Galvinising community spirit to win the war against winter

JIM FRASER, a former senior fireman who is now Scottish Borders Council’s emergency planning officer, admitted last week he was “staggered” at the positive level of response to a new self-help initiative to help deal with the chaos of winter, writes Andrew Keddie.

Mr Fraser revealed that about half of the region’s 66 community councils had expressed an interest in adopting community resilience plans (CRPs) and these would be implemented later this month, in the first instance, in Oxton/Channelkirk and Yetholm.

“A resilient community is achieved by using a framework, specific to community council areas, to deal with emergencies including severe weather, floods, fires or major transport incidents,” he explained.

“This is not in any way a method by which this council or our emergency service partners can reduce their response to the kind of severe weather we have experienced over the last two winters. It is intended to support and enhance that response.

“The ethos of the plan is to co-ordinate voluntary support and assistance, similar to existing successful flooding self-help groups, and use local knowledge to clear snow from pathways of people who are unable to do it and may have to get to important hospital appointments for essential treatment like dialysis or chemotherapy.

“Crucially, the plan, in which local knowledge and excellent communications with statutory services, including the council and emergency services are vital components, would include arrangements to clear snow from school and nursery playgrounds to keep these facilities open when SBC is dealing with the clearing of key routes.”

He said that CRPs, with designated volunteer roles, were particularly effective in communities with high proportions of elderly people or in rural areas more exposed to severe weather conditions.

He cited the Yetholm area where nearly 35 per cent of the population of 591 were of pensionable age, compared with just 10 per cent in Tweedbank.

In severe snow, volunteers would help care for vulnerable people, clear snow from community buildings, assist in moving residents to a safe place, arrange delivery of supplies and fuels, and set up a central point for rubbish collection.

“This is an opportunity for all within specific areas to volunteer in a meaningful way, thus serving to galvinise community spirit all year round, which has got to be a good thing,” said Mr Fraser.

He announced that the British Red Cross would give a grant to support the initiative in the Borders and that the first batch of fluorescent jackets, torches and hard hats would be delivered this week to Oxton and Channelkirk. First aid training will be offered to volunteers in resilient communities.