To the surprise of presumably no-one, Orkney has once again been named best place in the UK to live. I’ve never been quite sure what the criteria are for this competition, but if it looks right and feels right then chances are it is right.
Frankly, whatever the rationale, the news is a welcome tonic amidst the remorselessly downbeat mood surrounding politics at present. This week, for example, MPs will debate proposals aimed at heading off the prospect of a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit; Nicola Sturgeon continues to insist her plans for another independence referendum remain unaffected by the furore enveloping Alex Salmond, who faces charges of rape and sexual assault; and the Scottish Government threatens to backslide out of previous commitments to fair funding for Orkney’s internal ferries in the budget. With all this going on, it is a comfort to know that we live in the best place in the country.
Whatever else secured this accolade for Orkney, the opportunities available locally for those of all ages and abilities to participate in sport no doubt played a part. This is not just a nice ‘add on’. With overwhelming evidence now linking good physical and mental health, encouraging and supporting people to be as active as they can be is imperative for any community. It can help tackle loneliness and isolation, particularly amongst older people, but also helps those at the other end of the age spectrum to develop invaluable life skills.
That was very much the message from Al Kellock, who was guest of honour at the Orkney Sports Awards on Friday evening. A record turnout of around 300 guests, packed into the atrium at KGS, heard the former Glasgow and Scotland rugby captain talk passionately about the benefits of learning to win well and lose well; take the highs and lows in your stride; and give of your best, either as part of a team or as an individual. He also underscored the importance of enjoying sport, at whatever level, and never allowing yourself to lose that sense of fun and enjoyment.
In fairness, the audience on Friday night appeared to need no second invitation to enjoy themselves. This was entirely as intended at what, after all, was a celebration of the many outstanding achievements of those involved in sport in Orkney. The competition in each of the categories was fierce, and illustrated the breadth as well as the strength in depth that there is in Orkney sport at present. It was a genuine honour to co-host the event with Radio Orkney’s Robbie Fraser, though both Robbie and I were mightily relieved not to have been asked to draw up the shortlists or, worse still, select the winners.
After phenomenal seasons that saw them pick up national honours, netballer, Sarah MacPhail and squash player, Andrew Torbet were worthy winners of the main individual awards. Meantime, the achievements of octopush and gymnastics were rightly recognised in the team categories. The former has seen Orkney provide a pipeline of players for the Great Britain team over the years, while the latter has exploded onto the local sport scene of late, growing in popularity and quality at a quite dizzying pace.
As well as the satisfaction of seeing some of the less ‘mainstream’ sports pick up awards, it was great to be able to recognise the contributions made by all those behind the scenes, without whom our athletes simply could not achieve what they achieve. Michael Stout is just one example, and richly deserved his ‘Services to Sport’ trophy for the astonishing time and commitment he has put in over many years to develop squash and, more recently, racquetball in the county.
As I pointed out in my closing remarks, often in Orkney we are guilty of not blowing our own trumpet enough. That is a commendable trait, but sometimes we just need to get over it and take pride in our successes. With this in mind, as I head up to Shetland this week for my first taste of Up Helly Aa, I must make a point of proudly reminding my hosts who came out top in the latest list of best places in the UK to live.