Each month we will be profiling one of our board members or staff to help you get to know them.
What is your role at SRA?
I am a Director, and a member of several SRA working groups, but with a special interest on the development of rural business, land use and housing, local democracy and digital connectivity.
How did you get involved with SRA?
For many years I have been very actively involved in trying to make my very rural community a better place to live, as Chair of our Community Council and also a Director of our local development Trust.
I have seen jobs disappear because of the afforestation of over one third of my Parish and the modernisation of farming techniques. As a consequence my local school closed because there were not enough school-aged children; this resulted in more jobs lost and a further decline in the local wellbeing. The school further down the valley is now under threat for the same reason.
I wanted to reverse this downward spiral of decline and saw the first Scottish Rural Parliament (SRP) in Oban in 2014 as an opportunity to listen to what others had done or were doing to make things better; I wanted to meet the right people and learn from them.
To my surprise people at the SRP also wanted to know what I had done to make things better in my community. In the “Open Space” session I put forward a notion entitled “How to get the voice of my community heard” and found my table full for the whole session. Many ideas were exchanged and I was encouraged to see that I was on the right track.
At the Open Space afternoon at second SRP in Brechin in 2016, I put forward a notion entitled “How I got the voice of my community heard” and, again, my table was full for the session. This made me realise that I should keep going as I was locally, but also let others know how we were doing things so they could progress. I saw SRA as the best available tool to help rural communities and put my name forward as a potential director.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born at a very early age in Perth, almost opposite the Dewar’s distillery in Glover Street. My Dad was in the Civil Service and we seemed to move every few years, from Perth we went to Exeter then London, then Portsmouth. From there I left home to be a Customs officer. In that role I spent a few years in London, then to Dover and Bristol before being promoted back to London. There I was enticed by a doubling of my salary into the “Big 6” accountancy firms (as it was then) to be a Customs and International Trade Consultant.
After a few years in a very successful team of 4 ex-customs officers, we realised that we were grossly underpaid (even though we were earning four times the civil Service salary) and we started our own business, doubling our salary again and employing 10 others on the journey. Seven years later, now aged 50, I realised that London was not the place for me anymore, so I was bought out and moved back home to Scotland to buy The Tushielaw Inn!
Apart from filling the dream of being a publican, the Inn was in a most beautiful Borders valley and it leased a Loch, laden with wild brown trout. Ettrick Water, one of Scotland’s finest salmon rivers, ran by the foot of the garden – I could not say no to buying the place! Perfect for nice lifestyle on the way to retirement I thought.
I was so wrong in thinking that running an Inn would be a doddle. It was really hard work in the peak months and although we made a good living from it, after falling through the outside stairs and really damaging my back, after just four and a half years, we sold it and moved across the road to the old stable.
And that’s how I became the local handyman.
For the next ten years I did everything possible to earn a living to keep my wife and two boys comfortable, and wanting for nothing. I became skilled at gardening, painting and decorating, fitting kitchens and bathrooms, roofing, rodding sewers and fitting private water supplies. Being 15 miles from the nearest town meant that tradesmen would not venture out for smallish jobs, so I gratefully filled the gap.
My boys were aged 6 and 8 when we moved from London. They went to the local school to bump up the attendance to about 11. The teacher taught everything to all the pupils. The school closed a few years ago; it may now be used as a base for the local development trust, if we can buy a local forest.
What’s the best and worst thing about where you live?
I love the beauty of the place; not just the scenery but also the people. The community spirit is strong and we all know, respect and help each other.
The only really bad thing about living in our valley is the digital connectivity. Broadband is poor and unreliable (BT have rearranged maintenance so that engineers know nothing of the locality and the people; repairs used to take just a day or so, but now it is a week). The nearest mobile signal can typically be ten miles or more away.
There is no public transport.
What do you do in your spare time?
In the last 18 months I have taken up golf again, despite my arthritis. I do really feel so much fitter now. I also do a bit of fly fishing in Ettrick Water. I also like to take my caravan away a few times each year.
My son got me involved in fantasy football. I have a team in his work league and it gives me a bit of interest and an excuse to watch football on the TV. I love pitting my skills in buying players and selecting my team each week.
What rural issues are you passionate about?
Reversing the decline in rural Scotland. Having seen my valley go down hill in recent years and knowing that I was fully employed as the local handyman, I am certain that there are plenty of opportunities available for employment locally. Even though I have “retired” from heavy duty work, I still get asked for help with smaller jobs that qualified trades will not entertain, especially with plumbing.
I am convinced that the best way to reverse rural decline is to grasp the opportunities provided by the advent of superfast broadband and the change in laws around empty properties and planning. I feel that an affordable home combined with an affordable workplace, and a good connection to the internet must offer the chance for more local tradesmen and women, and the opportunity to work at home.
Where did you last go on holiday?
The Maragowan Caravan Park at Killin. My wife and I love it there because the hotel by the site has live music every weekend for most of the year, and there are a good selection of restaurants providing gluten free food, including fish and chips! My wife is a coeliac. But it’s the beauty of the lochs and glens that are the best feature of this highland escape; there’s something about the grandeur of the area that gets my chest heaving.
What are some small things that make your day better?
- A five minute stroll to the nearby bridge to take in the view of my valley over Ettrick Water certainly lifts my heart. It somehow makes me feel more positive about life, and glad to be where I am.
- Doing well at Ken Bruce’s pop master.
- Seeing Arsenal play well and win (sadly not so often these days!).
- Best of all is having all the family here at Christmas; although there’s 10 of us staying in the house, it is just a joy to see them all having a great time together at our annual gathering.
What would you say to someone interested in volunteering with SRA?
If you care about your community and have an urge to try and make things better, then do not hesitate to get involved. Don’t sit back; we need good people who can help shape rural Scotland for the future.