Plockton Railway Station Plaque Unveiling

On April 26th, I was privileged to unveil a plaque at Plockton Railway Station to recognise a unique partnership initiative which has driven down anti-social behaviour.

Following complaints of low-level anti-social behaviour at the station by pupils from the neighbouring high school, it was felt the best way to encourage a feeling of responsibility and ownership was by bringing together a collaborative committee of those affected.

As a result incidents have been reduced considerably and the committee, which is made up entirely of pupils, has now gone one step further and adopted the ScotRail station. They now play a part in the station’s upkeep such as maintaining poster boards, planters and picking up litter.

 

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Photos: Planting Potatoes at Hilton Primary School, Inverness

Despite the sudden flurries of snow, I was able to attend Hilton Primary School’s potato-planting session as part of the “Grow Your Own Potatoes” project this morning. It was great to see so many kids so enthusiastic about getting their hands dirty; projects like this and Crofting Connections, which teaches kids about crofting, are fantastic, and long may they continue.IMG_0374 Jean at Hilton PS P5 Hilton PS Potato Planting at Hilton PS

Motion:Shetland Islands Council’s Community Engagement

Motion S4M-05487: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 28/01/2013

Shetland Islands Council’s Community Engagement
That the Parliament notes Shetland Islands Council’s invitation to members of the public to address it on relevant issues; understands that, in relation to education provision across Shetland, three parent council chairs from a deputation have presented a document detailing an alternative plan for education provision to the council’s Blueprint for Education; further understands that this document, produced by the parent councils, provides financial details for each of the alternatives; welcomes the active engagement of community groups in lobbying councils on decisions that affect their communities; considers this approach to be a laudable example of how communities can work together with local authorities to determine the best method of service delivery, and encourages local authorities, such as Shetland Islands Council, that it considers are attempting to drastically reduce spending, to consider similar methods of engagement with local communities.

Speech: National Gaelic Plan

Tapadh leibh, Presiding Officer. Unfortunately, I cannot replicate the language skills of my party colleagues the minister, Dave Thompson and John Finnie, all of whom are far more proficient in Gaelic than I am. However, as a fellow MSP for the Highlands and Islands, I know how important the continuing encouragement and development of Gaelic as a vital part of the nation’s identity are.

Last weekend, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis followed her magnificent work for the film “Brave”, which has been referred to, with a stunning performance in front of a worldwide audience to herald the beginning of Scotland’s Ryder cup 2014 preparations. She was brought up in North Uist in a Gaelic-speaking community but, like others, she was not a fluent Gaelic speaker. She benefited first from the fèis movement and she went on to be a student of the language at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which is Scotland’s Gaelic college in Skye.

As with many lesser-spoken languages, the spread of Gaelic has been inhibited as English and other languages have become the lingua franca. Fewer than 60,000 Gaelic speakers, who are concentrated in the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and the Highlands, are estimated to remain in Scotland. They represent just over 1 per cent of the population. That must be a concern, given that, in comparison, more than 20 per cent of the population in Wales can speak Welsh.

If we are to witness a dramatic upturn in the number of Gaelic speakers across Scotland, we require a comprehensive and holistic approach to be taken by all the agencies whose remit is the furtherance of Gaelic. I particularly welcome the focus on early years and education in the national plan’s key outcomes. Evidence of success from that comes from my neighbour, nine-year-old Ruaraidh, who attends the local Gaelic school. He said:

“We don’t learn Gaelic, we live it—like the way you get to speak English”.

Promoters of Gaelic-medium education now focus on the benefits of bilingualism rather than the direct benefits of Gaelic, but we must never lose sight of the links to the past, people and places. We can think of all the effort that goes into curating artefacts that are of historical value. How much more precious is a living language? Common sense dictates that we must continue to focus on Gaelic-medium teaching in schools or at least on facilitating Gaelic lessons to maintain the language.

The role that artists and musicians such as Julie Fowlis play in promoting Gaelic is another reminder of how important the language is. Others acknowledge its importance. A local teacher who assumed that two Polish immigrants had arrived for an English as a foreign language course was amazed when they said that their English was fine and that they were interested in signing up to learn Gaelic.

We must never underestimate others. Scots sometimes have to be convinced by somebody else that something is a really good idea. I suspect that, across Europe, we would get massive support for our plan. In Europe, there is a determination to retain languages such as Gaelic, and we must endorse that.

I found out earlier today that the last speaker of the Cromarty dialect, Bobby Hogg, had died aged92, removing one of the more colourful threads of Scotland’s linguistic tapestry. I sincerely hope that the plan that we have will prevent similar headlines about the last Gaelic speaker in the years to come. As Ruaraidh said, we have to live it.

PRESS RELEASE: JEAN URQUHART WELCOMES SCHOOLS FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENT

Jean Urquhart MSP has welcomed today (Wednesday’s) announcement from the Scottish Government of £80 million to fund the building of new school campuses across Scotland, including projects in the Highlands and Islands.

As part of the third and final phase of the Schools For The Future Programme, Anderson High School in Lerwick, Elgin High School and Inverness Royal Academy will all receive funding for much-needed improvements, allowing them to begin construction in the next 12-18 months.

In total, 12 schools have been given funding to allow them to begin construction in the next 12-18 months, changes that will benefit 26,000 pupils nationwide.

Jean, a list MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, said:

“It’s great to see schools in sore need of new facilities being given the funding they need to begin construction as soon as they can.

“I know from correspondence I have received from pupils and parents of these schools just how necessary these changes are.

“Elgin High School pupils actually sent me a DVD chronicling the challenges posed by their current building, showing just how much this investment in new schools was needed.

“This investment in the future of our children will pay off in the short term, the medium term and the long term for both the pupils and the wider community.”

Motion: Big Lottery Fund June Awards to Highlands and Islands

Big Lottery Fund June Awards to Highlands and IslandsThat the Parliament welcomes the continuing support given by the Big Lottery Fund to community projects across Scotland; notes in particular that, in June 2012, over £2 million of funding was granted to projects big and small in the Highlands and Islands; recognises the substantial sums awarded to three schemes under the second stage of the Investing in Communities programme in the Highlands and Islands, namely Isle of Luing Community Trust, Golspie Recycling and Environmental Action Network and the SHIRLIE project; understands that these projects aim to develop the Atlantic Islands Centre in Cullipool, create 19 new sustainable jobs and help adults with additional support needs to find jobs respectively; lauds the combination of numerous small grants and larger grants to 49 other projects across the Highlands and Islands in both island communities and small towns and villages; considers these grants to be vital to the existence of such projects in difficult economic circumstances, and looks forward to more projects across the country benefiting from schemes such as the Big Lottery Fund.

Press Release: Jean Urquhart Welcomes Consultation on Children & Young People Bill

Plans to formally recognise the parenting responsibilities and rights of kinship carers and work towards making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up have today been unveiled.

Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell today launched the consultation on the Children and Young People Bill designed to support children and families.

The new Bill will also compel councils to use Scotland’s national Adoption Register and increase provision of free, flexible and family friendly childcare for three and four year olds and looked after two year olds from 475 hours to 600 hours per year – the best free nursery care package in the UK.

Jean Urquhart, member of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, has welcomed the bill, stating:

“Common sense dictates that the most important time in any individual’s development is their early years.

“By continuing to invest in our children and young people, the SNP is working as hard as it can to ensure that Scotland’s families and youth are put at the heart of our society.

“Our commitment to helping working families during tough economic times is also shown by proposals to put in place flexible childcare opportunities, increased nursery provision and improved financial support for kinship carers.

“I would urge everybody who this Bill aims to help- whether that be carers, parents or those working with children and young people- to take part in the consultation and ensure that the most comprehensive and constructive package of measures can be built.”

The consultation can be found HERE.

Press Release: Local MSP Welcomes Continued Support for Highlands and Islands Projects

Jean Urquhart MSP has welcomed the latest statistics from the Big Lottery Fund which have shown 52 grants totalling over £2 million being awarded to projects across the Highlands and Islands.

The £2 million granted includes 3 large grants given to the Isle of Luing Community Trust, Golspie Recycling and Environmental Action Network and the SHIRLIE project totalling just over £1.6 million.

Commenting, Jean Urquhart said:

“It is particularly heartening when, at the start of every month, I see sums of varying sizes being awarded to worthwhile projects across the region.

“Although the three largest awards are undoubtedly welcome boosts, it must not be forgotten that ostensibly small sums can make a huge difference too.

“For example, the £2,000 grant awarded to Foula Primary School in Shetland will enable primary school children from the more remote areas of the Islands to participate in a mini-Olympics, helping to bring together communities in a way that may otherwise have been impossible.

“I would once again encourage community groups and projects across the region to apply for sources of funding like the Big Lottery Fund.”