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Helmsdale’s 2nd Dog Show

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Winners in the Best Veteran category

Twenty-seven hardy dogs and their owners gathered in a damp Helmsdale for our 2nd Helmsdale Dog Show at the Community Centre on Saturday. Local residents were joined by visitors from the West Coast and Invershin for 11 competition categories, ranging from Best Veteran to Best Biscuit Catcher and Dog the Judge Would Most Like to Take Home.


Judge for the day was professional dog trainer Annabell Smith from Aunty Annabell’s Daytime Adventure who had her work cut out for her as she assessed the condition, behaviour and skills of 20 different breeds of dog.

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Best in Show Boorah the Irish Setter with owner Billy

Best in Show saw Vinnie the Yorkie (Best Veteran) go up against Archie the Cairn Terrier (Best Small Dog) and Tess the Pointer Cross Setter (Best Cross Breed) who all narrowly missed out to Pepper the Labrador (who won Best Large Dog) who was runner up and overall winner Boorach the Irish Setter. Boorach, who had previously excelled in the Best Pedigree category, and his owner Billy Cowie received a special rosette as well as a bag of Burns natural pet food. As well as providing this winning prize, Burns also donated goodie bags for all entrants containing a range of treats, while sponsorship from Easter Ross Vets funded the rosettes.

Other winners on the day included Sophie Sparkles the Lhasa Apso for Best Trick, Katie the Collie for Best Biscuit Catcher, Chilli the Chocolate Labrador for Waggiest Tail, and young Charlotte was awarded Best Young Handler alongside Jake the Fox Terrier Cross Jack Russell. After much deliberation Annabell chose Goose the Pointer Cross Labrador as the dog she would most like to take home.

Annabell also brought along her dog agility equipment, allowing everyone a chance to see how well their dog coped with the tunnel, the slalom or the jump.

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Winners of the Best Young Handler

A well-received pop-up café serving an array of sandwiches, quiches, cakes, and hot and cold beverages was open in the Community Centre hall alongside stalls selling the work and goods of Alsorts Arts and Crafts, Highland Hounds, Highland Candles, the SSPCA, Anne Rutt Arts and Crafts, Kenny’s of Brora and Munlochy Animal Aid. Further support for the event was given by The Bunilidh Rowing Club, Pet Pals Pet Shop (Lairg), Bliss Brora, Marine Hotel Brora, Glenmorangie, Nicki Hughes and Alder Holly and ITC Dog First Aid Courses.

Wendy Simmonds, our Project Lead at The Helmsdale Hub who organised the event, said: “We were concerned that the bad weather would have put people off, but it didn’t seem to phase the dogs or their owners at all. We had a fantastic team of volunteers, as well as Annabell our judge, who worked really hard on the day and we couldn’t have managed it without them. We’ve had some very positive feedback and it was great to see so many familiar faces from last year’s show as well as new dogs and others who had travelled from further afield to join us. Our sponsors, exhibitors and those who contributed prizes for the raffle and tombola were very generous this year and we’d like to thank them for all they did to support this really enjoyable event.”

Introducing Art & A Blether

In May we began a series of six sessions of our new Art & A Blether project. A number of local budding artists signed up to join us for the course, which will see them try their hand at various art techniques, such as clay modelling, water colours, drawing/sketching and glass painting.

The sessions are followed by our new Pop-up Cafe, which supports participants to connect and socialise with others.

Art & A Blether came about following some local research carried out in early 2017. We asked the community what type of classes they would be interested in attending and there was a strong response for art. This is just the first of a number of classes we will be organising going forward and we hope to run another course of these classes again in the future.

If you are based in East Sutherland and are interested in finding out more about future art classes or other classes we may be running then please do contact us.

Men’s Shed open for business

On 17th February the sun was out for the launch of the new Men’s Shed in Helmsdale. Dr Paul Monaghan, our local MP, was on hand to cut the ribbon as men in attendance wielded a range of new and donated tools.

The Shed, constructed between September last year and February, is located next to Helmsdale Community Centre on disused piece of land leased from Helmsdale and District Community Association. The idea for a Men’s Shed in the village came from Helmsdale-based Creative Communities and was made possible with a grant from SSE’s Gordonbush community benefit fund.

The event was opened by Creative Communities’ Steve Henderson who explained the social and emotional benefits that Men’s Sheds have proven to bring to men since the concept was originally introduced in Australia. A cheque for £1,000 was presented to Bunillidh Rowing Club, who built the shed, and thanks were also given to those who donated the windows, tools by Dementia Friendly Communities and Helmsdale District Development Trust, along with a number of local organisations and personnel who contributed by providing discount on purchased items and significant contributions in time to expedite the build.  The Men’s Shed sign at the entrance to the Shed was hand-crafted by Alan Bithell, a Golspie resident, who was made aware of the Helmsdale Men’s Shed through Veteran’s First Point visits to Helmsdale.

The event was attended by over 20 people including local residents and representatives from SSE, Evanton Wood Community Company, Veterans First Point Highland and Woodland Trust Scotland. Attendees were treated to pies, sausage rolls, chips and beans as well as freshly baked cakes and a specially prepared Men’s Shed cake given by Margaret Finlayson.

The Helmsdale Men’s Shed is now one of almost 50 Sheds in Scotland and is a member of the Scottish Men’s Shed Association. If you are interested in finding out more about the Shed then you can drop in between 10am and 3pm, Mon through Fri, or call 01431 821655.

Community Christmas dinner in Helmsdale

Helmsdale Community Christmas Dinner took place earlier this month at the Community Centre with more than 80 members of the local community enjoying a freshly cooked meal, carol singing and great company.

This year’s dinner was provided by the team behind our Dinner To Your Door service, which launched in September. Chef Margaret Finlayson, with her team of volunteer serving and waiting staff, had hot roast dinners in front of everyone in less than fifteen minutes and service of the Christmas pudding and Eton Mess desserts was equally efficient.

Wendy Simmonds, Project Lead for the Helmsdale Health and Well-being Hub, led the carol singing with glorious renditions of Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

Karina Ross, Social Programme Manager for our sister-company Creative Communities and organiser of the Community Christmas Dinner said “The event wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for our volunteers. Making sure everything went smoothly was a definite team effort. Everyone got stuck in and did what needed to be done. The feedback we got from people was fantastic.”

All proceeds from the raffle and additional donations on the night were split equally between Dinner To Your Door and the Helmsdale Christmas Lights Committee.

The celebration continued outside the Community Centre as the Sutherland School’s Pipe Band made their way along Dunrobin Street and gave an outstanding performance in the Helmsdale Community Centre car park. This was followed by the switching on of the Community Centre’s Christmas lights and a firework display wowed the crowds.


Dog therapy at the Hub

Yesterday at the Helmsdale Village Hub we welcomed Bess the collie and her owner Nikki. Bess is a PAT (Pet As Therapy) dog and has been assessed to make sure she is safe to work with both older and younger people.

Bess was a huge hit with one of our Hub members in particular. Hub staff found themselves getting quite emotional at how attached she immediately became to Bess and how happy she was for the rest of the afternoon. The lady had once owned a collie herself and spoke enthusiastically about her experience as a dog owner. A number of our other members also reminisced about old family dogs as well.

We are hoping to see Bess back at the Hub again very soon!

Work begins on Men’s Shed

We were delighted to learn in September that a funding application made to SSE to get our Men’s Shed built and in working order was successful. The support from SSE, through the Gordonbush Community Fund, is enabling us to run our own shed, a project which has taken off in numerous countries around the world.

An area at the side of Helmsdale Community Centre has been earmarked for the project. We are now beginning to work closely with Bunillidh Rowing Club, who will build the shed for us.

The picture above shows where the shed will be located and shows how the area looks now. Updates on the project as it progresses will be available on our Men’s Shed page.

Interactive screens installed

At the end of September, five 65″ interactive screens were installed at various locations across East Sutherland to support greater collaboration and engagement with those both inside and outside of our area. This project is part of the work done within East Sutherland to test the 8 Pillars Model of Community Support.

screens2.jpgThe original idea came from a tweet we posted back in December 2013. In the tweet we asked whether it would be possible to get an art therapist to visit us in the rural Highlands or, failing that, if there were any creative solutions. This was where the idea of the interactive screens was born and it is now being put into action.

On Wednesday 28th September screens were installed at the Helmsdale Village Hub, The Bradbury Centre in Bonar Bridge and Migdale Hospital in Bonar Bridge. The following day further screens were delivered to Seaforth House care home in Golspie and Brora Village Hub.

screens1.jpgSince the installation, the screens are being tried and tested while the staff get to know how to use them effectively and for the benefit of their residents or members. Webcams will be installed very soon and links will be made between the screens via Skype. From there a more detailed plan will be established for how the screens can be used most effectively to support communication and collaboration.

More details will be available on our interactive screens page as the project progresses.

Life Changes Trust dementia conference

On 21st September, five representatives from DFC headed down to Perth for the Life Changes Trust dementia in the community conference. The conference was an opportunity for all groups receiving funding from Life Changes Trust to share their progress and successes so far.

lct-opening.jpgOur founder and Chair, Ann Pascoe, was co-presenter of the conference alongside DFC Director Agnes Houston, who is living with dementia. Ann and Agnes opened the event and we were then shown a short film about just some of the projects receiving funding.

Those groups receiving the funding fall into two categories: those that are running geographical dementia friendly communities (or trying to make a particular place dementia friendly) and activity-based dementia friendly programmes.

lct-sporting-memoriesThe first presentation was given by Chris Wilkins who runs Sporting Memories. They are doing some great work by using sport to help tackle dementia, depression and loneliness through talking about and raking part in sport. A key message we took away from Chris’ presentation was that there is no prescriptive model from one group to the next.

Ann then took to the stage, giving an overview of the work we have been doing in Helmsdale and how, in the past five years she had gone from a lone carer with no support to having circles of care surrounding her and her husband.

lct dancing.jpgA presentation on the work underway by Festival and King’s Theatres in Edinburgh to make their buildings and performances more dementia friendly gave a clear indication that they are listening to the voices of people living with dementia. Their work is very exciting and they have some really fun initiatives and performances coming up.

The morning was finished off with a fabulous performance from Centrestage’s Gie it Laldy group. The audience were moved to tears and singing along with happiness in equal measure. Such a fantastic project and worth seeing the group performing live if the opportunity arises.

Plenty of networking took place over lunch with exhibition stands showcasing some of the projects being funded. There was a real buzz about the place with everyone desperate to meet up with others to discuss their learning and potential collaboration.

lct workshop.jpgThe afternoon was divided into two sessions with everyone given the a choice from a variety of topics. While some of the DFC contingent found themselves singing and dancing, others were learning more about progress made in other areas of Scotland and partaking in group work around organising an event.

The conference came to a close with a Q&A with some of the representatives from the groups. A highlight was a story from a lady called Helen who attends the West Dunbartonshire dementia friendly communities allotment. Helen shared a wonderful tale of a time that she got lost in M&S and how valuable the help from a staff member had been.

Agnes, alongside Life Changes Trust’s Anna Buchanan closed the event with the message that the conference had been such a success due to people living with dementia being at the heart of it.

8 Pillars’ Report-out Conference

In 2014, East Sutherland was chosen by the Scottish Government as a test site for the 8 Pillars Model of Community Support. After two years of testing, the project has now concluded with results presented at a conference in Inverness on 23rd August. To find out more about the 8 Pillars Model of Community Support see our dedicated page.

The testing of the 8 Pillars in East Sutherland was a joint collaboration between NHS Highland, Alzheimer Scotland and DFC. The report-out event highlighted some of the progress made and challenges faced during the test.

The event was opened by Michael Perera, Community Mental Health Services Manager of NHS Highland and Chair of the 8 Pillars Steering Committee. David Alston, Chair of NHS Highland, spoke of the Spanish-artist Francisco Goya and, in particular, his painting ‘Aún aprendo’ or ‘I am Still Learning’ in respect of the 8 Pillars aims and how this is taken forward in the future.

The former Dementia Practice Coordinator, Lynda Forrest, described the efforts that were made to gather the thoughts, experiences and concerns of carers of local people with dementia. One of the most notable findings from this work was the recommendation that groups offering support shouldn’t just wait for them to ask for help, but should step in before crisis point is reached.

Sarah Muir, Project Lead for Veterans First Point, presented a timeline of events that led to the introduction of an interactive screen at the Helmsdale Well-being Hub. From a simple tweet about the chances of getting someone in to do some training locally, the project progressed through social media engagement with people with dementia and others and now onto a plan to introduce interactive screens to four further locations within East Sutherland and the surrounding area. The plan is to use the screens to aid communication between all five locations as well as services in Inverness.

Ann Pascoe described the role of DFC in the project and the work that is being done on the ground. Using positive case studies to highlight the impact of the work being done, Ann provided the community perspective. Michael Perera offered the perspective of NHS Highland on the work that has been done and the impact they have seen in the area of mental health. Patricia Howie from NHS Education for Scotland showcased what is now on offer to support promoting excellence across the 8 Pillar Model on a national level.

Catriona Watt, a Partner from Anderson Strathern, worked closely with DFC on the ethics around the use of GPS devices for people with dementia and explained the legalities behind it.

Ruth Mantle, Dementia Nurse Consultant for NHS Highland, described the learning from the test site, and in particular a presentation given in the Highlands by Dr Al Power from the USA, in relation to therapeutic interventions and recognising the underlying causes of some behaviours. The message that intervention should address the causes rather than the behaviours was a real take-away from Ruth’s presentation.

Sutherland District Manager Lorraine Coe and Lynda Forrest co-presented on the role of the Dementia Practice Coordinator in a rural setting. The testing had highlighted the need for the post to be carried out by somebody with good all-round knowledge and not someone who only specialises in one area. Lynda described how her role has encompassed a variety of tasks, including booking appointments, knowing who to speak to when a problem needed to be solved, and being able to build a relationship of trust with local people with dementia and their families.

Douglas Philips, Team Lead for Dementia at Focus on Dementia (part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland), reported back on findings from across Scotland presented at a national evaluation meeting earlier in the month. The key messages nationally were; that systems need to be ready for change in respect of resources and their impact, and sustainability; the importance of the role of the Dementia Practice Coordinator; the value of investment in knowledge; how essential it is to secure carer input and provide support; and the emphasis on therapeutic interventions that have made a difference.

Mr Philips also gave an overview of the focus of Scotland’s third Dementia Strategy, due to be launched later this year.

Alongside DFC, exhibitors at the conference were Alzheimer Scotland, Focus on Dementia, NHS Education for Scotland, the Technology Enabled Care Programme, and Lochaber Care & Repair.

DFC would like to thank all who attended the event and have supported the project or contributed to it over the past two years. DFC’s next steps now will be to consider the legacy that will be left following the great work that has been done.

Presentations from the event are available on our Presentations page.