Thank goodness for Elsie Normington

The world needs more Elsie Normingtons

The world needs people who stand up for what they believe in. It needs people who see when something needs to be done, and who, instead of sitting back and complaining, muster up all of their determination, tenacity and contacts, and start making things happen.

Last Friday night at The Drumossie Hotel I was in company of one such woman, the tirelessly impressive Elsie Normington. Elsie and I were in the supportive company of nearly 200 of the people who Elsie has gathered, on her decade-long journey to build The Haven in Inverness.

Haven Highland Hooley

The occasion was The Haven Highland Hooley, an evening of fun, fantastic food, and – in every sense of the word – ceilidh. Our primary purpose was fundraising. And between the people in the room, and with the generous support of sponsors, Highland Industrial Supplies and Compass Building in particular, over £50,000 was raised to Kit out the Café at The Haven.

Left to right: Fundraiser Rona, Elsie, Sponsor Garry from HIS, me, Kirsty, Sponsor Thom from Compass, and… the best dancer in the room!

In case you’re playing catch-up, let me explain.

All about Elsie and The Haven

Elsie is mum to Andrew, who has needed additional support all his life. As a mum, Elsie would have loved there to have been somewhere she and Andrew could go, where they be accepted without judgement. Somewhere that Andrew could simply be himself, hang out, and make friends.

In the 90s, when Andrew was wee, Elsie set up SNAP, the Special Needs Action Project. Originally a play group at The Birnie in Raigmore, it’s now based at The Pines in Inverness, and offers play-schemes, social clubs, and weekend and after-school support, to children and young people from the age of five.

But a decade ago Elsie realised families deserved more, and started campaigning to build Scotland’s first multi-purpose centre for children and young adults with severe and multiple learning disabilities and complex needs.

The Haven, overlooking the Moray Firth

Hard-hat tour of The Haven with Greg, Rona and Thom.

I was lucky to get a hard-hat tour of The Haven site from Thom and Greg the builders. On a generous site overlooking the Moray Firth, sits the hub of The Haven. This will be SNAP’s new home, allowing them to eat into their years-long waiting lists. It will include a purpose-built play centre, gardens, meeting rooms, and kitchens, and at the heart of it all, a welcoming community café.

Across the way, three purpose-built short-break flats for young adults are nearing completion. Each will have state-of-the-art facilities, including for live-in carers. The flats will be run by Key Support, instantly tripling their current offering for young adults and families.

It should all open next spring and will support people from all over the Highlands and Islands. Every town deserves a Haven. It will be envied, Scotland wide.

Kit out the Café

I’ve rarely shared a stage with a giant fridge before…

Our mission on Friday was to ‘Kit out the Café’, with everything from mugs, baking trays and food mixers, to fridge units, and ovens. Amazingly, every last teapot, chopping board, and can opener was purchased, with over £50,000 raised. ‘Heart-warming’ doesn’t come close.

It’s frustrating that society needs Elsie Normingtons but thank goodness we have her, and the dedicated army of volunteers and supporters who share her vision.

Spin to Win… what, now?

What has our country become? On the day Liz Truss was crowned new leader of the Conservatives, Phil and Holly returned to This Morning after their summer break. So far, so irrelevant, until the pair reached the ‘Spin to Win’ segment of their show.

Phil spun the wheel to find out what the lucky viewer’s prize would be. But instead of the usual varying amounts of cash – £1000, £3000, that sort of thing – every second segment of the wheel read ‘Energy Bills’. The winner’s energy bills would be paid for four months.

The wheel stopped on Energy Bills. The viewer’s reaction? “Oh my God! Thank you! Fantastic, what a relief, thank you very much!’

Was this a political dig? Or an indication that we’ve finally arrived in George Orwell’s dystopian future? Even during the three-day-week, Sale of the Century gave away cars and speedboats.

Are the days of Glasnost behind us?

The death last week of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev starkly underlined that the passing of years doesn’t necessarily signal progress being made.

In the late 80s, when world politics was dominated by Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev, it seemed, to this idealistic 20-something, that the world wasn’t progressing quickly enough towards liberty.

At home we had poll tax and section 28 marches. And although Gorby was promoting glasnost and perestroika, the Tiananmen Square riots were brewing in China.

Today? Biden seems benign, Truss is a loose cannon, and the threat from Russia is real. China feels worryingly omnipotent. Deep breaths required.

This column is published by Highland News and Media in newspapers across the north of Scotland. If you can, please support print media and the future of independent  journalism by buying a paper, or subscribing online. 

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