Hamish creates the Olympic spirit for Hawick

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Former Hawick provost Zandra Elliot recalled this week that when she learned the Olympic torch, right, would be bypassing her home town on its way to London, she was not in the least perturbed, writes Andrew Keddie.

“I knew by then that we would have our very own Hawick torch and a great time celebrating sport in all the schools in and around the town in a spirit which chimes with the Olympic ethos and the wonderful example of the late, great Bill McLaren,” said Councillor Elliot.

But she admitted this week she was “stunned and thrilled” by the craftsmanship of local jeweller Hamish Smith who had agreed to take on the task of producing a scale model of the Olympic torch with the special twist of having the symbolic five conjoined circles replaced with Hawick’s famous Horse.

“It is a true work of art which, thanks to Hamish’s generosity, is not costing the town a penny,” enthused Mrs Elliot after getting a sneak preview of the torch in Hamish’s Bourtree Place shop.

The wider Hawick public got the chance to glimpse and wonder at his handiwork yesterday morning when he officially handed it over to the Vision 2014 committee in the Heart of Hawick cinema.

The ceremony was hosted by Ian Landles and Judith Murray of the Bill McLaren Foundation, along with Janice Chapman, head teacher of Burnfoot Primary and chair of the Vision 2014 committee – set up to mark the 500th anniversary of Hawick Common Riding.

An audience, including eight pupils from each of the nine schools within the Teviot and Liddesdale learning community, heard that, because of the Olympic Games, 2012 had been designated the year of sport as part of the Vision 2014 programme. Last year the focus was on culture, next year will feature industry and 2014 will, appropriately, concentrate on heritage.

“This torch, and the huge amount of skill and dedication that has gone into it, epitomises all that we are trying to achieve in promoting sport and comradeship among all our young people,” said Mrs Chapman.

The torch began its journey in Burnfoot yesterday afternoon when it was brought by car to the Kenilworth Avenue shopping precinct to be greeted by Mrs Chapman and her 300 pupils before being borne in procession to the school. It will reside there, on a plinth also crafted by Hamish, until February 1 when it will be taken by Burnfoot pupils on a bicycle ride, headed by Hamish and fellow cycling club pal Tosh Scott, to Denholm.

The torch will be on display at each port of call for a fortnight and will move around the area’s schools alphabetically. So, in the run-up to this year’s common riding (June 8), it will then travel to Drumlanrig, Hawick High, Hobkirk, Stirches, Trinity and Wilton.

While the common riding is being enjoyed, the torch will be at it most far-flung outpost at Newcastleton, but it will return to the town on June 14 for a self-styled “opening ceremony” in the Volunteer Park, marking the onset of all the schools’ individual sports days.

“Each school is developing special sporting events to co-incide with the torch’s visit,” explained Mrs Chapman.

“At Burnfoot, there will be special extra curricular activities, including indoor bowling and badminton, while the health and wellbeing theme, as exemplified by the Olympics, will feature in the curriculum of all children.”

Each P4-7 pupil is being given a so-called Olympic “passport” with which points, leading to medals and certificates, can be earned over a range of sporting events.

Hamish said that when he volunteered to realise Mrs Chapman’s vision of Hawick having its own Olympic torch, he had no idea of the work involved.

“I really must learn to say no,” he joked yesterday. “I’ve spent countless hours on it, but the comments I’ve had about the finished article and the positive affect it will have in bringing Hawick together in Olympic year make it all worthwhile.

“It’s been a case of trial and error attempting to create, as near as possible, an 80cm-high replica of the original. There were difficulties getting the correct weight, dimensions, proportions and particularly the quirky curvature of the original.

“After many trial runs, I settled on the light-weight, gold-coloured aluminium used by jewellers and adapted Christmas lights, powered by strong torch batteries, with lights twinkling through hundreds of hand-drilled holes and activated by a hidden switch. The effect is really brilliant and, of course, it’s topped off with the Hawick Horse.”