Thursday 13 August 2020
A day in Oban yesterday for maintenance: eyes and hair. This was my first visit since 19 March (the day before lockdown) when I went for a haircut and overdue eye test, but not before agonising about whether it was worth the risk.
Yesterday I was uber careful; no-one wants to be the one who brings COVID-19 to the island. Walking about hot streets on hard pavements while waiting for appointments was not thrilling. Met a friend who had just been in court answering the charge that he abused someone who was living in her second home during lockdown. Unfortunately, people who came to their second homes just before or during lockdown made some residents very nervous, as our infrastructure, food and health is always fragile and during a pandemic a constant knife-edge. The doctor long ago stopped coming for her twice-weekly surgeries and started consulting online, and the shop looked as though it may close when it was having trouble managing to service us.
But David and Teenie Wilson managed, from Port Appin, and for that we were very grateful. It was complicated.
The Highlands and Islands became desirable places during lockdown; Lismore was no exception. Perhaps some people imagined they would be safer. Which simply means that how islands survive is not easy to grasp. Being a resident bears no resemblance to being an occasional or even frequent visitor. Every extra person puts a strain on the system (how many ventilators did Oban have, would there be a shortage of ambulances and air ambulances for transport to Glasgow or other centres, and so on).
But, as ever, Lismore’s response was nothing short of heroic. Even before lockdown the community council set up a Lismore Emergency Response Group coordinated by Mandie Currie to prepare for, but more importantly, avoid a possible outbreak. They did what they called a rough ‘audit’ of numbers for emergency planning, and compiled a database of house locations with grid references and what3words codes, so emergency services could locate us. We each got a Home Emergency Plan to keep handy as well as regular updates on the community website and Facebook.
In addition, a Keeping in Touch initiative meant people could be phoned or chatted to when delivering, and a team volunteered to be ready to help nurse very sick people on the island if there was a spike in cases locally. They also worked with CalMac and the council on ferry services and timetables, as well as deciding on visitor/non-resident access. We received messages such as:
Having the shop and Post Office made a huge difference, and it was all done through the Dixon-Spain horsebox. No-one could go into the shop, but we ordered online or phoned Teenie and David, while Bob Davies, who worked heroically throughout, would assemble the goods for residents or those volunteer deliverers to collect in the afternoons three days a week. We usually received an email when our order was ready. It worked pretty well, although a certain amount of volunteer fatigue was inevitable as the delivery job was massive. The Post Office also continued from a horsebox outside the shop and the mail kept coming, thank you, Stephen. Teenie and David kept the shop supplied and Mull Builders made twice weekly deliveries. These things were crucial.
By early April there were an estimated 198 people on Lismore: 140 adults and 24 children were permanent residents (164) with 25 adults and nine children non-residents (34). A non-resident could be a family member who’d been furloughed, second homeowners and their families, or essential workers for lambing support. Most who were purely visiting left before lockdown.
It was good that it was spring; not so good that those lambing didn’t necessarily have the usual help, but the weather was good, and they reported it was good lambing.
Interestingly, some family members and second home owners asked the community whether or not they should come, which was extremely thoughtful and hugely appreciated. Alas for them it was a resounding ‘no’.
Today’s tip: Avoid walking upstairs carrying a scalding liquid in one hand, washing in the other while wearing wellies.