Accommodation block on TV as university project hits elderly viewers

Iris Johnstone with the continuing problem of the digital television pixellating at her Kingsknowe village home in Galashiels.
Iris Johnstone with the continuing problem of the digital television pixellating at her Kingsknowe village home in Galashiels.
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Elderly residents living in Kingsknowes retirement village, opposite the construction site of the new Heriot Watt student accomodation block in Galashiels, have reported months of disruption to their Freeview TV reception.

The careworker who raised the alarm said: “It was concerning because some of these people don’t see anybody but carers all day. All they have is their television.”

Since many of the residents, who are in their seventies, eighties and nineties, have few visitors and seldom leave their houses, the months of disruption only recently emerged as a shared problem, with most blaming the trouble on the rising storeys across the road.

Every house TheSouthern visited reported disruption with TV reception, where none had existed before construction work started on the multi-million-pound Gateway hall of residence at Netherdale in Galashiels.

“The signal is spasmodic,” confirmed one 91-year-old Kingsknowes resident: “It’s the only thing I’ve got to take up my time. I don’t see any of my neighbours.”

“The TV reception’s not been good. I couldn’t get on the thing,” reported Margaret Hendrie, 84. “I couldn’t work out what was wrong – it had never gone wrong before. I think it’s the new building. I just live on my own, and when you’re on your own you’re lonely. The TV gives me some company. Oh I was fair pleased this morning when I switched it on and it was working!”

“All that she’s got is the TV,” said a concerned neighbour of Mrs Hendrie: “That row of houses have it hard. I had no idea it was going to be such an eyesore. Gone is our lovely village!”

Norman and Iris Johnstone, aged 77 and 75 respectively, live in No 9, directly opposite the five-storey accommodation block. Both suffered strokes on the same side of their bodies, which has impaired their mobility. “TV is essential to our day,” Iris said. “The picture goes on and off, lines go across the screen – it pixellates. It must be the building out there. We’ve had disruptions since they started in June, and it got worse the higher the building went.”

“All of a sudden it just goes, and I can’t make out the picture at all: it’s just impossible,” their upstairs neighbour Margaret Baxter, 72, at No 10, confirmed.

“It’s not all the channels: just Freeview. I’m here most nights so I need my TV. It wasn’t so bad when the buildings were low. I just thought my TV was on the blink. I only found out it was affecting my neighbours as well yesterday. At No 17 there’s no reception at all. She doesn’t get out. Her life is her TV.”

“I phoned up the council but they said they couldn’t do anything,” she said “I asked: ‘Then what can we do?’ They said we should contact our MSP, which is what I’m doing.”

On the other side of the court in No 28, Mrs Meine, 68, a resident of Kingsknowes for 10 years, reported: “My telly just cuts out. Just goes blank. I don’t ken why: I’ve never had a problem with my TV before, but it just started in the past three months. It mostly happens at night time. I don’t keep good health, so the telly is my lifeline.”

One block higher up was unaffected, and Alan Henderson, 77, of No 43, a former TV engineer, was quick with an explanation: “The new Heriot Watt building is blocking signal from the Selkirk mast. We’re OK, because we’ve got a wee communal aerial in the loft which is clearing the building. That one wee aerial is serving our whole block.”

Asked why it has taken so long for the problem to emerge, one resident said: “It’s a lovely place, but people keep to themselves. I think you’re that relieved once it comes back on again that you don’t bother complaining.”

A spokeswoman from Heriot-Watt University thanked TheSouthern for bringing the issue to their attention, adding: “The project organiser has instructed a specialist TV engineer on to the site within the next two days and he will be checking the reported issues and what might be causing them. We will then take the necessary steps to contact affected residents and to see what can be done to solve their reception problems.”