Farm in the Borders, where she has an on-site butchery and online meat shop. As restaurants and farmers markets closed, she received an “avalanche” of online orders, while operating with a reduced staff due to Covid-19. Her initial priorities were ensuring the health and safety of staff, and the resilience of the abattoir – butchery – courier supply chain. Denise says: “It's been a profound change in how we supply our customers. It requires a different approach to communication. Consistent messaging is essential for direct sales. It's a discerning and knowledgeable customer base in a crowded market, so being consistent – in sourcing your products as well as in your messaging and communication – is key.” The team at Peelham have adapted as they've gone, setting strict order deadlines and even getting their own van back on the road to deliver to customers in Edinburgh every Friday. Reuben Chesters is Managing Director of Locavore. The Glasgow-based business comprises an organic supermarket, two cafes, a veg box scheme, market garden, and a wholesale organic supplier arm, Locavore Trading. While the cafes have closed under lockdown, demand for veg boxes has gone through the roof. Locavore has also launched an online shop in response to the crisis. Reuben says: “The market for online sales is there. People are wanting to shop online, and to support local farms and businesses. But be aware of the administration involved; set up a slick and streamlined order process from the start.” Lucie Wardle, Supply Chain Officer at Soil Association Scotland, says: “The coronavirus crisis has had a big impact on supply chains. With schools and businesses, restaurants and cafes closed, farmers and growers are rethinking their business models. Direct selling is a good opportunity: people are turning to local farmers and growers in bigger numbers than before to supply the produce they need. We're seeing the resilience of these short local supply chains, as farmers and growers adapt their businesses to meet this demand.” All farmers and growers can join the free online discussion Sell Direct Scotland: Adapting your farm business during the pandemic on Thursday 7 May 2020, 7–8.30pm. Book via bit.ly/SellDirect7May.

Rural help needed

Colin Smyth MSP

SOUTH of Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has stepped up his calls for better business support for rural communities disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 lockdown, during a virtual Scottish Parliament question session with Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing. The MSP highlighted the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on rural communities and urged the Government to reverse cuts in funding announced in the last Scottish Government budget to the new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The University of Strathclyde's Fraser of Allander Institute in March stated: “Rural communities are particularly exposed to the economic impacts of the measures put in place to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. Smaller business, in impacted sectors, and greater prevalence of self-employment mean that the impacts may be larger in these communities. “There are already long-term challenges impacting on the outlook for rural areas in Scotland, such as an ageing population and heavy dependence on a relatively small number of industries. We will all be affected by the impact of the pandemic. But as this crisis unwinds, appreciating and responding to differences across the country will be crucial.” The blog highlighted the fact that Dumfries and Galloway had the biggest percentage of self-employed people in Scotland, with over a fifth of workers in that category- twice the national average. The number of self-employed workers in the Scottish Borders is also substantial at almost a fifth of the workforce. In South Ayrshire over 13% of the workforce is employed in tourism compared to a Scottish average of just over 8%. Meanwhile the recent Scottish Government budget set a budget for the new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency at £28.1 million for 2020/21. However, in the financial memorandum that accompanied the legislation setting up the new Agency the promised budget from the Government for its first year was almost £4 million higher at £32 million. The Government pledged that the funding for the new Agency would be same per head of population as the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). As a result of the proposal in the Scottish Government budget to slash funding for HIE from £61.1m to £58.2m for 2020/21 (on top of the cut from £71.7m to £61.1m for 2019/20) the funding per head of population will fall, resulting in a cut in the planned budget for South of Scotland Enterprise Agency Speaking during what was the first ever virtual session of Rural Economy and Environment Questions, Mr Smyth asked said: “Covid-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis but it is also an economic crisis, with rural communities disproportionately affected because of the importance of sectors such as tourism and hospitality. “The support so far has been very welcome but can I ask the Cabinet Secretary [Mr Ewing] if there'll be further financial support for those rural businesses really struggling at present, particularly those who miss out on the current schemes. “And given that the Scottish Government budget for Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the South of Scotland Enterprise was lower this year than was anticipated, will he consider extra funding for those agencies to help support Scotland's struggling rural economy?” Speaking after the question session, Mr Smyth added: “Every day I am contacted by local businesses who are really struggling during this terrible time which is why I am continuing to call on the Scottish Government to help as much as they can. “The alternative doesn't bear thinking about: that hundreds of businesses in the south of Scotland simply do not survive the current crisis. That's why we need both a boost in direct support to businesses from the UK and Scottish Government and a reversal of the planned cut in promised funding to the new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency.”

Beat the boredom!

Get active!

OLDER people looking to beat the boredom of isolation are invited to visit the Virtual Village Hall, a new programme of online activities from Royal Voluntary Service, the national volunteering charity. The Virtual Village Hall is a programme of themed video sessions led by expert tutors and some well-known faces, Royal Voluntary Service activity co-ordinators and volunteers, and supported by players of People's Postcode Lottery – which had winners in Stranraer's Fairhurst Road last week.. Activities include gentle exercise, arts and crafts, cooking and baking, technology skills and quizzes with beatboxing, laughter yoga and Zumba Gold planned too. Winner of The Great British Sewing Bee 2019, Juliet Uzor, will be demonstrating how to sew a simple tote bag, 2019 Masterchef winner Irini Tzortzoglou will be sharing her quick fried pitta bread recipe and couture stitcher Georgina Bellamy will introduce basic embroidery for beginners. Sessions will be available seven days a week with both live and pre-recorded activities to join in with. Some downloadable guides will be available to print and share and there will be links to official government guidelines and Covid-19 information. The charity's hundreds of social clubs and groups are unable to meet during this time so the Virtual Village Hall programme is designed to bring people together to enjoy activities at the same time. The first live sessions will be: Today at 3pm: Zumba Wednesday 29th April at 3pm: Laughter Yoga Thursday 30th April at 3pm: Royal Academy of Dance Silver Swans beginners' ballet class Lockdown is encouraging many older people to try out new technology and to appreciate the benefits it can deliver. Royal Voluntary Service is making it as easy as possible to access the Virtual Village Hall via the Royal Voluntary Service website. All sessions will be available to access on demand on the Virtual Village Hall YouTube channel. Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive at Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Our volunteers run hundreds of clubs and groups in local communities which, with the support of People's Postcode Lottery, support people to be social and active. “Sadly, with social distancing rules in place, these activities can no longer go ahead. Lockdown conditions are particularly tough for older people and those living alone and we wanted to offer something practical to relieve the sense of isolation and boredom that many people will be experiencing. “Visitors to the Virtual Village Hall will find lots of activities that they might already enjoy doing as well as a wide range of new things to try. Activities have been designed specifically for older people to do at home and require very little space or equipment.” Supporting the Virtual Village Hall is Royal Voluntary Service ambassador Felicity Kendal CBE. She said: “I've visited several Royal Voluntary Service social clubs run by volunteers and have seen first-hand the difference they make to people's lives, particularly for those who may not socialise or see other people regularly. “During this challenging time when we can't get out and about, it's vitally important for our health and well-being that we find ways to keep our brains working and our bodies moving. The Virtual Village Hall is a great way to enjoy the things we like doing and to learn some new ones too. I'm looking forward to being able to visit more Royal Voluntary Service social clubs once this very hard time is over. We must take comfort in the fact that although we are isolated, we are all in this together.” Hazel Johnstone, Senior Programmes Manager at People's Postcode Lottery, said: “We're delighted that players of People's Postcode Lottery are supporting Royal Voluntary Service and the Virtual Village Hall. Keeping busy and maintaining a sense of routine have been shown to be helpful in supporting mental health and wellbeing during this time, and learning new skills benefits all of us, whatever our age.” To find out more about the Virtual Village Hall, visit royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/VVH

27 April 2020

Oyster festival: Get cracking, says council

Big hit: Oyster festival

IN A hopeful sign, Dumfries and Galloway Council has agreed £298,000 worth of funding for festivals and events with £15,000 earmarked for Stranraer Oyster Festival. At a meeting of the Council's Ad-Hoc COVID 19 Sub Committee on Friday, councilors agreed £178,000 over two years for the Regions Signature Events, £12,000 to support two Signature Events that have had to cancel their 2020 events due to Covid-19, £66,000 for the Major Events Strategic Fund and £42,000 in sector development opportunities. The Major Events Strategic Funds aims to help events and festivals to grow and attract larger audience numbers. Councillors agreed £20,000 to the Galloway Hoard exhibition, £7,000 to the Autumn of Endurance, £15,000 to the Stranraer Oyster Festival, £10,000 to the Galloway Hills Rally, £7,000 to the Kirkcudbright Festival of Light and £7,000 to the Newton Stewart and Minnigaff Traditional Music and Dance Festival. The Council's Major Festival and Events Strategy contains four strands of funding designed to help promote and grow the region's festivals and events sector. The Signature Events strand contains Big Burns Supper, D&G Arts Festival, the Scottish Rally, Spring Fling, Tour of Britain and Wigtown Book Festival. Councillors allocated £21,000 to the Scottish Rally, £30,000 to the Tour of Britain and £32,000 to the Wigtown Book Festival. Although the 2020 Spring Fling and 2020 Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival have had to be cancelled as a result of Covid-19, councillors agreed funding of £6,250 and £5,750 respectively to support the two organisations and help cover costs already incurred. The Sector Development funding helps to provide opportunities to grow the festivals and events sector in Dumfries and Galloway by offering new opportunities and collaboration between the Council and events. Councillors agreed allocations of £20,000 to autumn and winter collaborative marketing, £5,000 to Nithsdale Burns Tourism Study, £10,000 to Annandale and Eskdale and Upper Nithsdale Grassroots Events Development, £2,000 to joint Spring Fling and D&G Arts Festival marketing, £2,000 for the DG Culture website and £1,000 for a Doors Open Day. Dumfries and Galloway Council's Events Champion Councillor Adam Wilson said: “Our Council remains committed to our Major Festival and Events Strategy which helps to secure approximately £5million for our regions economy every year and grow our region's festival and events sector. The Coronavirus pandemic is a challenge for our region, in particular our festival and events organisers. “The £286,000 worth of funding we have allocated demonstrates our council's commitment to our festival and events organisers and to grow the sector in our region. We have moved at pace to support events during this challenging time and as a result £199,000 has been made available to the sector immediately with £117,000 being allocated for financial year 2021/22 giving certainty to event organisers.” Although many events have already been cancelled, others – such as the Oyster Festival in September – hope to still go ahead.

Funeral help

BEREAVED? YOU may be able to receive a contribution towards the costs of a funeral to help ease the financial pressure during Covid-19. Funeral Support Payment is available to people who are on certain low-income benefits or tax credits and are the nearest relation to the person who has died. The payment can help towards burial or cremation fees, some travel costs, and other expenses such as funeral director fees, a coffin, or flowers. Introduced in September last year, the Funeral Support Payment replaced the UK Government's Funeral Expense Payment in Scotland. The Scottish Government Funeral Support Payment widened eligibility so that around 40pc more people can access this benefit. Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We know that during these unprecedented times, many people on low incomes will require financial support and I want to encourage people to access the benefits they are entitled to. “I understand that coping with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult events any of us can face. It's even harder when there's extra stress trying to find the money to pay for a funeral. “We worked with stakeholders who have supported bereaved clients in accessing funeral support so our service is as straightforward to access as possible. One way that we've made it easier is by creating clear pre-application advice and an interactive online application process. “To ensure organisations managing funerals can cope with the increased demand during the current pandemic. The Scottish Government is also asking families not to delay organising funerals for their loved ones.” Social Security Scotland Chief Executive David Wallace said: “We want to get the message out there that if you think you qualify for a DWP benefit, you may also be eligible for a payment from Social Security Scotland. There's no need to wait for a decision from the DWP before applying, we can check with them later. “Don't delay in getting in touch. We know that dealing with a bereavement is already stressful and that it can be hard to talk about. That is why we have specially trained team who can help you through the application process and we can go at the pace that is best for you.” Funeral Support Payment can help cover: burial or cremation costs (these costs vary throughout the country, therefore reasonable local costs are published on mygov.scot/burial-cremation-costs-scotland) The payment includes a flat rate for any other expenses - £1,000 for the majority of applications and £122.05 if the person who died had made provision for their funeral through a funeral plan. It can also cover some travel, document, and medical costs Those eligible for the Funeral Support Payment must be living in Scotland, have had the nearest relationship to the person who has died, be financially responsible for the funeral and be on a qualifying benefit or tax credit Clients can choose to apply online, via a paper application form or by requesting a call back from one a specially trained advisors working within the dedicated Funeral Support Payment team by calling 0800 182 2222.

24 April 2020

Who'd stoop so low?

THIEVES keep on thieving... Police say that overnight on Wednesday April 22, a number of garden ornaments were stolen from a garden at Mount Vernon Road, Stranraer. Give the police a wee tinkle on 101 if you know who's responsible. And can you help catch bike thieves? During the afternoon of April 20, a bicycle was stolen whilst left unattended by its owner at the top of the Galla Hill, Stranraer. Overnight on April 22, a bicycle was stolen from the communal area at Laundryburn Close, Stranraer.

Job alert!

Gentex in Stranraer are hiring.

Don't fall for this blackmail scam

POLICE have received a number of reports in recent days regarding a recurring scam whereby the victim receives an email advising that the perpetrator has evidence of them visiting pornographic websites and video footage of them watching. The perpetrator then demands a payment of £2,000 and threatens to share the footage with the victim's friends and family on social media if the payment is not made. The public should be on their guard for scams of this nature and should not respond to them in any way. It appears that the scam emails are getting sent out to random email addresses and that no-one is being targeted individually. Police advice is that the email should be deleted and that no correspondence be made with the sender.

Crying foul!

FLY TIPPING is blighting rural communities during the Covid-19 outbreak. MSP Finlay Carson says the closure of recycling centres should not be being used as an excuse for people despoiling roadsides, beauty spots and streets with litter, posing a real danger to the countryside and animals in the last few weeks. Mr Carson says community safety officers within Dumfries and Galloway Council should be commended for continuing to strive to keep the region tidy and should be applauded for their efforts. During his own daily exercise in the heart of his constituency, Mr Carson says he has been disappointed to see an increase in dog fouling and littering and called on everyone to maintain high standards when out and about during the pandemic. He is set to challenge SNP Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham at a Holyrood virtual question time today to outline longer-term policies to tackle the worrying increase in fly-tipping, including how the SNP Government will assist local authorities and take the burden away from innocent landowners. The Conservative MSP said: “It really has been disappointing to see such an increase in fly tipping, littering and dog fouling across our communities during the Covid-19 outbreak. “The pandemic has posed challenges in terms of recycling centres being closed in particular, but that absolutely should not be seen as an excuse to spoil our beauty spots and the countryside in general. “Our community safety officers in Dumfries and Galloway Council work to keep our areas clean and tidy and we should be doing everything we can to support them, especially at this time when resources are stretched. “I have witnessed this first-hand on my daily exercise with an increase in dog fouling as well and I would encourage everyone to not let standards slip and keep our communities clean and tidy for everyone. “That is why I am keen for the SNP Government to outline longer-term policies that will help local authorities tackle fly-tipping and take the burden off innocent landowners. “Organisations such as the NFU, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Zero Waste Scotland, Scotland Land and Estates and Scotland's Partnership Against Rural Crime are absolutely right to highlight these dangers to our countryside and in turn, our farmyard animals if we continue to see increases in fly-tipping. “I would encourage anyone to report any incidents of fly-tipping to help support officers and keep our communities tidy.”

Lifeline for Cairnryan ferries

VITAL ferry routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been safeguarded, thanks to a multi-million-pound government scheme to help ensure critical freight can continue to move into and across the Union. The package, worth up to £17m, is being funded by the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive and will be made available to operators so that they can continue running freight services on five sea routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic. UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced today that further funding, worth tens of millions of pounds, will also be made available to support more routes across the UK, subject to discussions with operators. The measures have been welcomed by Scottish Secretary of State for Scotland, MP Alister Jack. His Dumfries and Galloway Westminster constituency includes the pivotal ferry port of Cairnryan. Mr Jack, said: “We have been clear that the UK Government will do what is necessary to protect our economy during the current Coronavirus pandemic. That includes safeguarding the essential ferry routes between Scotland and Northern Ireland. “I know just how vital the busy services in and out of Cairnryan are. It is essential we keep them going for the economies of both Northern Ireland and the South West of Scotland.” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Essential supplies are continuing to flow well, but operators are facing challenges as fewer people travelling means less capacity to move goods. "Today's action will help ensure we have the freight capacity we need across the UK. This funding will help ferry operators protect our supply chain and maintain the flow of critical goods across the Irish Sea and throughout the Union.” Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, said: “This is excellent news for Northern Ireland and the connectivity of the entire United Kingdom. “Although this coronavirus outbreak has reduced travel demand, this support package from the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive will ensure that essential ferry routes are kept open and vital transport links across the entire UK are safeguarded - guaranteeing the continued supply of critical goods, such as food and medical supplies.” The NI Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon, said: “Keeping our critical routes open across these islands for the supply of foods, goods and medicines is absolutely critical in our fight against Covid 19. This support package will protect our ferry operators and ensure that vital supply chains are maintained. “For a number of weeks I have been engaging with the British Government and I am delighted to secure this package. I have been working closely with operators to keep our essential goods moving at this time and wish to extend my personal thanks for their determination to maintain our critical routes during this difficult time.”

MP's praise for firms

Gentex equipment

FIRMS such as Gentex in Stranraer who have altered production to help in the Coronavirus crisis have been praised by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Alister Jack, MP for Dumfries and Galloway, said: “I would like to congratulate everyone involved in providing essential goods and equipment for the NHS and other agencies and assure them their efforts are greatly appreciated. “In the case of Gentex at Stranraer, the company have significantly increased production of their personal protection equipment including air-purifying respirators, which safeguard eyes, the rest of the face and hearing. “Elsewhere, boiler manufacturing and maintenance for NHS sites, protection products and sanitising solutions are amongst the items being produced in our region.” Mr Jack, who overcame a bout of illness suspected to have been caused by Covid-19, added: “Like all south of Scotland MPs, I'm pleased local businesses are taking advantage of the massive additional coronavirus support funding sent to Scotland by the Chancellor. “It is very much a UK-wide response to the pandemic although the Scottish Government, which has devolved responsibility, has chosen to stamp, as is their remit, their own mark on how some funding is targeted. “A number of constituents have expressed disappointment to me at differences that mean support available to certain small businesses a few miles south in Cumbria is not available in Scotland. “SNP Minsters at Holyrood should remember that creating even subtle differences, in sectors such as tourism for example, can within our region's cross-border economy have a negative impact on individual enterprise's survival prospects.”

23 April 2020

Council discusses shelling out on Oyster Festival

BIG questions remain about when public gatherings will be allowed again but a positive sign comes tomorrow as Dumfries and Galloway Council looks ahead at funding key events. Two under consideration are Stranraer Oyster Festival and Minnigaff Traditional Music Festival. The council's Ad Hoc Covid-19 Sub Committee will tomorrow receive a report on major festivals and events grants. Members will be asked to approve grant awards for major festival and event projects, as recommended by the D&G Events Partnership. Signature events (Scottish Rally, Wigtown Book Festival and Tour of Britain Cycling) are in line for an award of £178k, subject to Member approval, for 2020/21 and 2021/22. Also up for funding payments are the cancelled 2020 events Spring Fling and D&G Arts Festival. These payments of £6,250 and £5,750 were due to be made to the organisations before Covid-19, and the report details the rationale behind issuing the funding to these organisations. Six applicants recommended to receive funding of a cumulative £66,000 for the next two financial years are also on the agenda. To date, events taking place from September onwards have not been cancelled or postponed, so the report outlines plans for funding events taking place after September including the Stranraer Oyster Festival and the Minnigaff Traditional Music Festival. A review into the council's signature events was conducted and it found that each of these events were continuing to attract growing visitor numbers, were sustainable in the short and medium terms and had strong partnership relations in place with our Council. A further report will be brought to the Ad Hoc Sub Committee with a review of Spring fling, The D&G Arts Festival and The Big Burns Supper. Chairman of the Council's Communities Committee, Cllr Andy Ferguson said: “This is a very welcome report, and is a timely boost to remind locals and visitors alike our region has a lot to offer post Covid-19. "The signature events have a proven track record of attracting visitors, being crowd-pleasers and bringing household names to our doorstep. "Whether that's a book-signing at Wigtown, a spin round the forest in a rally car or powering along a finishing straight on a road bike, these events are vital to the region and we should be proud to host them.” Vice Chairman, Cllr John Martin commented: “I am pleased to see six applications being recommended for funding, and in particular two new events. "For those who have applied before and been successful, they know how the process works and the benefits of working with us, but for new organisations to enter into business with us is terrific. "Hopefully the events get the go ahead and we can enjoy a much more active an enjoyable end to the year once Covid-19 has passed. I look forward to working with all these organisations in the future.”

College chief on award shortlist

JOANNA CAMPBELL, principal of Dumfries and Galloway College, is shortlisted for a top award. The Institute of Directors Scotland has named the finalists for the 2020 Director of the Year Awards. In a year that saw almost 200 entries, 54 business leaders from across Scotland have been included in a shortlist across 12 key director categories and seven regional categories. Finalists from the South of Scotland include Miss Campbell – a frequent visitor to the college's Stranraer campus – and Derek Crichton of Dumfries and Galloway Council. The annual awards celebrate individuals' business accomplishments over the last year, with winners set to be announced on September 8 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Glasgow Central. As well as regional leaders, the award categories recognise leaders from large, international, public and third sector and from family-owned businesses. Malcolm Cannon, National Director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, said: “No business has been able to escape the strain of the last 12-months. From the ongoing Brexit delays to the current challenge of our lifetime with Covid-19, for the vast majority of business leaders, it will feel as if they have been thrown curveball after curveball. "However, in the most trying of times, we have seen business leaders demonstrate the highest levels of passion and commitment as they strive for success and make sure they emerge from all of this. "These awards are testament to this, and our regional categories recognise the brilliant work of those who may not ordinarily have their voice heard. "As with other key director categories, more leaders than ever before have been put forward for a regional award this year. The IoD works hard to represent our members all over the country and being able to celebrate their achievements is a highlight of our year.” The awards represent the variety of business across Scotland with awards for directors of SMEs, charities and large businesses. Ryan Brown of Robinsons Scotland was awarded South of Scotland's Regional Director of the Year at the 2019 ceremony.

Good news in the gloom!

Judie McCourt

A BIT of good news in the gloom! Four people in Stranraer are celebrating today after winning £1,000 each thanks to their lucky postcode. The Fairhurst Road neighbours netted the windfall when DG9 7QE was announced as a Daily Prize winner with People's Postcode Lottery on Thursday. People's Postcode Lottery ambassador Judie McCourt sent her well-wishes to the winners. She said: “I'm so pleased for our winners, what a great surprise to start their day! I hope they treat themselves to something nice with their winnings.” Organisers say a minimum of 32pc of ticket sales goes directly to charities and players of People's Postcode Lottery have raised over £500 million to date for thousands of good causes in Britain and beyond. A Press releases says: ""This draw was promoted by the Wildlife Trusts which have received over £12.6 million in funding from the players of People's Postcode Lottery. The Wildlife Trusts look after more than 2,300 nature reserves and operate more than 100 visitor and education centres across the country. The Trusts work to make life better for wildlife, people and future generations. Many good causes close to the winners have also benefitted from players' support, and local charities can next apply for funding in August." For more information on People's Postcode Lottery, see www.postcodelottery.co.uk

Quick on the draw

RUNNING out of ideas to keep younger children occupied during lockdown, then Forestry and Land Scotland may have something that could help. FLS has created a series of activity sheets for younger children that will help to keep them entertained – and away from a screen - for a while. As well as some nature themed colouring sheets, they can also puzzle their way through a bee maze or, for older children, tackle a woodland related word search. Sarah Price, design manager for FLS, said: “With so many people working from home and children not going to school, family life under Covid lockdown is a bit hectic for many people. “But young imaginations still need feeding, arty hands need things to do and energy needs to be burned off, so we thought we'd help by providing some resources that – with the addition of some crayons and pencils – should keep younger children busy for a while. “Our activity sheets are a fun way for younger children to be creative and to learn and, by helping them to focus on the natural environment, are also a great way to bring nature's calming and relaxing influence in to the living room. “We hope to be able to add new sheets regularly so that there will be new challenges and activities to look forward to.” Full details are on the FLD website https://forestryandland.gov.scot

22 April 2020

Landlord's a bite of all right!

MORE than 430 emergency food parcels have been delivered to DGHP customers since the launch of the EatWell project on April 1. DGHP, as part of Wheatley Group, Scotland's largest housing, care and property-management group, launched the service with local staff distributing parcels of much-needed household essentials to communities across the region. In the first three weeks since launch, DGHP has delivered more than 270 parcels in Dumfries and upper Nithsdale; 70 in the Annandale and Eskdale area; almost 40 in the Stewartry and more than 80 in Stranraer and Wigtownshire. Matt Foreman, DGHP's Managing Director, said: “I'd like to thank our customers for their resilience and patience during these difficult times. We are doing everything possible to identify and support our most vulnerable customers and it's heart-warming to hear so many positive messages from our customers about how much the EatWell project is helping them.” One customer from the West of the region, who received an EatWell parcel, said: “I have had a delivery of a food parcel today and I can't thank DGHP enough for being there and easing the burden for me.” A customer from the Stewartry, said: “When I was speaking to staff at DGHP, I only had a small amount of essentials left as, due to ongoing health issues, I've not been able to get out. We as a family so appreciate DGHP taking the time to send us some of the basics, it's made all the difference.” Matt added: “The new service has been so well received by customers and we are pleased we are able to support those in financial hardship, who are ill or self-isolating and feel they have no-one else to turn to for essentials and support.” If anyone would like to speak to DGHP about the EatWell project, please contact Freephone 0800 011 3447 or email customerservice@dghp.org.uk

Official Covid-19 figures

NHS Dumfriesand Galloway issues its Coronaries figures on a Wednesday. They say: Total number of positive Covid-19 cases within Dumfries and Galloway: 231 As at 12 noon on April 22 2020, there have been 30 deaths in the region (either within a hospital setting or within the community) in which coronavirus was either the primary cause of death or a factor potentially contributing to death. Total number of hospital inpatients with Covid-19 who have since recovered: 58

Care homes in the front line

A THIRD of all Scottish Coronavirus deaths occurred in care homes, with 300 people dying in the past week, says charity Age Scotland. They are calling for a redoubling of efforts to protect care home residents as the latest figures shows that 537 have died as a result of Covid-19. The leading charity for older people in Scotland has reiterated calls that care homes must not be treated as “second tier”, and more help is urgently needed to give staff and residents the protection they need. Vulnerable residents should have fair and equal access to medical treatment, and must not be “written off” if they contract the virus. The figures, published by the National Records of Scotland, found that 33 per cent of Covid-19 deaths occurred in care homes, a rise on last week's figure of a quarter. The number of care home deaths to date has more than doubled in a week, from 237 to 537. Fifty-six per cent of deaths occurred in hospitals and 10 per cent at home or in a non-institutional setting. Overall, almost three quarters of Covid-19 deaths involved people aged 75 and over. This week has seen further devastating outbreaks in Scottish care homes, including reports of 16 deaths at a Dumbarton home and 13 in Edinburgh. The charity has said that progress has been made in recent days in terms of more access to the necessary personal protective equipment and announcements of testing for all new care home entrants. Brian Sloan, Age Scotland's Chief Executive, said: “In the last week, we have heard about dozens of deaths in Dumbarton, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as the virus sweeps through homes in Scotland. It must be absolutely terrifying for residents, staff and families as they wonder where the next outbreak will be. “These are not just statistics – each one is a mother, father, grandparent, sibling or friend who will be deeply missed. “It is so important that older people in care homes or who are receiving social care in their own home are given every opportunity to get the medical treatment they need to beat this virus and are not written off. “Every person's life matters and many older people have made full recoveries with the right treatment. Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, and any blanket policies based on a person's age or residence would be blatant discrimination. "We urgently need to redouble efforts to protect the most vulnerable people and ensure that care homes are not treated as a second tier. Staff on the front lines must be supported with access to all of the lifesaving equipment they need, as well as more widespread testing.” The call comes as Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership deployed to help support a care home in Lockerbie hit by Coronavirus. A spokesman said: "The combination of NHS nurses and domestic staff, local authority social work staff and administrators and a volunteer was assembled to ensure that staff and residents at Dryfemount Care Home received the help and support they needed." Graham Abrines is DGHSCP's General Manager for Community Health and Social Care, and he said: “As we've seen elsewhere in this country and around the world, care homes and their residents are among the most vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19. “When a number of residents and staff at Dryfemount tested positive for Covid-19, placing significant demands on the care home, Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership recognised this and moved very quickly to provide comprehensive support." A social media post from Stranraer's Belmont Care Home said they had "no suspected or confirmed cases" of Covid-19.

Exams coming up? You need to read this...

STRANRAER Academy has new guidance for pupils due to to sit external exams. https://t.co/vYhfF7yXDL?amp=1

RBS card trick set to be a hit

ACCESS to cash has been a huge issue for many – particularly older –people in the current lockdown. Now Royal Bank of Scotland is introducing a new card that can make self-isolation easier. Royal Bank of Scotland's new ‘companion card' – a supplemental card for an existing current account that enables vulnerable customers and those in extended isolation to give trusted volunteers a way to pay for their essential goods. The card can be topped up by up to £100 and given to a trusted person or carer to enable them to make purchases on behalf of the individual. To enhance security, the carers card will be associated with the customer's existing bank account but kept separate on the bank's systems. The card does not share a PIN or long card number with the customer's existing debit cards and ATM withdrawals are restricted to £50, as well as being subject to Royal Bank's fraud monitoring systems. The move is the latest in a series of innovations that Royal Bank has introduced in response to the coronavirus crisis to protect vulnerable customers and easier to pay for essentials. The bank is also the first in the UK to offer vulnerable customers and those in extended isolation a fee-free cash delivery service to their door, with almost £250,000 delivered to around 750 customers since 25 March. Additionally, customers can request a ‘Get Cash' code that enables a trusted third-party to make ATM withdrawals up to £100 on someone's behalf from any NatWest, Royal Bank or Ulster Bank NI ATM. Les Matheson, CEO, Personal Banking, Royal Bank of Scotland said: “Tackling issues around access to finance can be difficult for some. But we are committed to finding innovative solutions that keep our customers safe and able to pay for the things they need, when they need them – whether that's digitally via our app, via this new card, or through cash. We will continue to listen to and be guided by our customers in introducing services that meet their needs and provide meaningful help.” Customers can access either the cash delivery service or enquire about a companion card by phoning Royal Bank of Scotland's dedicated vulnerable customer lines on 0800 051 4177.

Livestock and lockdown

AGRICULTURE is pressing on was best it can and livestock sales continue with strict social-distancing rules in place. C & D Auctions held their fortnightly sale of Store Cattle in Dumfries. 452 forward: A full attendance of buyers present with grazing cattle meeting the greatest demand. Lim x Bullocks from Crosslee, Ettrick to 241.5p/kg and AA Bullocks to £1125 from No3 Woodhall. Lim x Heifers to 237.2p/kg Belridding and £1100 Edingham. Bullocks – Per Head AA - £1125 No3 Woodhall, £980, £965 Midtown, £965 Shenrick. Char - £1100 Barshill, £905 Backburn. BB - £1090, £980 Stockbridgehill, £1020 Backburn, £980 Midtown, £980 Smallholmburn. Lim- £1040, £980 (x2) Midtown, £1025 Belridding, £1025, £995 Stockbridgehill. Sim - £1035 Archbank, £1010 Backburn, £970 Midtown. Here- £970 Midtown, £925 Backburn. Fleck - £970 Midtown. Gall - £900 Midtown.Hols - £890 Midtown. Short - £800 Gimmenbie. Fri - £800 Boreland. Heifers – Per Head Lim - £1100 Edingham, £1020 Belridding. Char - £1040 Netherfield, £935 Cormaddie, £930 Maryfield. AA - £990 No 3 Woodhall, £950 Gimmenbie, £940 Dunbae. Here - £980, £970 Low Glasnick. Sim - £970, £960 Archbank, £955 Netherfield, BB - £940 Low Glasnick, £925, £905 Backburn. Short - £905 Bogue, £880 Gimmenbie. Bullocks - Per Kilo Lim - 241.5p Crosslee, 236.4p Barnbarroch. Sim – 240.5p Backburn, 238.6p Meikle Barncleugh. Char– 229.7p Cormaddie, AA 222.8p Cormaddie. Heifers – Per kilo Lim – 237.2p Belridding, 231.6p Crosslee. Char – 226p Meikle Barncleugh, 225.3p Cormaddie. Sim - 210.7p Cormaddie. Short– 210.5p Bogue. BB – 210.2p Backburn.

Free Press print edition

IT'S WEDNESDAY (yes, really - we've checked) but sadly still no print edition of the Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free press in good newsagents and supermarkets. We are working hard behind the scenes to try to overcome the problems Coronavrius is causing in terms of production and distribution. We hope to be back in print as soon as we can. Thank you all for your kind wishes, support and understanding.

21 April 2020

Praise for school's PPE effort

GALLOWAY and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson has highly praised staff at Douglas Ewart High School in Newton Stewart for going above and beyond in order to protect the NHS. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP says the production of face visors by staff at the school will help to protect frontline staff who are working in hospitals and care homes during this crisis and says this is a great example of communities supporting the NHS. Mr Carson has highlighted the school's work to produce as many visors as possible, which has been supported by generous donations from other surrounding schools, enabling them to have greater capacity, in a motion in the Scottish Parliament. Commenting Mr Carson said: This is an outstanding example of a school in the heart of my constituency rising to the challenge of Covid-19 and doing everything they can to protect the NHS and frontline staff. "It is absolutely wonderful to see the staff had the idea of producing these visors and it is even more welcome that other schools in the area have helped to supply them, enabling greater capacity of production. I am well aware of issues locally with PPE equipment so creative ideas like this production of face visors in one of our schools is hugely welcome. "I wish everyone at Douglas Ewart all the best in this ongoing task and know they will be gratefully received by our local NHS heroes" See our Facebook page for a video of the DEHS 'production line' in action.

Peak performance!

SEVEN members of the Galloway Mountain Rescue team plan to collectively climb the height of mighty Mount Everest on Saturday May 9 2020 to raise funds for NHS Dumfries and Galloway's Critical Care unit. The epic is being undertaken by Karen Brownie. Carsluith; Pete Blackburn, Kirkcudbright; Philip Anderson, Kirkcudbright; Matt Booth, Mossdale; Ross McConchie, Dalbeattie; Martin Warnock, Balmaclellan and Laura Ene, Dumfries. A spokesman says: "Dumfries and Galloway Health board endowment fund raises money to make a real difference to patient care in our hospitals and communities "With your help the NHS are able to give all of their patients, their families, carers and staff the support they need at a time of personal crisis. They also aim to improve the physical and mental health of people living throughout our region." Critical care has been under pressure across the country during the Coronavirus pandemic. "We want to help give Covid-19 the boot, so we would gratefully appreciate donations to help us raise funds for valuable resources for the Critical Care Service of NHS Dumfries and Galloway." Mount Everest is the world highest mountain at 8,848 metres above sea level, which is almost 12 and a half times the height of Cairnsmore of Fleet (711 metres) in the heart of Galloway. The team will climb their own stairs or garden steps (a minimum of 2.4 metres) a total of 526 times carrying a full rucksack. The seven team members met approximately 18 months ago as trainees of Galloway Mountain Rescue Team. All are passionate about hill walking, our countryside and making a difference. "We all enjoy a challenge and felt that during this difficult time, we could still make a difference and bring some positive spirit to our communities by challenging ourselves to complete this physical challenge. "Coronavirus is impacting everyone's lives as we need to stay home, stay safe, save lives and protect the NHS." You can support support the Everest Seven 7 by donating at https://www.justgiving.com/team/fivealive

Fury over dumped junk

Menace: Fly tipping

FLY TIPPING has worsened since the Covid-19 lockdown and now the issue is being raised in Holyrood. Councils were told to prioritise collection of waste which could pose a risk to health. Some - Dumfries and Galloway among them - cut back on recycling collections as a result. In some areas that has seen an increase in people burning rubbish. Meanwhile, fly tipping has long been a problem in rural areas and has now worsened, prompting MSP Emma Harper to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament. In a motion which the South Scotland MSP has laid before Holyrood, she has echoed comments from COSLA – the body which represents Scottish local authorities – who have said that fly tipping has increased significantly since lockdown was imposed. Comments related to fly-tipping across Scotland have been made by the Scottish National Farmers' Union and Miss Harper was contacted by the People's Project representative, Mark Jardine. NFUS reported that fly-tipping included items being dumped on agricultural land, in parks, in public places and on local authority property. These dumped items include ripped-out home furnishings, garden waste, bags full of decomposing and rotting food and a particular concern by Mr Jardine was that lots of gloves and face masks are now frequently being littered. In the motion, Miss Harper – while thanking the public for everything they are doing during this challenging time - has urged people across Dumfries and Galloway, and across Scotland, to ensure they dispose of their waste appropriately and if they are unsure or are having issues disposing of additional waste then to contact their local authority for advice. “I raised the motion at Holyrood as I have concerns about an increase in reports of fly-tipping across Dumfries and Galloway and Scotland since the lockdown restrictions have been put in place and many local authority recycling centres are now closed. “COSLA have confirmed that they are seeing an increase of fly-tipping across Scotland, and that dealing with these cases takes staff away from frontline services. "The services are crucial to support people who are following the rules and staying at home which helps tackle COVID-19. Fly-tipping is a criminal offence and those who are caught can face a fine of up to £200, and a criminal conviction. Items which have been dumped include gloves and masks, as well as rotting bags of food – both of which present an environmental and infection risk. “I am urging the public to dispose of all waste appropriately and, should anyone be unsure or be struggling to dispose of additional waste, to contact Dumfries & Galloway Council who will be able to provide advice or, if appropriate, arrange for additional waste collections. “I thank the public for all they are doing at this challenging time and repeat the Scottish Government's advice to stay at home where possible, protect the NHS and save lives.” Mr Jardine, who has had discussions with Miss Harper about the appropriate disposal of waste, added: “This is exactly the time to be even more careful with how we dispose of litter and I'm dismayed and horrified to see personal protective equipment amongst the litter people are throwing onto the ground. Littering and fly-tipping exposes people to Covid-19. I'd like to encourage everyone to do your bit for your country, bag it, bin it, kill it.”

20 April 2020

Newton PO set for return

NEWTON STEWART Post Office is getting back into action after being forced to close as the Coronavirus crisis broke. The shut-down, which attracted much sympathy over potential health issues, caused problems for pensioners trying to access their cash and for people who use pre-payment cards for utility bills which could be topped up only at Post Offices. An announcement on the Gifts'n'Things Facebook page says the Victoria Street shop will reopen for business next week with strict social-distancing measures in place. "We are extremely happy to say that we will be reopening on Monday 27th April on a reduced-hours basis. "Our hours will be Monday-Thursday 9am – 2pm. "There will be a maximum of 4 people allowed in the building at one time. This is to ensure that social distancing can occur effectively. "When you come in, please make sure you stick to social distancing rules. There will be markers on the floor to help you! "We hope to resume normal trading hours as soon as it is safe to do so." The town had been temporarily served by a mobile Post Office.

Fighting to secure lifeline help

THE battle to get support to get businesses through the Coronavirus crisis continues. Finlay Carson, Galloway and West Dumfries MSP, says he is continuing to pursue extra support for individuals and businesses who require help to get through the current Covid-19 outbreak. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP continues to lobby the Scottish Government and Dumfries and Galloway Council to provide greater degrees of flexibility in funding packages, so that businesses can survive the effects of the unprecedented crisis. Mr Carson is concerned that some businesses and individuals are falling through the net in terms of the support schemes that have been announced and that there is currently not enough flexibility so that grants can be processed quickly for businesses urgently requiring cash. He has written to Dumfries and Galloway Chief Executive Gavin Stevenson to find out what information they require from the Scottish Government in order to fully process grants, while he has also written to Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, pushing for further flexibility on rateable values, in terms of what businesses can gain support. Mr Carson says that recent announcements for support for self-employed and small and medium enterprises who haven't been eligible for further schemes are welcome and hopes this will address some of the concerns raised to him. Mr Carson said: “I am absolutely committed to helping anyone in Galloway and West Dumfries through this crisis and I know many businesses and individuals are still absolutely desperate for funding support that hasn't been forthcoming. “This is an unprecedented crisis and I know the authorities are working flat out and both the UK Government and Scottish Government have laid out major funding and support for individuals and businesses. “However, my team and I are still getting contacted by many people who have fallen through the gap or who are simply not getting grants processed quickly enough. “That is why I continue to lobby the Scottish Government as well as Dumfries and Galloway Council to offer a greater degree of flexibility in funding packages as well as enquiring how grants can be delivered and processed quicker for people and businesses who are urgently looking for cash and support grants. “There still appears to be many loopholes for people to be jumping through, which causes even greater stress and frustration for people. “Anyone who contacts me can be assured that I will continue to push for greater support and ensure that people don't feel like they are being forgotten during this crisis.”

Save jobs

MSP Colin Smyth

A PLEA to employers to save jobs rather than impose redundancies has gone out to employers. Colin Smyth, South of Scotland MSP, has urged local businesses to apply for the UK Government's furlough scheme, rather than laying workers off during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme opened today (Monday) and allows businesses to claim for 80 per cent of their employee's wages, plus any employer National Insurance and pension schemes, if the employee has had to be furloughed due to Covid-19. The scheme was recently extended by one month to reflect continuing social distancing measures. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said it will now be open until the end of June, after originally being open for three months and backdated from the 1 March to the end of May. The Chancellor has also said he would keep the scheme under review and extend it if necessary. Mr Smyth said: “As the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme opens, I am calling on local businesses here in the south of Scotland, who are being forced to close and whose staff cannot work from home, to seriously consider furloughing employees rather than making them redundant during this difficult time. “The scheme allows businesses to claim 80 per cent of their employee's wages if staff have had to be furloughed due to Covid-19 and I would urge business owners to take advantage of this. “The scheme has also been extended and will now be open until the end of June, which is a very welcome move. The UK Government has said it will monitor the situation in the coming months with the view of potentially extending it. It's clear to me that will need to happen as it will take many months, if not years, for those businesses which can continue to recover. Even if the percentage of support is gradually reduced over a period of time in the months ahead, it would make a huge difference to businesses in our area. “I am still receiving huge numbers of queries and concerns from business owners across the south of Scotland and I will continue to hold to account both the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure that our hard-pressed businesses are able to weather this economic storm.”

Udder genius!

YOU can't furlough cattle and, with a slump in demand for milk caused by the closure of coffee shops and restaurants, that means a headache for dairy farmers. Emma Harper MSP might not have the complete answer but she does have a good idea to help... https://www.facebook.com/EmmaHarperMSP/videos/242350820481336/

A degree of help for college students

DUMFRIES and Galloway College has introduced a new Emergency Hardship Fund which aims to ensure all students have access to emergency support should they be facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. They say students should sign in to the LearnNet portal as normal to access the form. Spread the word!

Coronavirus country code

WIGTOWNSHIRE is blessed with glorious countryside and with better weather, we're keener than ever to get out into it... Yet many wonder what the Cornavirust lockdown means when it comes to getting out and about. Scottish Natural Heritage is mounting an information campaign to help people know their rights – and responsibilities. They say:, "Walkers, joggers and cyclists are being urged to act responsibly when out for their local exercise during Covid-19 restrictions, with extra consideration for people working outdoors. "Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has provided guidance to help people safely access the outdoors during the pandemic. This emphasises the importance of social distancing and, as always, following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The new guidance also contains advice for land managers." Spring is a crucial time for many key outdoor workers and a social media campaign will provide key advice on responsible access, which includes following all reasonable requests to avoid fields with young or pregnant livestock, farmyards and other busy areas. Dog owners are asked to keep their dogs close at heel or on a lead when on farmland and it is advised to try and plan routes that avoid the need to touch surfaces such as gates. Pete Rawcliffe, Head of People and Nature at SNH, said: “Exercise and fresh air is important for our well-being and we encourage people to make the most of their local walks or cycles during restrictions. But we need to make sure that we are still following social distancing rules when outdoors, and that we respect the health and safety of farmers and others working on the land. If we follow Scottish Government advice and stay local for our exercise, make use of the paths and open spaces near to us and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access code, we will be doing our bit to beat Covid-19 and end restrictions”. For full guidance, including downloadable signs for land managers, and posters for those wishing to support the online campaign visit www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot

19 April 2020

Boost for people living with impaired hearing and sight loss

A drop-in session in Whithorn

PEOPLE living with sight and hearing loss in Wigtownshire have welcomed the news that a local charity has received a £9,500 funding boost from the Kilgallioch Community Benefit Fund and Foundation Scotland to continue to develop support services across the region. Visibility Scotland has been helping people living with sensory loss for over 160 years and will use the money to continue and grow our community-base drop-ins services, or ‘hubs', across Wigtownshire over the next 18 months. It will also provide dedicated one-to-one support to those with sensory loss, with a strong focus on those who are unable to leave their homes due to their condition. Visibility Scotland has worked with hundreds of people across the region, demonstrating and loaning assistive technology, facilitating two monthly peer support groups across Wigtownshire and offering support at home to those struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis. Lindsay McDowall, Head of Service for Visibility in Dumfries & Galloway, added: “The news of this funding couldn't have come at a better time. Fundraising has come to a standstill recently, which puts third sector organisations under a lot of financial pressure. This is the second year that the Kilgallioch Community Benefit Fund and Foundation Scotland have awarded us funding for our work in Wigtownshire, and it will enable us to build on our existing services for people with vision and hearing impairments across the region and build connections within communities when normal service resumes. “Last year, we established local drop-ins, or hubs, in Stranraer, Newton Stewart, Port William and Whithorn thanks to this funding where people will be able to speak with staff and sensory inspirers to get advice on the latest equipment and technology, get emotional support, practical advice or chat with someone who has the same lived experience and has overcame the challenges and obstacles presented by their sight or hearing impairment. “We were pleasantly surprised that the turnout in the smaller towns was on a par, and in some instances exceeded, the larger populations centres of Stranraer and Newton Stewart. So we're really thinking about visiting other villages and communities in Wigtownshire that may not get a lot of services on their doorstep, and we're open to suggestions on where the residents of Wigtownshire think we should stop by next. Lindsay added: “The aim is that people leave feeling better informed and connected to their communities, tackling loneliness and isolation.” Visibility Scotland has 20 volunteer “sensory inspirers” across Dumfries & Galloway who themselves have a sensory impairment. They have been helping staff to deliver training and talks to community groups and organisations, as well as shadowing home visits and offering their personal insight into what can help. Their involvement will be pivotal to the new services. Charlotte Bennie, from Newton Stewart, said: “I was delighted to hear Visibility Scotland has received funding for the second-year running. This is great news for the people of Wigtownshire. My guide dog Christie and I attended all of the HUBs across 2019 in Stranraer, Port William, Whithorn and Newton Stewart. Having been registered blind for nearly two decades, I've got lots of experience and advice to pass along and share. It was great to meet lots of new people and, being a retired teacher from Wigtownshire, catch up with some who I'd known from years ago, or taught a relative of theirs. “The current corona crisis has highlighted it is so essential to be able to access information on line. This is a skill which can be learned at the Visibility hubs. “Visual impairment makes a person isolated; getting out of the house is just so difficult; others find the condition difficult to understand. So this funding is a godsend!” Lindsay added: “We have been blown away by the willingness and eagerness of people we're working with to get involved and share their experiences and knowledge. Who better to advise someone on how to overcome the challenges presented by losing their sight or hearing than someone who has already been through it? We hope each local drop-in will become the go-to place in your community to speak with someone about their sensory loss. “If you would like to find out more about how Visibility Scotland can help you, a friend, family member or neighbour living with a sensory impairment, please call Visibility Scotland on 07557 029 602 or email seehear@visibility.org.uk Although our groups and drop-ins are not currently running, our staff are available to offer emotional support or advice over the telephone.”

Food Train gets wired in

Food Train's Stuart Miller with the new vehicles

WITH hundreds of extra volunteers from across Dumfries and Galloway, the charity Food Train has been able to step up its services to deliver vital weekly food and grocery supplies to frail, disabled and vulnerable older people in self-isolation during the Coronavirus outbreak. And thanks to funding of more than £450,000 from SP Energy Networks' Green Economy Fund for nine new state-of-the-art electric vehicles, the charity has been able to expand its vital services to new areas at a time when it is particularly difficult for older vulnerable people to access shopping services. Food Train currently serves nine regions across Scotland including Dumfries and Galloway, West Lothian, Stirling, Dundee, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and the Scottish Borders. In response to the Covid-19 outbreak and the increased number of older people requiring support with shopping across Dumfries and Galloway, Food Train is now extending its support to other local authority areas via its Food Train Connects service. The new service, which matches older people requiring a helping hand with a volunteer living nearby and willing to provide that regular support, is now available and requires the support of even more volunteers across Dumfries and Galloway. Further information on Food Train services and how to sign up as a volunteer is available at www.thefoodtrain.co.uk and by emailing shopping@thefoodtrain.co.uk. Ian Arthur, a volunteer at Food Train, said: “Food Train has given me a real insight into the challenges that some of our vulnerable and elderly citizens face. Volunteering has given me a sense of self-worth and during these times it has never been more important to support those that can't support themselves.” With older people across Dumfries and Galloway going into lockdown for many weeks, the charity has an unprecedented number of elderly people asking for help or being referred for food deliveries. The Scottish Government has now defined its volunteers as key workers providing an essential service, allowing Food Train to recruit hundreds of new volunteers across Scotland to help thousands of older people. The unplanned growth in service provision along with the need to protect a large workforce and vulnerable customer base is naturally bringing increased costs for the organisation. As such, community heroes providing the lifeline services are now calling on people across Dumfries and Galloway to donate to Food Train if possible. Donations allow them to provide more delivery boxes, fuel for delivery vehicles, personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser for volunteers. Michelle Carruthers, Chief Executive of Food Train, said: “We've been overwhelmed by the generosity of our volunteers and supporters across Dumfries and Galloway who have stepped up to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities throughout this crisis. We're delighted to have the support from SP Energy Networks to expand and sustain our services and are pleased we are able to make available our new Food Train Connects service. Any help you can give to help us continue responding effectively would be hugely appreciated. Donations can be made at justgiving.com/campaign/FoodTrain.” Frank Mitchell, CEO at SP Energy Networks, said: “People across Dumfries & Galloway are doing extraordinary things to help the most vulnerable in their community during the coronavirus outbreak. We're proud to support Food Train and will be continuing to do what we can to assist the outstanding work of its volunteers across Scotland.” As well as offering charitable support, teams of SP Energy Networks engineers are working hard across the UK to keep the power flowing to the 3.5 million households who are depending on their electricity supply throughout the coronavirus crisis. The electricity distributor has introduced special measures to protect the energy supply for critical national infrastructure and public service sites such as hospitals, nursing homes, food supply chain businesses and Ministry of Defence sites. People who have received a letter from the NHS advising them that they are ‘at risk' and should take additional measures to protect themselves from Covid-19 are being advised to sign up for SP Energy Networks' Priority Services Register. This provides free additional services to customers in vulnerable circumstances if there is an unexpected power cut. They should sign up at spenergynetworks.co.uk or text PSR to 61999. In the event of a power cut, customers should call the national 105 hotline no matter who they pay their bill to. For more information on the Food Train fundraising appeal, visit justgiving.com/campaign/FoodTrain

18 April 2020

Going like the clappers!

THE entire country has united behind the Thursday 8pm clap for the front-line staff of the NHS amidst the Coronavirus crisis. Here's the staff of Stranraer Fire Station out lending their support (and we think they deserve a pat on the back for all their hard work too!)

Employer? News about the furlough scheme

MONDAY is an incredibly important day for all employers who have furloughed workers. The Job Retention Scheme (JRS) goes live at 8am with full digital support. The Chancellor announced the JRS on March 20 to enable employees to remain on the payroll through being ‘furloughed'. A spokesman for the taxman said: "Employers need to claim the cash grant from HMRC and to support this we've put in place an online application service which can handle up to 450,000 applications an hour. Employers should then receive the money to pay their employees within six days, enabling them to meet the April payroll. "HMRC emailed two million employers on Friday providing a link to a five-step guide to claiming and advising that they don't need to call us unless they have a problem. This is to keep the phone lines free for those who really need us." See more at HMRC's website

17 April 2020

Tribute? This one is flamin' silly

MSP Finlay Carson

FILLING the sky with flaming lanterns this weekend is one of the ideas to honour the frontline workers of the NHS. However, the idea met with dismay from farmers worried about the effects of livestock, and emergency services concerned about the fire risk. Now Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson says the campaign is reckless and should not go ahead. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP shares concerns from the National Farmers Union Scotland that the mass release of the lanterns to show support for emergency services could have effects such as causing fires on farmlands. Mr Carson says that while he supports measures to thank emergency workers who are going above and beyond, these should continue in a safe form, rather than unintentionally putting more strain on them through the release of sky lanterns. The sky lanterns are a serious fire risk to farm buildings, which may house hay and straw, or other flammable products. They also pose a threat to animal health if they land on farms as the frame material can get mixed up into feed, such as silage or grain, and be accidently digested by livestock the effects of which can be fatal. Commenting Finlay Carson MSP Said: “Of course I am keen to see support for our emergency workers at this time and I have been applauding them at 8pm on Thursday nights, but this does need to be done in a safe and controlled manner. “While people may think releasing sky lanterns is a nice idea, they can have severely damaging effects on our farmlands and to our animals as well, as they are highly flammable. “That would unintentionally potentially stretch our emergency services more than they already are right now which is the last thing that is needed. “I would encourage everyone to continue to follow the advice to stay at home, avoiding any unnecessary travel and carrying out activities that are safe and help to protect our emergency services.”

Lessons in fundraising

A GROUP of people who work in Education in the Stranraer area have been racking up the miles in an attempt to support the NHS. Each member of the group has pledged to either walk or run 10 kilometres on their own, or alongside a family member who they are isolating with, over an 11 day period. The fundraiser started on Wednesday and 130 people have signed up to take part with 65 people having already completed their challenges. There are significant numbers of staff taking part from Stranraer Academy, Rephad Primary School, Belmont Primary School, Park Primary School, Stranraer College and Busy Bees Pre-School Nursery. Most other Primary schools in the area are also represented in addition to staff from other Organisations like Stranraer Development Trust, Police Scotland, Better Lives Partnership and Tarff Valley. The group was set up by Teacher Neil Hyslop from Stranraer Academy who said “It's been a real team effort with everyone playing their part. We don't think there is a more worthwhile cause just now and it's given everyone something to focus on during the current lockdown period. NHS employees regularly give up their time to come into our schools and colleges on a regular basis so it's good to be able to try and give a little something back”. The group is called stranraerschools4nhs and they have already raised over £6,000. If you would like to help them to increase their total we have attached a link for their fundraising page:- https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/stranraerschools4nhs

Wigtownshire firm to the fore in Covid fightback

TECHNOLOGY is a key part in our fightback against Covid-19 and a Wigtownshire firm is to the fore Gentex's Stranraer plant manufactures the Pureflo 3000 innovative powered air purifying respirator – pictured – which provides an all-in-one respiratory, head, face, eye and hearing protection. With demand soaring for high-end medical use, Gentex used SiG's lighthouse cell improvement concept to more than double production on their current assembly line. They then created two more production lines, with plenty of space for staff to work at safe distances; mobilised some 60 suppliers to provide 200 parts and raw materials; used their engineering expertise to build new rigs; and trained staff for additional shifts. As a result, they aim to increase production to 750 Pureflo respirators a week – in total more than a seven-fold production rate increase. Sharing in Growth (SiG), who normally support aerospace and advanced manufacturing suppliers to increase their capability and win more business, is now working with the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, of which Gentex is part, which has formal orders from the Government for in excess of 10,000 ventilator units so far. Said Sharing in Growth CEO Andy Page: “The SIG community comprises of many highly capable manufacturing companies that have risen to the challenge. They have made parts within hours of receiving drawings and supported each other with material and/or sub tier components when necessary. It is humbling to see what can be done with focus and determination and I am delighted we could use our knowledge of their capability to get them involved quickly.” SiG has been helping the Ventilator Challenge UK (VCUK) consortium with identifying capability and capacity within the SiG beneficiaries to support the manufacture of small mill turn components for the ventilators. So far, seven SiG beneficiaries have been selected and have begun making components. They are Excel, Hyde, Martin Aerospace, Nasmyth Bulwell, NEMCO, Produmax and SL Engineering. In many cases the companies have had the capability to turn agreed drawings into parts that pass inspection in a matter of hours. The consortium is producing two types of ventilators. The Penlon Prima ESO2 device, which has been undergoing stringent testing and clinical trials for the last two weeks, has now been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Production ramp up will now accelerate at the Penlon site in Oxfordshire and at the new VCUK production lines built in Broughton, Dagenham, Woking and Maidenhead. Having already commenced deliveries of the Smiths Group's paraPAC plus devices, VCUK are working closely with supply chain partners to rapidly scale up production to achieve at least 1,500 units a week of the combined Penlon and Smiths models. Said Dick Elsy CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Chair of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium: “To provide some context, Penlon and Smiths ordinarily have combined capacity for between 50 and 60 ventilators per week. However, thanks to the scale and resources of the wider consortium, we are targeting production of at least 1,500 units a week of the Penlon and Smiths models combined within a matter of weeks. Ventilators are intricate and highly complex pieces of medical equipment and it is vital that we balance the twin imperatives of speed of delivery with the absolute adherence to regulatory standards that is needed to ensure patient safety. I want to take this opportunity to again thank every member of the consortium and the hundreds of dedicated colleagues who have been working day and night to get us to this point.” SL Engineering based near Grantham volunteered for the challenge which meant assessing, quoting, procuring material and tooling, and setting up 24/7 working shifts all under the challenges of current Covid-19 restrictions. The team then managed to complete full New Product Introduction processes, manufacture and deliver the components within a calendar week from receipt of authority to proceed. Said joint managing director Shaun Stevenson: “It has been a fantastic team effort to make this happen, with parts ready for despatch including completed subcontract operations and customer approved first article sign off, all achieved in less than one week from receipt of order authorisation! Great effort and great result from Team SL for doing our bit to provide these critical ventilator components to the front line in support of our brilliant NHS.” For their part, award-winning beneficiary Produmax has implemented split shifts around the clock to produce vital parts at speed from their Baildon site in West Yorkshire. The company will have switched to making ventilator parts on their lathes over the next few weeks, to produce over 60,000 brass, steel and plastic components for the air flow control units of Penlon and Smiths Medical ventilators. In addition, beneficiaries, such as Amphenol Invotec and Amfax are also supporting other ventilator consortia with components such as PCBs and PCB test equipment. While others, like the Oxley Group have designed and manufactured or repurposed personal protective equipment for the NHS front line, or have increased production in vital areas. These include Gentex, whose products include emergency service respirators, and surface treatment specialists Poeton Industries, whose customers manufacture medical ventilators required for the NHS.

Unwell? Help is still at hand

THERE are fears that people are staying away from hospital and medical help, either because they want to avoid burdening the NHS amid Coronavirus or because they fear exposure to Covid-19. It could mean that people with serious issues are not being treated and so efforts are being made to reassure people that the NHS is still able to help those with the virus. The Emergency Department at Galloway Community Hospital in Stranraer continues to operate as normal during this time, says the NHS in the region. Dr Kenneth Donaldson, NHS Dumfries and Galloway Medical Director, said: “Anyone who requires urgent medical treatment should always attend their closest Emergency Department in the first instance. “Staff there will be able to help with everything from chest and abdominal pain to suspected stroke, breathing problems, a very sick child, severe bleeding and broken bones. “Although a great deal of attention is focused on Covid-19, it's important that people understand that services like the Emergency Department continue to operate normally. “People should also be assured that great care is being taken to ensure that no one is exposed to the risk of transmission of coronavirus, and that patients with Covid-19 have a specific, separate route for treatment.” Meanwhile, a range of services continue to be available in the community – including GPs and pharmacists – although arrangements have been altered as a result of Covid-19. Deputy Medical Director Dr Grecy Bell - pictured - said: “Some changes in service have been made within primary care, such as GP practices now triaging calls and offering telephone or NHS Near Me secure video consultations. “However, they are still there to help you if you need more support, and so are pharmacies which can be an excellent first point of assistance. “These are very difficult times, but it's important that everyone continues to seek out the support which they need. “At all times, advice is available by visiting the NHS Inform website or by calling the telephone number 111.” For more information, visit www.nhsinform.scot

16 April 2020

Sally forth! Wigtown Book Festival's innovative initiative

Sally: Online star

BROADCASTER and TV star Sally Magnusson is the face and voice of a new initiative designed to entertain during the Coronavirus lockdown. The Wigtown Book Festival has launched #WigtownWednesdays as part of a series of online initiatives to allow the public to enjoy excellent writing and meet fascinating authors despite the lockdown. Lots of different events are being lined up, including a monthly online book club which holds its first get-together on April 22 when the special guest will be Dumfries and Galloway conservation hill farmer, and author of the memoir Native, Patrick Laurie. Nature writer Polly Pullar will also be on hand. Patrick's latest book explores his love of the Galloway countryside and his efforts to reconnect with its natural and farming heritage. He is well known in the region for his work to revive the traditional Riggit Galloway breed of cattle and to farm in a way that creates the right conditions for fragile bird species such as black grouse, grey partridge, curlews and lapwings to thrive. #WigtownWednesdays got started yesterday when over 100 people enjoyed an evening listening to broadcaster and bestselling author Sally Magnusson discussing her new novel The Ninth Child. Future #WigtownWednesdays will feature: Adventurer Robert Twigger on Walking The Great North Line Philosopher Julian Baggini on lessons from a crisis There will also be the chance to take part in one of the most popular events of the annual book festival – Stuart Kelly's literary pub quiz. There are even plans for a virtual version of the Wigtown's Got Talent competition. Adrian Turpin, creative director, Wigtown Festival Company, said: “We couldn't just sit here in silence at a time like this, so we decided to bring some of the spirit of Wigtown Book Festival. “At a time when many are likely to have time to read, and may take comfort from reading, we decided to introduce new ways for people to enjoy with literature, with authors and with Scotland's National Book Town. “Book festivals are about more than reading, they are about talking, listening and experiencing. So our aim has been to find different, and sometimes quirky, ways that people can engage with literature, authors and storytelling. “We hope people will make #WigtownWednesdays a weekly date.” Plans are in place to introduce a regular podcast and some exclusive long reads are being specially commissioned. The festival has also been raiding the archives to put some of its past gems online, such as Joanna Lumley's appearance in 2013. "The whole initiative is being made possible thanks to support from Baillie Gifford and is free, but public donations would be greatly appreciated to help cover the costs." See www.wigtownbookfestival.com for more.

15 April 2020

Stranraer FC relegated amid league wrangle

The Stair Park club is marking its 150th anniversary

STRANRAER FC have been relegated from League One as the curtain is brought down on the season, with a quarter of the games to go, because of Covid-19. Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers have been declared champions after Dundee eventually backed SPFL plans to halt the season. The Scottish Championship outfit had a change of heart after casting a 'No' vote on Friday. The SPFL later confirmed the league winners will be promoted and Partick Thistle and Stranraer demoted and that a taskforce will look at expanding the top flight.. There was fury over the decision and a lengthy statement from the Stair Park club hinted that it may be subject to legal challenge. Manager Stevie Farrell had been bullish about the Blues' chances of beating the drop if games were allowed to go ahead. The club issued the following statement: It has been widely reported in recent days of the ongoing SPFL resolution whereby all 42 Scottish League Clubs were asked to vote on whether the 2019/20 season be concluded forthwith, with current Championship, League One, and a League Two placings declared as final and the outstanding monies paid to all member clubs based on these positions. Stranraer FC voted no to this resolution based on the following considerations and facts. At this unprecedented time we felt unanimously as a Committee that no football club, Stranraer FC or any other should be at a detriment due to this horrendous situation. It is grossly unfair that any club should be relegated from their respective League whilst a quarter of the season still remains. We strongly felt that at this time more than any other that Scottish Football should demonstrate the absolute philosophy of real "sporting integrity" in order to ensure a collective responsibility to all member clubs. Further, it has been well reported that the SPFL conveniently combined the voting process with that of final league places being declared and that all clubs would receive their outstanding prize money. However, it has retrospectively come to light that this was disingenuous in that the SPFL could have - and for that matter still have - the power to advance monies to member clubs on an interim or provisional basis as loans, pending confirmation of final payments. Therefore, Stranraer FC take exception that this fact was not disclosed to all member clubs prior to the commencement of the ballot process. Prior to any formal ballot/voting process it is critical that all involved are furnished with all of the relevant facts, to afford every club the opportunity to cast their requisite vote based on these. This was not the case. We were incensed that the SPFL decided to release a formal statement prior to the conclusion of the formal ballot process publicly disclosing the results at that juncture, This statement was completely inappropriate, and we further considered it to be potentially both prejudicial and leading in its content. Whilst remaining with the final payment to clubs. Stranraer would challenge some of the recent figures published via various press and media outlets as being wholly inaccurate and undoubtedly misleading. From the figures being reported, the largest majority of the payments referred has already been received by member clubs, as it is paid in instalments throughout the season, so despite the articles that have claimed Stranraer FC were due to receive anywhere between £25,000 and £75,000, to the complete contrary, we will in fact receive only a nominal amount that would not even meet that of one week's wage bill. In recent days, Stranraer FC have seen reports pertaining to us and other clubs potentially being financially compensated for any detriment imposed by way of the Resolution being adopted - in our case to be relegated. Notwithstanding this or any other similar discussion, our position will remain consistent throughout in that we will challenge any proposal that leaves our club at any detriment in relation to our current league status. Stranraer FC fully support the legal submission shared by Partick Thistle with all member clubs and the SPFL on Tuesday 14th April in that the current SPFL proposal is legally flawed, and the SPFL's failure to adhere to a proper process to date is most definitely subject to legal challenge. Our Chairman, Iain Dougan has consistently stated that Stranraer would be in favour of no team being relegated in Scotland, and league reconstruction as a fair and positive way forward to include all member clubs, inclusive of our Highland & Lowland League colleagues as part of any potential agreed resolution. Finally, we remain committed to working alongside all member club colleagues, via meaningful and purposeful consultation, to best agree the most suitable way forward for Scottish Football - without any remedy being introduced whereupon it's only the few that are to be penalised.

MSP: Covid-19 deaths 'heartbreaking'

MSP Colin Smyth

THE latest deaths from Covid-19 are heartbreaking, an MSP has said. Colin Smith, South Scotland MSP, spoke s latest figures from NHS Dumfries and Galloway show 24 people in the region have died after testing positive for Coronavirus. The health board confirmed today that a further seven people passed away in the last week where Covid-19 was believed to be the primary cause or a contributing factor, with all but three of the deaths in hospital. As of yesterday, 199 people had tested positive in Dumfries and Galloway for Covid-19, with people in hospital with confirmed or suspected cases. Mr Smyth said: "These figures are heart-breaking for local families. We should never forget that behind them are families and friends who have lost loved ones, and my thoughts will continue to be with them all at this terrible time. "As the numbers with Covid-19 grow, I will continue to call on the Scottish Government to increase testing. All the international evidence shows that maximising testing saves lives. "Across Scotland we should have been testing not just those with symptoms who needed medical care but frontline NHS and care staff right from the very start. "They are the ones putting their own health at risk to help others and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. It is a scandal that so few of them have so far been tested across Scotland as it is clear that many will have the virus but won't have symptoms. "We need to keep urging everyone to do what they can to help our NHS and their partners, starting by heeding the government's advice and staying at home. The weather might be improving but we need to ensure we don't relax the rules in any circumstances."

Rural rammy: Plea for respect in the countryside

NFU Scotland has produced a poster for farmers to display, which urges care to be taken by those accessing the countryside during this exceptional period. The Scottish countryside remains open for people to access and enjoy but care and respect for those living and working in rural areas is requested. Since lockdown, NFU Scotland's regions have been logging calls taken from a substantial number of members reporting problems with public access. These include: People ignoring Government recommendations and travelling considerable distances to take access. People walking through fields of cows with calves; ewes with lambs and pregnant animals with dogs off the lead. Failing to pick up dog poo and, in some instances, bagging dog poo then throwing it into fields of growing crops. People accessing farm buildings and, in one case, someone walking through a shed of cows and young calves with a dog. In another incident, a family accessed the farmhouse garden to take photographs. Abandoning cars and vans in farm gateways and farm roads while going for a walk or cycle. Ignoring reasonable requests to use hand sanitiser when opening and closing farm gates. Failure to take litter home. Driving past official car parks and ignoring official signage on road closures. Taking access across fields of crops, such as wheat and barley, and one report of people playing golf in an arable field. Gates being left open and one reported incident where Highland Pony stallions were allowed access to juvenile mares. NFU Scotland's Head of Policy Team, Gemma Cooper said: “The Scottish countryside remains open and an hour's responsible exercise each day is a central plank of the recommendations from Government on how we get through this crisis. "For many, accessing the countryside is a new experience and we want to help guide them on how to do that responsibly and safely, recognising the legitimate concerns of those who are farming and crofting in these unprecedented times. "This is the busiest time of the year for farming – lambing, calving, ploughing, planting and more. To fulfil our pledge to keep Scotland's plates and glasses full throughout this crisis, we need farmers, crofters, their families and staff to stay safe, healthy and able to get on with the job of producing food and drink. "We respectfully ask that people please follow these simple guidelines in the poster. It will assist the many people taking access in the countryside and receive the thanks of all living and working in the countryside at this challenging time."

Pay boost welcomed

MSP Emma Harper

SOUTH Scotland MSP Emma Harper – Deputy Convenor of Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee - has welcomed that social care staff in Scotland are to receive an immediate 3.3% pay increase, backdated to 1 April 2020. The increase in wages agreed between the Scottish Government and COSLA – the umbrella body representing Scottish local authorities - means staff will not need to wait for the pay to be backdated at a point later in the year following negotiations, as happened in previous years. A spokesman from Miss Harper's office said: "The pay increase is part of a package of measures to support social care workers in recognition of the essential role they are playing during the Coronavirus pandemic, and indeed the role they will continue to play in the aftermath of the virus. "Social care workers who provide direct adult support will have their pay increased to at least the Real Living Wage rate of £9.30 an hour for all hours worked, including sleep-overs and hours worked by personal assistants of those with disabilities. The Scottish Government will also provide funding to third sector and independent providers specifically to ensure staff receive sick pay if they are off work ill or because they are self-isolating." In addition, Miss Harper has welcomed that the agreed funding increase to social care providers will give the organisations the financial flexibility to increase wages across their organisations, and not just to frontline staff – something she has urged them to do. Miss Harper said: "Social care workers both here in Dumfries and Galloway – and across Scotland - are on the frontline of our national pandemic response. They are providing care to those vulnerable groups in the community including older persons, those with complex health needs and persons with disabilities. "The measures the Scottish Government have announced in partnership with COSLA will ensure all people providing adult social care receive the Real Living Wage for every hour worked with immediate effect, rather than having to wait until later in the year as would have otherwise been the case. "As well as providing an uplift in pay for all social care workers, this package announced by the Scottish Government ensures social care providers have both flexibility to increase wages across their organisations – which I urge them to do - and the necessary funding for sick pay if their employees are off ill or are self-isolating. "I thank all social care staff across our region and welcome this much overdue and deserved pay rise. I remind constituents that I and my team are available, should anyone be looking for any advice and support."

Warning on a money-off voucher that could cost you a fortune

HARD to believe, but scammers are trying to cash in on the Covid-19 crisis. Police Scotland are warning the public about a new scam starting to do the rounds that has a Coronavirus theme to give it credibility. The victim receives an email festooned in logos and branding of a local supermarket chain advising that they have been awarded a money-off voucher for spending in their store during the course of the pandemic. Lots of people have been spending more on food during lockdown, so there's an air of believability about the idea. Of course, there's a sting in the tail. In order to claim the voucher, the recipient has to supply their credit or bank card details and these are then used for fraudulent activity thereafter with no voucher ever being received. No legitimate business will contact you direct offering a reward like this and ask for bank or card details as a condition of the scheme. Say police: "Supermarkets do regularly make offers of this nature but they print the vouchers in the Press or on leaflet drops put through your letterbox with no request for personal information required whatsoever." The police urge the public not to give out their personal information to anyone in circumstances like that shown above. There will be many other scams of this nature coming to light in the coming weeks and the public should be on their guard.

The Free Press amidst the Coronavirus crisis

SORRY that there's no Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press to buy in the shops today. The Coronavirus crisis has made production and distribution of your favourite local paper exceptionally difficult and we have had to temporarily close our shop in St Andrew Street, Stranraer , our main outlet, as part of a responsible response to this dangerous bug. This is not all just about us. We appreciate this is a hugely difficult time for everyone. Across Wigtownshire, people are dealing with serious illness among family and friends. Some, heartbreakingly, have suffered bereavement. People are worried about their businesses and their jobs; their children's education. Amidst the greatest crisis to afflict the country since the war and the greatest economic shock in perhaps 300 years, times are tough. Yet we believe better days, be they ever so far away, are ahead. With that in mind, we are working hard behind the scenes to try to get your Free Press back into print as soon as possible. Thank you for all the messages of support and we look forward to continuing to try to inform you about what is going on via social media and to the return of the Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, the authentic voice of the county. Meanwhile, we hope you all stay safe and well.

Auction action

AGRICULTURE is pressing on as best it can in the circumstances and markets have stayed open – though strict social-distancing rules are enforced. Trade was brisk at Ayr on Tuesday when Messrs Craig Wilson Ltd sold 31 calves and 10 stirks. They say: "All classes upheld recent rates with numbers short of buyers' requirement." Calves peaked at £430 for a Smart Limousin Bull off Cromlet. Heifer Calves to £385 for a Shapely British Blue off Over Enoch. Bull Calves (Top Price Per Head) Limousin: £430 and £365 Cromlet. British Blue: £425 x2 Drummullan, £345 x2 Tannockhill. Aberdeen Angus: £365 x2 Drummullan. Friesian: £150 and £100 Cromlet. Shorthorn: £260 Meadowbank. Heifer Calves (Top Price Per Head) British Blue: £385, £370 x2 and £360 Over Enoch, £370 Cromlet, £350 Nether Craig. Limousin: £280 Meadowbank. Stirks (Top Price Per Head) Limousin Heifer: £540 High Borland. British Blue Heifer: £540 High Borland, £505 East St Colmac. British Blue Bull: £500 x2 East St Colmac. Aberdeen Angus Bull: £500 North Kilruskin. Friesian Bull: £300 Mossend (Kirkmichael). Messrs Craig Wilson Ltd sold 132 Prime and Cast Cattle. Prime Cattle sold Similar to recent weeks. 18 Heifers Averaged 225.1p or £1267.61 5 Bullocks Averaged 218.2p or £1254.81 Top Price of the day was 250p for a Superb Limousin Heifer off Boylston bought by Frasers Butchers, Stranraer (£1,437.50). Bullocks Topped at 237p for a Smart Limousin Cross off North Boig to Messrs Marshall Butchers, Johnstone or £1452 for a Limousin off Blairbowie. Heifers (Top Price Per Kilo) Limousin: 234p and 232p x2 Girvan Mains, 233p South Milmain, 232p Blairbowie and Mansfield Mains, 231p Blairbowie. Charolais: 233p Carskerdo. Simmental: 221p North Boig. Saler: 213p Mansfield Mains. Aberdeen Angus: 206p Borland. Bullocks (Top Price Per Kilo) Limousin: 237p and 222p North Boig, 220p Blairbowie. Simmental: 204p Borland. Rough Ring- all classes sold similar to last week. 3 Bulls Averaged 122.1p Topping at £1110 for a Limousin off Kirkhill or 147p for an Aberdeen Angus off Littleton. 31 Beef Cows Averaged 117.6p to £1280 for a Saler off Girvan Mains or 154p for another Saler off the same home. 75 Dairy Cattle Averaged 91.4p Top of £900 for a Friesian off Carskerdo or 110.4p for a Friesian off Isle. Bulls (Top Price Per Head) Limousin: £1110 Kirkhill. Aberdeen Angus: £970 Littleton. Charolais: £930 Drumbowie. Cows (Top Price Per Head) Saler: £1280 and £1200 Girvan Mains. Limousin: £1200 Girvan Mains, £960 Lawhill. Simmental: £1160 Girvan Mains, £910 Drumjoan. Aberdeen Angus: £1020 Whatriggs, £890 Arnsow. Charolais: