“And what has the National Park done to help your business?” “Nothing!” was the grumpy and well rehearsed reply.
It was last September and I was helping to drive Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) Board members and staff around Invercauld Estate on a fact finding mission.
One bright eyed and enthusiastic member of the Park staff happened to pop the question to my co-driver and was considerably dismayed by the answer. It was reminiscent of that moment from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” when John Cleese asked, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Only then there was a list of positive responses, “The aquaduct, sanitation, irrigation, laws, education!” This time the reply was “Nothing!”
And this perception is a major issue for the Park.
It’s not that we aren’t doing anything but the way the CNPA has chosen to operate means that it rarely gets credit for what it achieves. The CNPA does not hold huge budgets, nor do we employ vast armies of staff. Instead we have chosen to concentrate on providing leadership and co-ordination. In these times of increasing financial constraint, we help to bring major players and their resources to the table and we encourage them to collaborate in tackling issues of common interest, often thereby levering in additional funds. One obvious example is the continually improving network of core paths around the Park which we support through the work of the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust (COAT). The people of Braemar, for example, are very appreciative of the new path linking the Clunieside Road to the Perth Road via the Society Bridge. It now allows people to enjoy a healthy stroll along the riverside without disturbing the golfers on the neighbouring course. Nowhere, however, will you see any mention of the CNPA having played any part in its construction.
The Park is currently supporting communities who are affiliated to the 2011 Keep Scotland Beautiful National Spring Clean. Grants of up to £250 are available to help buy basic equipment for the clean up.
Help has also been given this Spring to the volunteer guides of Braemar Castle. Specialist training in devising tours and in interpreting the building and its history has been provided by interpretation consultant, James Carter. Ten volunteers attended the two sessions he provided. And that’s only part of a comprehensive programme of support for local groups throughout the Park, co-ordinated by Community Heritage Officer, Fiona McLean. Fiona is keen that people share their experience of running heritage projects in the Park. Last June she organised a Cultural Heritage Conference at Boat of Garten and she is now busy putting together a programme of legacy events around the Park. The first of these looked at the Explore Abernethy project in Nethybridge on May 18 and the second will feature the work done by pupils of Aboyne Aademy in visiting the now abandoned settlement at Auchtavan in Glen Fearder. It will be based at Braemar Castle on June 20.
But what of my frustrated driving colleague and his business plans?
Well much work has been done over the last year in establishing the Cairngorms Business Partnership. It is set up with three key areas of activity to support businesses across the National Park – Promotion, Development and Advocacy. Interest in joining the CBP from Deeside was slow initially but is now picking up pace. Last month a number of businesses from this side of the Park joined up including Braemar Community Ltd, Aboyne Photographics, Airlie House Cottage, Braemar Gallery, Moorfield Hotel, Mountview Cottage and Taste Coffee Shop.
If all goes well, next time the question is posed the answer will be very different.”