Life experience

There have been many words, tributes and memories dedicated to the legend that was Winnie Ewing lately but I just wanted to add the impact that she made on me as an eight year old.  My dates may well be out but it must have been the early 80s and I was living in Orkney.  It was Brownie night and we were out a walk when a car went by and the whispers began and we all started waving excitedly.  It was probably an adult who had said who it was but what sticks in my mind was how we all knew who it was even at that young age.  Her election to the European Parliament had obviously thrust her into the minds of children as well as adults and as far as we were concerned, she was a major superstar.  I remember delightedly telling my mother who we had encountered only for her to tell me that she had been at the door.  Gutted was an understatement and I was so disappointed to learn that no she wouldn’t be making a return visit!  Winnie Ewing, at my house, wow!

Many others have also gone too early to see the efforts of their work towards independence rewarded and I was saddened to hear this week of another.  Irene Hamilton, I will miss seeing you at conference and will always remember your friendliness and your wit.

On Friday 100 young people from across the north of Scotland will assemble at Lerwick’s Fort Charlotte for a photo opportunity.  76 of these will have completed a sailing adventure  from Norway to Shetland while the other 24 will begin the final return leg.  Competing in the Tall Shops Race, they were given the opportunity through Sail Training Shetland and other local enterprises.  Initially available to 50 Shetlanders, the incredible sponsorship from many, many companies both local and national that they received with Lerwick being a host port this year allowed them to open it up to “Scotland” and another 50 from around Caithness, Sutherland, Wester Ross, the Western Isles and Aberdeen were able to take part. 

Allocated spaces on historic sailing vessels from around the world, they have experienced life as a crew member being trained as they worked their passage on an experience that is designed to build self confidence,  push their emotional and physical limits and learn new skills as well as making new  friendships and having fun whilst working as a team.  My youngest child received a spot scraping into the age of 15 to 25 required by days and is aboard the stunning Norwegian training vessel, the Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Sponsorship from Eastern Airways allowed the youngsters to fly from Wick to Aberdeen avoiding a  long road journey before their travel to Norway to meet their host ships and begin the adventure.

Most of the ships are now in Lerwick to enjoy the festival that will take place across a few days before the ships depart again for the final race leg of the competition but my child’s boat isn’t quite there yet.  Having sailed to Aberdeen from Norway to allow people there to visit on board, the route back north seemed straight forward until they encountered storms which altered their route quite significantly to the east. The plan was to get north of the winds and then head west again but, as they have time penalties to meet, I’m sure it is a very interesting section of the journey that will give all on board a huge sense of pride, satisfaction and relief when they make it.  Friendships seemed to have been made, there are 13 nationalities on board, seasickness is always present but the memories and skills learnt are incredible.  I’ve always joked she could climb before she could walk and to see photos of her 50m up the rigging in the middle of the North Sea is incredible.

The middle child was also extremely lucky to have achieved a space on another youth initiative recently.  The Sutton Trust run summer schools for those looking to go to university and she was offered one of the 2000 places available this year across Britain.  It sounds a lot until you are told that there were over 20,000 applicants. She was one of 180 experiencing life at St Andrews and having seen the changes in her confidence and determination, I am humbled.  She had been there last year as one of 30 on a rural schools initiative that they run and this year just reinforced what she wants to do.  

These opportunities are life changing for the young people involved and as they are fully funded, it allows people from all economic backgrounds to take part.  I am under no illusions whatsoever as to how lucky my children have been however and I only wish that these experiences were available to more people.  To the best of my knowledge there is no central funding for these types of experiences and they are dependant upon private investment.  If we want things to improve in the country then we need to invest in our young people to allow it to happen.  Who knows with the skills they lean and experiences they share they might even come up with ideas that work for the whole country and not the urban areas but that’s another story.  Another month, another Green initiative that does not take the highlands into consideration…