Charities get share of £5.3 million Highland Cross funds

The community behind the annual Highland Cross fundraiser came together to mark another year of giving at a ceremony in Inverness. Five Highland charities were awarded new vehicles or funding on November 20 after being selected to benefit from the proceeds of this summer’s event.

The Cross, which has taken place for the last 37 years, sees participants run or walk 20 miles from Kintail on the west coast to Glen Affric before cycling 30 miles into Beauly on the east. Teams of three are tasked with raising a minimum of £500.

At an official handover of funds at VW Hawco Inverness, Highland Cross treasurer John Fraser revealed this year’s event had raised £286,121 – the second highest total raised in a single year. It brings the total raised by the event since its inception in 1983 to £5.3 million.

The top fundraising team was Lovat Lungbusters, consisting of Simon Lovat, Jack Fraser and Max Konig, who raised £6,315.

Mr Fraser added: “Across the board the average raised by teams was over £1,000 and the appreciation shown by fundraisers of the support given to them during the event by volunteers and the Highland community was immense.

“Highland Cross’s philosophy continues to be that of ensuring that every penny of sponsorship funds goes to Highland charities as the running costs of the event are met entirely by entry fees, company sponsors and volunteers.”

The five main beneficiaries of this year’s Highland Cross funds were:

Birchwood Highland

Birchwood Highland is the leading provider of mental health recovery in the Highlands, working with individuals to help them live independently, reduce isolation and promote “independence, inclusion and recovery”.

It operates a purpose-built recovery centre where residents live in flats and bedsits and staff support them to build self confidence and improve their wellbeing. Funds from the Highland Cross will go towards refurbishing and modernising the centre, which first opened in 2008.

Annabel Mowat accepted a cheque for £60,000 on behalf of the charity, and she said it was hard to put into words how much it meant to them.

She said: “We very much adopt an outward-looking approach,  encouraging people to become active members of their own community as far as they want and are able.

Annabel Mowat of Birchwood Highland (left) accepts a cheque for £60,000 for the charity.

“We are a not-for-profit organisation on a tight budget and needing to maintain our building as a modern mental health recovery centre. Having a nice bright, modern environment is so important and, we feel, condusive to mental wellbeing.

“Thanks to the generosity of spirit of the organisers, participants and sponsors, on behalf of everyone at Birchwood Highland, I want you to know just how much this award will mean to us and to sincerely thank you.”

Cantraybridge College

Cantraybridge is the Highlands’ unique further education college for young adults with additional support needs, where young people with a learning disability and/or autism are helped to fulfil their potential.

The college received a cheque for £58,993 for its new wheelchair-adapted minibus to replace a dilapidated model that was unable to take wheelchair users. The bus will be used to take students to and from college, for educational outings and to attend health, social and leisure activities. They also plan to welcome school groups and older people’s groups to the college to enjoy the scenery and cafe.

Miriam Veals said they were delighted to be part of the Highland Cross – so much so that they will return next year to help out the organisers – and even more delighted to accept the cheque for their new minibus.

“A lot of the youngsters that come to us have had a torrid time at school and have been written off. They come to Cantraybridge and all of a sudden everything there is normal for them and they have a really good life.

“We have a range of vocational pathways that we put the students through, from working in our cafe, we’ve got a working farm, they learn horticulture, wood skills and we’ve also got a residential side to our college where a lot of young people learn some very important independent living skills.

“We want to be able to expand the service that we give to our young people to people who have physical disabilities and this cheque is going to allow us to do that. The vehicle that we are going to be purchasing can be adapted for wheelchair users, which means we can expand our service to a much wider range of people who desperately need the kind of service that we can offer them.”

New Start Highland

New Start Highland received £35,568 for a new sprinter van – which was waiting for them to collect at the event – to help deliver essential furniture and starter packs to the most vulnerable people in the Highlands. The charity says it will collect over 3,000 loads of furniture from members of the public over the next year and redistribute them to people who need them most.

John MacDonald of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service presents a cheque for £35,568 to New Start Highland’s James Dunbar.

James Dunbar thanked Highland Cross for the cheque for New Start Highland and said: “New Start Highland is in its 20th year of delivering services. We’re a community response to homelessness and unfortunately we’re in a place where poverty is actually increasing. We provide furniture packs and starter packs to enable people to get out of poverty.

“Many years ago we were gifted out first van by the Highland Cross – it was a fabulous van that travelled the length and breadth of the Highlands. That van covered almost a quarter of a million miles, and I’m told that is around 10 times around the world.

“We asked Highland Cross to help us buy this new van. It too will collect and deliver furniture the length and breadth of the Highlands, from Caithness in the north to Lochaber in the south.

“And my thanks are to you, the people of the Highland Cross – those who give your time and your energy, your talent, your organising skills. Thank you on behalf of the charities you help, on behalf of the people those charities are able to help, we sincerely thank you so much.”

Puffin Hydrotherapy Pool

The Puffin Hydrotherapy Pool in Dingwall provides specialist hydrotherapy services for people of all ages in the Highlands, particularly those who have been recommended for attention by a health professional. These users include those recovering from surgery, people with long-term conditions such as arthritis, back pain, stroke or multiple sclerosis, people with learning disabilities and those with severe disabilities.

The charity was presented with a £40,000 cheque from the Highland Cross to help it renew the heating and air handling systems so it can continue to provide these vital services for approximately 32,000 uses a year, with 68 sessions held each week.

Dr Helen Charley said the equipment may not be the most ‘sexy’ but it was essential to keep the pool running and up to the correct temperature.

She added: “This is actually the third time that the Puffin Pool has been very thankful to the Highland Cross.

Puffin Pool representatives Dr Helen Charley and Hugh MacKay receive a cheque for £40,000 from James Campbell (left) and Mhairi Wylie (right).

“The first time was when the pool opened in 1996, the next time was when we put a biomass boiler in because of course our heating bills are huge and this way a way of reducing those, and as the pool is now 22 years old some of the plant was beginning to creak, so this time your money has gone towards some rather uninteresting bits of kit!

“However, it is incredibly important and it has helped us hugely to keep the temperature up to what it should be. I’d like to say thank you so much for everything you do.”

SNAP (Special Needs Action Project)

SNAP provides leisure and recreation opportunities for over 80 young people with substantial special needs, offering after-school clubs, holiday leisure schemes, Saturday outings and weekend breaks, which also provides much-needed respite for families and carers.

The charity received £37,046 for a new minibus to replace its existing vehicle, which was donated by the Highland Cross back in 2012. The bus is used every day to help transport people to and from home, access various facilities and activities within the community. The young people named the old minibus SNAPPIE, and the charity says it is more than just transportation – it is an important part of the young people’s SNAP experience.

SNAP’s Dawn Walker (left) and Jenni Campbell accept a cheque for £37,046 from Mark Hedderwick of Kilmorack Community Council.

Jenni Campbell and Dawn Walker said the continued support from the Highland Cross was very much appreciated.

Jenni Campbell added: “We want to get across how important this bus is to us – not just the staff but the kids as well. We don’t have our own building or a place that is ours; what we do have is our bus.

“Every adventure we go on usually starts with a selfie on the bus and a picture speaks a thousand words of how much they love doing what they do. We know that what we do is invaluable to our family and our kids but we wouldn’t be able to do it without our bus. We’re looking forward to all the new memories we’re going to make on the new bus.”

A number of smaller grants totalling £56,000 will also be distributed to charities across the north of Scotland from surplus funds.

On the night, there was also a special award for Dr Mark Janssens, who has been the ‘flying doctor’ at the event for many years until his retirement after this year’s event.

Dr Mark Janssens receives a special momento for his many years of service to the Highland Cross as the ‘flying doctor’.

The application list for participants in the 2020 event, which takes place on June 20th, is already closed due to being oversubscribed.

Calum Munro, organising secretary and co-founder of the Highland Cross, said: “With the 37th staging of the Highland Cross brought to this amazing conclusion, we are now well into the planning for the 38th Highland Cross! Over a third of a century of service to Highland communities is something that the wonderful team of volunteers, sponsors and supporting organisations can be justly proud of.

“Highland Cross exists to raise money for medical and social causes in the north of Scotland and with the continued efforts of the fantastic community that creates the Highland Cross, we look forward to supporting yet more hardworking causes in 2020.”

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