Professional advice for Creative Writing Group

Our online creative writing group had a treat on 5th May when they were joined by television producer and writer Kathleen Beedles who grew up in Rogart and who, in her long career in television, has variously worked as a writer, producer and Consultant, for shows such as Emmerdale, EastEnders, amongst others, plus the Chinese adaptation of Humans, as well as setting up long running shows Tanglin and Kin in Singapore.

The group were set a task ahead of the session to prepare a pitch for a second episode of a fake television series called Sutherland Heights, for which they were given character descriptions and a summary of what happened in an episode. On the day the group had to read out their pitch and were given feedback by Kathleen on their work.

At the start of the session each group member introduced themselves and shared their thoughts and experiences of writing. There was a lot of discussion about opening up with writing and concerns about what people will think of their work. Kathleen was keen to point out that there aren’t many places like the Highlands anymore so any observational work they did would be appealing to those living elsewhere. Group members were also encouraged to capture any ideas and inspiration and see these ideas through.

Although Kathleen now lives in London she was pleased to be able to spend most of the recent lockdown periods at home in Rogart and has, in recent years, realised the benefit of being in the Highlands to the creative life.

The Online Creative Writing Group began in early 2021 and has proven to be a great success. Classes are led by our Hub Project Lead Wendy Simmonds and members have given extremely positive feedback to date including ‘This is glorious. It’s so amenable and such a nice space’ and ‘Wendy has been really supportive and guided me. I would probably have given up by now otherwise. It’s a pleasure to be a part of the group.’

The group were delighted to have Kathleen join them and offer her advice. They hope to arrange an in-person meet-up with her when she is next home and restrictions on groups meeting are lifted.

The Online Writing Group takes place every Tuesday at 11am. If you are interested in joining email or call 01431 821655.

Helmsdale Dog Show goes online

Our Dog Show took place online on Saturday 24th April after a decision had been taken to cancel this year’s in-person Dog Show. Nine dogs joined their owners on Zoom to compete in classes including Best Pedigree, Best Rescue and Waggiest Tail.

The competition was judged by Lucy Rogers from Easter Ross Vets and included, for the first time a class for Best Rescue. This category was won by Jessie the Lurcher who was adopted by Stefan Teufl and Lorna Barton in Brora at the end of 2020 after her previous adoption was unsuccessful. Jessie also then went on to be awarded Best in Show. Morag Macpherson in Helmsdale rescued her Husky/German Shepherd Cross Bandit from Abu Dhabi after he was left at a boarding kennel and never collected by his owner. Bandit won the top spot in the Most Appealing Eyes class.

In addition, as the event was online local puppy owners were able to enter their young dogs which would not normally be possible in standard Dog Shows. Maisie, the 8-week-old Toy Poodle and Pomapoo Cross, owned by Tracy Collins of Golspie, was therefore able to join and won the judge’s heart, being awarded the accolade of Dog the Judge Would Most Like to Take Home.

Seven-month-old Womble the Whippet, owned by Kirsty Robertson from Thurso, scooped both the Waggiest Tail and Best Pedigree and displayed some very good behaviour while Lhasa Apso Pudsey would surely have made his owner Simone Severn of Helmsdale proud by winning the Best Lockdown Hair award.

Ruth Whitaker of Helmsdale introduced her Miniature Yorkshire Terriers, Magnus and Loki, describing them as ‘huge dogs in little dogs’ bodies’. Magnus was announced as the Best Small Dog while the award for Best Large Dog went to Max the Lurcher, owned by Wendy Simmonds, our Project Lead for the Helmsdale and Golspie Villages Hubs. Ruth’s little Loki won the Best Puppy. His great character shone through, impressing Lucy, our judge.

Sarah Kerr, Communications Manager, said of the event, ‘With us having to cancel the Helmsdale Dog Show for a second year, we really wanted to give local dog owners a bit of a treat and something to look forward to as lockdown comes to an end. We were very pleased with the turn-out and although there were significantly less dogs than we have had at the Helmsdale Dog Shows in the past, it was a manageable amount and people were able to get a chance to find out more about each other and their dogs. We’ve had some really positive feedback from those who took part and the dogs were so well-behaved on the day.’

We are back for the New Year

We go into 2021 facing tougher restrictions again, but our Dinner To Your Door, Grab ‘n Go Bags and Online Art ‘n Blether classes will continue. Find out more about these and our other areas of work in our latest newsletter below.

New Walking Group for Helmsdale

How COVID-19 is affecting our work

The current COVID-19 pandemic is presenting numerous challenges for us in terms of service delivery. Find out how we are managing this here.

[Updated 25th March 2021]

Full details of the challenges we have faced, the opportunities we have encountered, the work we are doing and our view for the future post-pandemic can be found here:

Connecting Communities Coronavirus Policy and Action Plan – last updated January 2021

Connecting Communities Circle of Support Development Plan in line with Scottish Government Guidance – last updated February 2021

Dementia Friendly Communities Hub and Art ‘n Blether Remobilisation Plan – last updated March 2021

We have continued to keep our Dinner To Your Door and Grab ‘n Go Bags services going as we know how important our hot and convenient meals are to so many of our customers. Thanks to grants from Foundation Scotland and The National Lottery Community Fund, we have been able to provide this service throughout the pandemic and, from 27th April 2020 extended the service to cover Dornoch and Embo. For more information see the Dinner To Your Door and Grab ‘n Go Bags pages.

On 17th March 2020 the decision was taken by our Senior Management Team to close both our Helmsdale and Golspie Village Hubs – this decision was taken in order to protect our valued Hub members at a time when they were being advised to stay indoors and not join social gatherings. Our team are continuing to stay in contact with our Hub members through online activities, helping them with shopping etc.

The same day we decided to suspend all Art ‘n Blether classes for the same reason. Our art tutor, Anne, organised some outdoor art classes following this, but with the announcements and advice from the government that followed these were also suspended. Anne has hosted some Facebook Live art sessions, which can be found on the Art ‘n Blether Facebook page. Online Art ‘n Blether began in January 2021. Please contact us if you are interested in joining future online or in-person art classes.

In November 2020 we started a Walking Group in Helmsdale. These walks were suspended in late-December due to the tightening of restrictions taking place. So far these were just short walks, but we hope to offer longer walks as well as walks in other areas of East Sutherland when restrictions are eased sufficiently.

The management team have also been busy behind the scenes in preparing for the introduction of Sutherland Home Care and the Caring for the Carer programme. More details on both of these projects will be available soon.

We apologies to anyone who has been affected by the closure of suspension of any of our services.

If you have any questions about any of our services at this time please contact us here or call us on 01431 821655.

We wish you  all the best in the coming weeks and months. Stay safe and well.

The Connecting Communities Team

Art n’ Blether arrives in Brora

In January, Art ‘n Blether classes begun in Brora and we have welcomed some wonderful new and experienced artists to this increasingly popular project.

For more information about our Art ‘n Blether classes click here.

Introducing Golspie Village Hub

In October 2019, we opened the doors to Golspie Village Hub for the very first time, and it has proven to be a great success.

Golspie Village Hub takes place at the Masonic Hall on Station Road on Thursdays from 11am to 2pm with the option to stay for the full duration or pop in and out as you please. Each week we host an activity or live music and lunch is available too.

Click here to find out more about Golspie Village Hub and see what is on this month.

We are now Connecting Communities!

Since we were founded in 2012, our focus has changed from purely dementia friendly work to social inclusion. To reflect this progress, we feel it is time for a change of name. From 16th March we will be known as Connecting Communities.

Dementia Friendly Communities (DFC) was originally developed in 2012 to support rural dementia families, but over time we have realised dementia only is too small a parameter for rural villages and that a socially inclusive programme which relies on the compassionate support of the whole community to sustain all older folk – irrespective of their situation – was a far better option.

Since 2012 we have spearheaded transformational change for dementia families in remote rural areas. Over the years a socially inclusive community ‘Circle of Support’ for all our older folk – not only people affected by dementia – was developed which is so successful that DFC Helmsdale is now regarded as a model of rural excellence for community support in the Highlands and is working with NHS Highland to roll out a similar Compassionate Community programme across the Highlands.

We would like to reassure our regular members and customers that this change will not affect the work we do and we look forward to continuing to see and support you.


Art ‘n Blether success

Experienced and aspiring artists from Helmsdale, Brora, Golspie and neighbouring villages have been gathering over the past two years for a range of successful Art ‘n Blether sessions, inspired by the picturesque views in and around East Sutherland.

Art ‘n Blether is led by Helmsdale-based landscape artist Anne Little who is originally from the small mining village of Calverton in Nottinghamshire. Anne is guiding and supporting participants through a variety of styles and techniques, including portraits and landscapes; painting with watercolour, acrylics and oils; glass painting and clay modelling; as well as drawing with pen and ink and charcoal.

Sessions, which are open to all members of the community over the age of 16, have often involved field trips to paint local landscapes, including Berriedale, Strath of Kildonan, Loch Brora and Helmsdale harbour. Each class is followed by a pop-up café, giving a chance for a break and extra socialising over a cup of tea or coffee and some home baking. In March 2018, an exhibition of Art ‘n Blether work was held at Timespan Museum and Arts Centre, which proved to be very successful.

Art ‘n Blether classes take place at Seaforth House care home in Golspie on a Tuesday from 1-3pm, and at The Bridge Guest House in Helmsdale on a Wednesday from 1.30-3.30pm.

To find out more visit our Art ‘n Blether page, visit the Art ‘n Blether Facebook page, or email

Here are just a few comments from those who already attend:

Pat Kidd who lives in Helmsdale and regularly attends the Helmsdale classes says of her experience: ‘I am new to Helmsdale and know very few people. Art ‘n Blether has been just right, a new hobby and new friends!’

Maggie Adamson, also from Helmsdale, said: ‘I started going to the art classes back in May this year. Originally, I went along to see how I fared as it was many years since my school-day art lessons! I enjoyed the classes from the start, learning new techniques and also meeting new people. Not to mention the scrumptious cakes! It’s great to go along each week and catch up with everyone and also see how we are all developing our skills as time goes on. I particularly enjoy being pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to try things I wouldn’t attempt on my own at home. We continue to take completed work home most weeks, sometimes with just a little finishing touch to add later. My confidence, both in my abilities with various painting techniques and also in social situations has grown as the classes have continued.’

Jane Murray, Helmsdale, added ‘As a fairly creative individual, I have never found it difficult to completely immerse myself in the often solitary pursuit of ‘all things arty!’ On Wednesdays however, I can happily continue to explore and widen my own experience but with the added bonus of being able to do this as part of a team of friendly makers and creators. I have found that since joining the group, Anne’s class has already become a contributing factor to my own ‘wellness’ of mind. Anne’s kind words of encouragement, along with her considerable experience as an artist, can only bring out the very best in her students!’

Anne says of the classes: ‘I really enjoy tutoring our Art ‘n Blether group. Our Helmsdale group have produced some fantastic artwork over the past year or so. Everyone thoroughly enjoys attending the classes and by coming together, have made new friends.  We have covered many different techniques and the group have learnt many new skills. The group also tailor the classes to their needs in that if they have discovered something they really like, we will cover it again but with new ideas. Art is a wonderful way to bring people together, whether they have experience or not. Creating your own painting or craft product is so very rewarding and great therapy in making you feel happy.’

Dog Show 2018 a great success

Skye, an Akita/Bulldog, from Alness was chosen as top dog at our 3rd Helmsdale Dog Show earlier this month to the delight of owner Greg. Skye, who also won Best Cross Breed, was up against 38 other competitors to win the accolade.

Over 100 people were in attendance to watch as the dogs went up against each other in 11 categories, including Best Pedigree, Best Veteran and Waggiest Tail. Competitors gathered from villages across Sutherland, including Bonar Bridge, Brora, Golspie, Helmsdale, Portgower and Rogart. Others travelled a greater distance from Alness, Invergordon, Inverness and Portmahomack. Most impressive though, were those who hailed from Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy and Puddletown (Dorset). Beccy Clay, owner of Tess the Pointer/Setter made the journey for the third year running from Drumbeg.

As well as the competition categories, each dog was able to take part in the Fastest Recall challenge in which the time it took them to reach their owner, with a number of distractions along the way, was recorded. The fastest small dog, Kayla the Shih Tzu (owned by Nicki Hughes from Brora), and fastest large dog, Skye the Border Collie (owned by Hannah Munro from Portmahomack) received an engraved glass from Alsorts Arts and Crafts to mark their win and some Tecxys herby dog treats, made by Sandra Mackenzie in Rogart.

dog show18 5The Judge on the day, for the second year running, was Annabell Broom from Aunty Annabell’s Dog Training. Annabell had her work cut out for her with 26 different breeds in total. The final category of the Show was the Dog the Judge would most like to take home. After much deliberation, Annabell chose Mac of Springfield the Teckel, owned by young Ailsa Shaw from Helmsdale.

Mini Reiki sessions with Kareen were available on the day for both dogs and owners. Tea, coffee, soup, sandwiches and home baking were on offer in the Community Centre hall, alongside table-top displays from The Highland Hound, Crafty Crofter, Yvonne’s Wee Honesty Box, Highlands of Scotland Pets as Therapy, Weaving Heart Wood, SSPCA, Jo Henderson’s Crafts, and the Helmsdale Village Hub Pop-Up Shop.

For the third year, Easter Ross Vets very kindly supported the cost of rosettes for the winners. A variety of raffle prizes were on offer courtesy of a number of local businesses and individuals including Maisie’s Daisies, Spar Helmsdale, La Mirage and Nicki Hughes.

The Helmsdale Dog Show is organised and run by our Helmsdale Village Hub and the event raised £830, which will go towards the running of the  Hub.

Wendy Simmonds, Hub Project Lead said: “We had such a wonderful turn-out this year. It was great to see many familiar faces and some new competitors too. Our thanks must go to all of those individuals and organisations who were involved, including Annabell Smith, Easter Ross Vets, Ossie and Kareen from Rogart, Waverly Engineering, our volunteers, those who had tables in the hall and everyone who came along on the day. The Dog Show seems to be growing year on year, which is great to see. Our dogs are family and it’s great to have a day especially for them. We’re also very pleased that the rain stayed away this time after a couple of very wet Dog Shows in the past!”

Results from Helmsdale Dog Show

Best Pedigree

1st: Boorach (3 yrs), Red & White Irish Setter. Owner: Dean Cowie, Helmsdale

2nd: Mac of Springfield (7 yrs), Teckel. Owner: Ailsa Shaw, Helmsdale

3rd: Balach (9 mths), working Cocker Spaniel. Owner: Ian Whitehead, Helmsdale

Best Cross-breed

1st: Skye (1 yr), Akita/Bull. Owner Greg, Alness

2nd: Marcie (2 yrs), Jack Russell/Chihuahua. Owner: Jenny Morrison, Inverness

3rd: Lexi (3 yrs), Staffie/Akita. Owner: Mandy Baird, Bonar Bridge

dog show18 2Best small dog

1st: Cassie (12 months), West Highland Terrier. Owner: Chris Gray, Edinburgh

2nd: Kayla (2 yrs), Shih Tzu. Owner: Nicki Hughes, Brora

3rd: Percy (6 yrs), Chihuahua. Owner: Hilary Michael, Brora

Best large dog

1st: Fionn (7 yrs), Labrador Retriever. Owner: Carol Grant, Kirkcaldy

2nd: Mackie (2 yrs), Sprocker. Owner: Allan Bokas, Helmsdale

3rd: Tess (13 yrs), Pointer/Setter. Owner: Beccy Clay, Drumbeg

Best veteran

1st: Hettie (11 yrs), Bedlington Terrier. Owner: Hilary Michael, Brora

2nd: Titch (7 yrs), Border Terrier. Owner: A M Wallis, Invergordon

3rd: Macy (11 yrs), Chocolate Labrador. Owner: Carol Pann, Puddletown

Best in Show

1st: Skye (1 yr), Akita/Bull. Owner: Greg, Alness

2nd: Boorach (3 yrs), Red & White Irish Setter. Owner: Dean Cowie, Helmsdale

Brightest eyes

1st: Sasha (4 yrs), Border Collie. Owner: Keith Cookson, Helmsdale

2nd: Zara (18 mths), German Shepherd. Owner: Ossie Ross, Rogart

3rd: Tikka (5 yrs), Labrador. Owner: Caitlin Martin, Helmsdale

dog show18 3Best turned out

1st: Kayla (2 yrs), Shih Tzu. Owner: Nicki Hughes, Brora

2nd: Archie (5 yrs), Cairn Terrier. Owner: Robin Macleod, Helmsdale

3rd: Garty (4 yrs), Cocker Spaniel. Owner: Alister Jappy, Helmsdale

Waggiest tail

1st: Shon (7 yrs), Cocker Spaniel. Owner: S Swinton, Invergordon

2nd: Marcie (2 yrs), Jack Russell/Chihuahua. Owner: Jenny Morrison, Inverness

3rd: Tullie (3 yrs), Springador. Owner: Tani, Invergordon

Best biscuit catcher

1st: Garty (4 yrs), Cocker Spaniel. Owner: Alister Jappy, Helmsdale

2nd: Fionn (7 yrs), Labrador Retriever. Owner: Carol Grant, Kirkcaldy

3rd: Koda (7 yrs), Alaskan Malamute. Owner: Tony Harris, Portgower

dog show18 4

Dog the judge would most like to take home

1st: Mac of Springfield (7 yrs), Teckel. Owner: Ailsa Shaw, Helmsdale

2nd: Bobby (8 yrs), Border Collie. Owner: Caitlin Munro, Portmahomack

3rd: Bonny (6 yrs), Chinese Powder Puff. Owner: Isobel Macleod, Helmsdale

Fastest recall (small dog): Kayla (2 yrs), Shih Tzu. Owner: Nicki Hughes, Brora

Fastest recall (large dog): Skye (3 yrs), Border Collie. Owner: Hannah Munro, Portmahomack