In this article Mhairi Aileen Smeir, tells us about plans for an Arran Arboretum and ways you can get involved.
Many of you may remember the launch of The Isle of Arran’s first U3A group on January the 28th 2020 in Brodick Church hall which was so busy folk had to sit in the balcony. U3A is short for The University of the third age and is open to anyone who is no longer in full time work, there are no age restrictions and our membership definitely belie the idea that this is a group for retired folk, looking for a quiet life. Unfortunately by our first meeting in February, lockdown threatened as the Pandemic struck. Our 127 very enthusiastic members with their 27 activity groups were brought to an abrupt standstill. However, determined to continue our fledgling U3A, a helpline was established, a volunteer group organised, a chat and check rota quickly emerged so that no one was left isolated, and our group leaders began finding ways to keep groups running on line, by email and telephone. Throughout the lockdown the members found ways to help our community, U3A or otherwise. Deliveries of all kinds, Birthday cakes to compost, food to seedlings, computer repairs and sewing masks, medicine to dog walking, there was no end of variety.
All through lockdown our members were overwhelmed by the help and consideration shown to them by the NHS staff, and Medical Group. Everyone at Arran War memorial Hospital, the front line who were keeping us all safe. The Ambulance, Police and services that supported them and the carers, official and unofficial, seen and unseen. The Brodick Co-op management, staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly, the food bank volunteers all kept folk miraculously fed and watered. The Lamlash hub with its gang of volunteers out around the island, the dedication of the care home staff, Arran Haulage drivers and admin, Lochranza centre with super meals on wheels, literally a life saving service. The Blackwaterfoot delivery service. The Pharmacy staff who worked so hard to make sure our vital medicines arrived on time, no easy thing in these strange times. Arran Delivery drivers, the multitude of essential support workers around the island who continued to reach us all with vital supplies. CalMac management and staff who kept the lifeline ferry running, despite great difficulty and when faced with the frustrations of a locked down public. Our dedicated posties almost overwhelmed by amazon parcels, delivered the goods that kept us happy. From Kilmory and Kildonanan, Lochranza and Catacol, Brodick to Blackwaterfoot and all points in between, everywhere on our Island people whose job it was to take care of us, went far and beyond any normal duty of care work putting their own lives at risk to care for us all. They were joined by so many volunteers and essential workers, ignoring the danger to themselves they simply got on with the job and served our Island and our community with unflagging determination to make sure we were looked after, kept well and safe. Because of all these selfless people, we have to date been extraordinarily lucky in keeping the incidence of Covid-19 at a very low level on the island.
For almost four months, every Thursday our whole community joined together to clap our appreciation for the NHS and everyone mentioned above. We banged pots, blew trumpets, played bagpipes and all sorts of other musical instruments, some drove tractors around Shiskine and Blackwaterfoot in a noisy and delightful gesture of thanks. Everyone made promises to each other and themselves that never would we forget how many people had helped us through the long frightening months of shielding, isolation and uncertainty. This led to a discussion on what could be done to show our appreciation in a permanent way to all the various people who were helping us across the community.
Arran has been saved, so far, from the huge number of deaths seen across the nation. Tragically there are those on our island who have faced the loss of loved ones in dreadful circumstances to this horrid virus, and being a small community we share their sadness and want to support them and recognise their grief. So when the first death from Covid-19 occurred it was felt that we needed to do something that everyone in the community could contribute to in ways that suited their own circumstances. A communal endeavour, with a long lasting outcome. A physical and permanent reminder of these unprecedented times and of some solace to those who faced such terrible loss, exacerbated by the harsh lockdown rules.
The idea of an Arboretum became the popular choice with our U3A members as it fulfilled the many threads and ideas put forward. However this proposed Arboretum must be for everyone on Arran and so we are bringing the idea to the community of Arran and those who love Arran, to ask for your thoughts and hopefully enlist your involvement and help in bringing it to fruition.
This would be an area of trees, planted by members of the community to say “Thank you” to the NHS, medical and caring staff, the essential workers and crucial volunteers who all helped keep us safe and fed during the lockdown. They are continuing to do so even now and by all measures are likely to have to keep doing this for some considerable time to come, especially if we find ourselves in another lockdown during winter.
The Arboretum will also be a memorial for those lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. A tranquil spot to find a sense of peace, but also a green space offering renewal to nurture the spirit. A living and growing reminder of everything the Island has gone through and yet may face again, a perfect place to give thanks to all those who make the Island, and those living and working here, so special, a beautiful peaceful space to sit and remember those lost, a contemplative long lasting haven to simply enjoy nature and appreciate how lucky we are to live in a place with such a supportive community.
Now the lockdown has been lifted, life returned to some new kind of ‘normal’ and the focus understandably has changed to the island economy. Extra ferries are running, bringing tourists and with them the need to provide services, life has become busy again for very many folk. Now the children are back to school and even those who shielded for an extra month or so are out and about again, busy with life.
But we made a collective promise did we not, in those difficult days, to continue saying thank you, to remember those lost, to recognise how quickly our comfortable lives can be turned upside down and to remind ourselves of what community means on our Island of Arran.
Please join us and make the wind whispering through the trees of an Arran Arboretum, be the sound of a permanent and living, memorial and ’thank you’.
A consultant Arborist has very kindly offered to donate his services, which is wonderful, he will design and advise us throughout the process, taking into consideration all the ideas and suggestions we are now asking the people of Arran to put forward.
The best planting time will be around the end of October and we will be recording the whole process to make it available on line with copies of this entire community endeavour lodged with the museum for future reference.
We are inviting the whole community in Arran, and those who love Arran to join with us to bring the Arran Arboretum, clapping in gratitude, to fruition.
If you would like to take part in any way at all, you can reach us
Online at: u3asites.org.uk/isle-of-arran
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By telephone at: 01770 302158
Or write to us at Isle of Arran U3A, Brantwood Lodge, Brodick KA27 8AJ
Give us your ideas and if you can answer these questions, it will help our planning greatly.
A. Could you donate your time to help plant some baby trees
B. Could you donate or sponsor some baby trees or their stakes or protective sleeves
C. Could you offer help with Admin, filming and recording, making teas and feeding
D. Could you offer help with transport or tools etc
E. Do you have particular trees which mean something to you, or have a traditional
meaning, that you would like included?
F. Should there be sculpture of some kind?
G. Do you have or know of any particular land that you think would make the perfect Site for our Arran Arboretum? Remember it must be accessible for all levels of mobility
There will be a plaque explaining why the Arboretum has been planted and perhaps why particular trees have been chosen, or an explanation of what each species stands for in Tree Myth. What other information should we have?
There will be more information over the next few weeks when some ideas and designs will be offered for your comments, but so much depends on your answers to the above, what you want for this Community ‘thank you’ and what you can do to take part in saying ‘thank you’ . This ‘clap’ will last for many long years and be shared by everyone.
Mhairi Aileen Smeir, August 2020.