Home   News   Article

EANN SINCLAIR: Important to step back and see how others see us

By Eann Sinclair

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

Anyone driving north on the A9 for the recent Focus North launch event in Thurso would have been treated to a spectacular crimson sunrise.

It added to the sense of the day being out of the ordinary (and subsequently proved the old adage that red skies in the morning are indeed a shepherd’s warning!).

For me, one of the great pleasures of the Focus North launch was in having visitors from other areas of our region and beyond being reminded of the amazing range and scale of opportunity in front of us in the north.

The event was very well attended – around 150 people from key public and private-sector organisations at the Weigh Inn in Thurso – and for many of us was one of the first big face-to-face events since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Sunrise over Scrabster on the day of the Focus North event earlier this month.
Sunrise over Scrabster on the day of the Focus North event earlier this month.

The buzz in the venue was palpable, helped by a series of excellent presentations on key areas of opportunity for the area including space, offshore wind, hydrogen, tourism and green finance.

The organisers had also brought together survey data from young people at local high schools and UHI North Highland. This brought home to many in the audience the realities of education and work in the current climate.

All of the presentations from the event organised by Focus North, formerly known as Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, are available to view at www.focusnorth.scot

Days later we hosted a board engagement event. This was a more intimate opportunity for our chairman, Alistair Dodds, and board members Belinda Oldfield and Keith Nicholson.

Keith runs a nationally known cyber security business from a base in Caithness whilst Belinda has a successful career in the civil engineering sector.

The purpose of the event was to engage directly with clients and stakeholders and hear more about the challenges facing businesses and communities. Equally important, it was an opportunity for us to get feedback on HIE’s work, with one of Alistair’s key questions being “how are we doing?”

An interactive panel session at the Focus North conference in Thurso. Picture: DGS
An interactive panel session at the Focus North conference in Thurso. Picture: DGS

I know they were impressed with the depth of discussion that took place. The range of voices – from Assynt to John O’Groats – provided a very clear picture of the challenges, from rising fuel and energy costs to labour, housing and childcare.

Digital connectivity remains a source of concern for parts of our area, with several attendees calling digital a 21st-century utility comparable with electricity and water.

There was an acknowledgement that these challenges are not necessarily unique to our area, and that solutions may need to be led at regional or national level. But the point was well made that a key part of HIE’s role should be providing advocacy, communicating the scale and urgency of the particular needs of areas like ours.

It was a conversation that resonated with everyone on the call, and I’m sure will have been taken away by HIE board attendees too.

If those key areas of challenge are not addressed, how will the area capture the economic benefits from opportunities highlighted at the Focus North event? It was a great example of why maintaining a conversation with our clients – both formally in this type of situation and continuously during the year – is so valuable.

Eann Sinclair. Picture: John Davidson
Eann Sinclair. Picture: John Davidson

We were also challenged to go further in our desire to position the area to benefit, whether by looking at options to become a net-zero exemplar, focusing on creating business space, or simply by being more visible across the patch.

All good points, and all of them a springboard to continue our conversations during the coming weeks and months.

Opportunities to step back from day-to-day engagements and listen are very valuable. When colleagues, clients or others offer us the chance “to see ourselves as others see us” we may ignore that gift at our peril.

  • Eann Sinclair is area manager, Caithness and Sutherland at Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More