Hello everyone, 

What a start to the Summer it has been with our wonderful special anniversary parties across our services and a positive open day for professionals up in our Caithness office.

I’ve witnessed such great things over the past few months. On a more flippant note, a surprising discovery, the power of a small packet of haribo to drive people on. First at the Easter Ross celebration, where teens and older children pushed themselves to their utmost limit to complete the bungee run, all to snatch up a packet of haribo. Roll on to the 80’s staff party and teams worked like mad to complete the balloon race on the promise of – you’ve guessed it, a tiny packet each of haribo.  I’ve also had social workers delighted to be offered a packet in a meeting at Head Office and I’ve seen how quickly they disappeared from the Easter Ross table after a team meeting.  

I am absolutely delighted that in our official year of happiness, to have realised one of the answers - to short term happiness anyway! This also emphasises that recognition in even a very small form can have a great impact on people’s motivation and we are keen to hear more from staff on how they would like their achievements/good work acknowledged/recognised. Whilst the management team can give numerous examples of how they feel they are letting staff know just how they are valued on a regular basis, we need to make sure that staff are in turn seeing this as recognition or if there are other ways we could be doing this better.  I am afraid that financial incentives are just not an option here, but other ideas are very much welcomed.

On a more serious, yet fun note, this year’s parties have shown what great achievements and sense of well-being working together can achieve for everyone. The parties were true examples of co-production, the results from stunning hats to amazing wings and parties for our wider communities absolutely amazing.  Locals in Easter Ross have asked if we’ll do a party in Natal Gardens on an annual basis and we plan to do this, possibly minus the hats.  I don’t think Fort William will ever be the same after that parade and what will the tourists be talking about?  Ben Nevis?  - maybe not!  It was so great to see so many members of the public join in our celebrations in Whin Park and the boating lake has probably never seen the like before.

Roll on to the staff party and I heard a number of people say that it had been their best night out all year and that we should do this more often. Great to see staff across the organisation having a great time together away from work. I would also like to give a thank you to my fellow team mates in Head Office who despite nerves and trepidation, were willing to put themselves out there and pulled off an excellent performance of Hey Mickey – and to the Inverness support team who showed their amazing ability for flexibility and spur of the moment delivery,  with no prior planning, pulling out of the hat on the night, or the kettle in this case, a hilarious performance.

There have been many other great achievements over the past few months in each service area since our Easter edition, including a number of staff successfully achieving their SVQs, which are outlined further on in the newsletter.  

We also have the planned development of an expansion in our services in Easter Ross at the end of the Summer as we develop a 24/7 service for 5 individuals in new build flats there, a highly positive development for this service.  Our new service in Caithness continues to expand, with NHS referrals now coming through to add to our Highland Council ones and our team in Lochaber has risen to some significant challenges over the past few months in dealing with a huge number of new referrals and ways of working.  A huge well done to everyone and a huge welcome to our growing teams as a number of new people have joined Birchwood Highland over the past few months as our services continue to develop and expand.  

There will be many other things that are more than note worthy from each service area, and I really would ask services to ensure that we get to know about them through this newsletter and other means so that we can celebrate and acknowledge your successes with you.

On a final note from me, I was delighted to read in our health and wellbeing survey conducted earlier in this year, that 100% of our staff either agree or strongly agreed that Birchwood Highland is a good place to work and that they would recommend us to their family and friends as an employer.

Have a great summer everyone!


Welcome Màiri!

As a warm welcome to Màiri, who is our new Fundraising and Communications Manager replacing Pauline who moved on to Eden Court this month, we introduced her to the traditional 20 second interview. Here are a few questions so that you can get to know her a little better. 

Màiri joins Birchwood Highland from Inverness Chamber of Commerce and has a background in event management and specialises in marketing and communications, as well as business development. The organisation has worked extremely hard to raise its profile locally over the last few years and she hopes to continue to build on that to effectively communicate and market Birchwood’s services, as well as helping to improve our fundraising capabilities.

Màiri is a local girl and her knowledge of the Highland business community provides a fresh perspective for Birchwood Highland.  We look forward to developing new means of fundraising as well as advancing our own communications strategy.

Q. What job did you do before?

A. Membership and Events Co-ordinator at Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

Q. Are you originally from Inverness?

A. Yes - born and bred! Studied in Glasgow for 4 years but have always stayed in Inverness.

Q. If you were stuck in a lift, who would you like to be with?

A. Good question! Someone funny, maybe Kevin Bridges.

Q. What's your favourite biscuit?

A. Probably chocolate bourbons - I much prefer cakes to biscuits!

To contact Màiri, please email m.macdonald@birchwoodhighland.org.uk or call 01463 236 507.

View the press release of this appointment here


30th Anniversary Celebrations

Thank you to everyone who made the events such a success in celebration of our 30th anniversary in Inverness, Easter Ross and Lochaber.  A special thank you to Creativity in Care who worked with us to help make these events happen and to all our staff, volunteers and service users who got involved.

As you can see from the photos and the video below, there were plenty of decorative hats on display with inspired and imaginative designs.

I supported a group of residents from the recovery centre to attend the group sessions on the lead up to the Celebrations. We all worked towards making hats, masks and banners, and this was very much enjoyed by the residents who were keen to attend every week. On the day of the celebration myself and the residents from the recovery centre had a fantastic time. the atmosphere was very relaxed and people were enjoying the food and music while catching up with one another.
— Nadine Rodgers, Support Worker

A fantastic day was had in Fort William to celebrate our 30th anniversary with Lochaber service with the bonus of the glorious weather.

The day featured a Carnival parade to show off the wonderful wings and costumes that Karrie and Chris from Creativity in Care helped make with the service users. They were all very colourful and beautifully made and everyone was very impressed, and even caught the locals and the tourists attention! The day was a huge success and brought along young children, schools and passers by.

And finally, here are some photos from our celebrations in Invergordon with a parade down the High Street and a party at Natal Gardens to wish Birchwood Highland a happy 30th birthday! 

Mosaic Workshops

Carrying on our artistic efforts for our 30th anniversary, there are a serious of mosaic workshops planned for staff and service users in each geographical area to produce one overall piece of art, which will feature in SMHAFF in October and then have a permanent home on the side of HO/ISS building.


80's Party

Everyone who attended the staff 80’s party had a ball.  With performances from head office and Inverness support service, a poem from our very own Pam Ayres, loads of games and some superb costumes it was a fun and entertaining night. Head office lifted the coveted best team performance trophy for their rendition of Hey Mickey!


Inverness support service, aka The Singing Kettle, performing Little Bunny Foo Foo!!

Here's 80’s costume trophy winner Nic Divers as Boy George. Finally, congratulations to Mark Skillin who was the air guitar champ! A big thank you to all involved with the organising and the preparation at the venue on the day.    Especially to Nic, aka Boy George for her fantastic photo booth, which going by the photos everyone had a great time and good laugh.

A Birchwood Highland Poem by Lilian

The Recovery Centre – the leading light, if I had forgotten I’m sure there would have been a fight

Caithness – are becoming famous, watch out it can be contagious

Inverness – are here in evening dress, they are really looking to impress

Easter Ross – in their Sunday dress, definitely looking to outdo the rest

Last but not least – Lochaber (no more) we bet your best on the dance floor


We have reached the big three “0”

Now it’s time to put on a show!

Let’s mingle together and be full of cheer

Let’s dance

Let’s sing and drink lots of beer

Independence is just great

And Inclusion is proven

That recovery can happen

If we keep up the passion we will never be out of fashion

Ascot Adventures

A very glamorous day took place at the spectacular Kingsmills Hotel for a day at the Ascot Races.

The day was a huge success for monies raised for Birchwood Highland and Marie Curie, which was just over £10,000! This event was supported by the Highland Business Women Group and attracted more than 130 people for a day of champagne, food, music and the chances to have a flutter on the horses. A gala auction along with raffle and a silent auction also took place on the day.

Great prizes were kindly donated for this charity event, so a big thank you to everybody who supported this.

The photos from this event are available through Alison White Photography and 25% of all photo sales (after cost) will be kindly donated to Birchwood Highland and Marie Curie. 

Running for Birchwood Highland

Here's Jamie Ross running in the Stirling Marathon. Thanks to his efforts, £500 was raised for Birchwood Highland! If you'd like to challenge yourself, you can run for us in the Loch Ness Marathon, 10k or 5k. Just contact Head Office to get started. If that date doesn't suit, see other running events here. 

Rock Therapy

We had a huge turnout for Rock Therapy's Big City Sing at the Ironworks. Birchwood Highland would like to thank Dougie and Caroline and all of the lovely staff at the venue for staging the event, Netsounds Jamie Macdonald for hosting, and  the wonderful Rock Therapy choir.

Birchwood Highland and British Heart Foundation Scotland would like to thank everyone who came along on the night which had double the numbers expected! And, we'd love to thank all of the Highland businesses and individuals who donated auction items for the night. A big shout to Melissa O'KeeffeSarah SmithJanice Smith, Linda Birnie and Andrew for assisting on the day. The event raised over £4000!

To find out more about Rock Therapy go to www.rocktherapy.uk

Let's Walk a Mile

Thanks to everyone who came along and walked a mile for mental health  awareness in May during Mental Health Awareness Week. It was the perfect time to come together and have conversations about mental health with the goal of ending stigma around this issue. This was also our first walk when the sun was shining. 

Dinner with the Stars

A night of great food, fun times, The Federals and fundraising was hosted by Birchwood Highland's ambassador Nicola McAlley on Friday 19th May. The event, which celebrated Birchwood Highland's 30th year of delivering support across the region, was a huge success, raising over £5,000 on the night. Top chefs from around the Highlands were joined by Masterchef: The Professionals champion Gary MacLean, with a treat for foodies thrilling the 150 invited guests. Red Poppy's Nick Aburrow served a gorgeous haggis and pakora starter, with Harry from Sam's Inverness creating a delicious vegetarian main dish, while John Brawley and his team from Artysans Cafe treated guests to a delicious dessert. Of course, the star of the show was Gary MacLean, who created his winning dish from Masterchef: The Professionals then stuck around for some selfies with the crowd while fabulous local band The Federals got everyone up and dancing.

Birchwood Highland would like to thank Nicola McAlley for her fabulous hosting, chefs Gary, Nick, John and Harry for their skill and delicious dishes, the Artysans team for their calm and composure in the kitchen, Paul Spencer for expertly hosting the gala auction, The Federals for getting everyone going and Mary-Dawn, Irek and Andrew at Strathpeffer Pavilion for being so accommodating.

upcoming events

Back at Belladrum with the Big Heart

The Heart returns to Bella for its second year. We’re collecting the hopes, dreams, loves and wishes of the Highlands on the beautiful metal sculpture designed by Bella’s Joe Gibbs. So far over 1,000 people have attached lovelocks and cloots to the heart and it’s looking amazing! 

Come and join us at Belladrum and write your message to the world or seal your love with a lock. We’re just in front of the Temple, right at the spiritual heart of the Belladrum site.

Beast Race

BEAST yourself on an epic 10k obstacle course race over tough Scottish terrain.  25 mega obstacles; giant water slides; icy loch water; thick mud & swamp crossings - it’s the ultimate team or solo challenge. Test your stamina at Scotland’s ‘beastliest’ obstacle race all while raising funds for Birchwood Highland! Standard entry for the event is £48.35-£51.55 and you can visit the organiser's website here.

To get involved, contact Sarah at Head Office who is putting a team together! Email sarah.smith@birchwoodhighland.org.uk or call 01463 236507

Save the Date! Birchwood Highland Fashion Show

Join us for a fashion show at Howdens Garden Centre in Inverness on Thursday 14th September! Keep an eye on our website's events section and social media channels for updates. In the meantime, here's a previous fashion show that took place at the Inverness Highland Games. 

Caithness Open Day

 Pictured: Julie Calder, Team Manager and Annabel Mowat, Deputy Chief Executive   

Pictured: Julie Calder, Team Manager and Annabel Mowat, Deputy Chief Executive


We at Caithness support Service held an open day on Friday the 16th June 2017.  It was to give professionals and members of the public the opportunity to meet us and see our office, also for Birchwood staff to discuss and explain about our service and how we deliver our service.

Chloe Sinclair took the lead and organised the event.  She invited over 50 professionals from all over Caithness to the event. The event was attended by over 30 professionals which was very impressive.  The day produced good leads and links for close working relationships. Overall the day was very successful; even the local press attended! 

The Caithness team have settled into our office in Harbour Terrace Wick.  We have a lovely office looking out over the Harbour and onto the sea.

- Julie Calder, Team Manager (Caithness)


Support Workers Forum

The support workers forum has now met twice and plans to meet quarterly with discussion centred on the following areas:

·       Developing leadership and professional standards

·       Company Efficiency Awareness and Opportunities

·       Fundraising ideas/events

·       Communications

·       Health and Wellbeing Initiatives

·       Celebrating Success

The forum exists to ensure that support workers from across the organisation have the opportunity to bring and share views, to be a further channel of communication for support workers to complement existing communications and support, and to further support co-production as the Company develops.

At the May meeting participants highlighted areas of success to be acknowledged and celebrated, including:

·      the new contract for short term housing support in Lochaber, and staff dealing with this really well

·       the enthusiasm around the wellbeing workshops arranged at BHRC for people supported there, and it was nice to see that one service user in particular had made a great progression

·       a number of staff had completed their SVQ 3 with a few others starting

·       a particular service user who had made quite a progression

·       Completion of PDA (professional development award) in Medication Administration

·       the re-established Caithness Service as a real positive. and

·       the way that staff from across the Company had been providing support to services where it was needed

A Support Workers Forum representative for your service will be highlighting areas for discussion at Team Meetings, so there is an opportunity for all support workers to be involved, and you are welcome to highlight to Linda Birnie who co-ordinates the forum if you have anything that you feel particularly relevant to the agenda for the forum. The time and input of Forum representatives is very much appreciated to enable this development work to happen.

- Linda Birnie, Training and Development Manager


Mental Health and Social Support, Linking Research and Practice

Why is mental health a social issue? Having just one or two strong social connections has been found to reduce loneliness and social isolation and improve mental health and wellbeing. Social support provides this connection and is important as it underpins mental wellbeing and supports people to deal with crises.

Social support may be offered in different forms by different people in people’s lives including: friendship, emotional support, constructing meaning to events that happen, offering practical advice and giving material assistance. social support of course needs to be provided appropriately and within the relevant boundaries, otherwise there can be risks both for the person providing the social support and the person receiving it. The research suggests that people with mental issues and no natural social supports can be  more dependent on formal support, including therapies.

The National Rural Mental Health Survey Scotland: Report of Key Findings was published in March 2017 by Scotland’s Rural College and Support in Mind Scotland. https://www.sruc.ac.uk/downloads/download/1239/national_rural_mental_health_survey_scotland_report_of_key_findings

This report highlights that only thirty eight out of two hundred and forty three study respondents with experience of mental health issues had reported that they felt supported in their communities, highlighting that 84% of people surveyed did not feel supported in their community.

Social support also works across a range of structures;

·      Formal (e.g. support worker),

·      semi-formal (e.g. colleague),

·      informal (e.g. friend) and

·      close (e.g. partner or relative).

More information is available in Leach, J. (2014) Improving Mental Health through Social Support, Building Positive and Empowering Relationships. Jessica Kingsley Publishers ISBN: 978-1-84905-518-5 A copy will be available for reference. 

The full presentations are available on the VHS website

- Linda Birnie, Training and Development Manager


SSSC and Free and Easy to use Resources that can help Develop Skills

Colleagues will be aware that the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) requires that workers in social services are skilled and competent, and also need to keep skills up to date. In addition, all social services workers registered with SSSC need to carry out post registration training and learning (PRTL).  SSSC has developed learning resources that can help develop and evidence worker’s skills, and support towards achieving personal post registration training and learning goals. Resources can be viewed via the link below. If you have any questions about anything raised by the information or resources please feel free to speak with your line manager and discuss the priorities for your own learning at this time.

This information includes an introduction to the SSSC Learning Zone itself as well as more specific information about Safe administration of medication, adult support and protection, and supporting people with dementia, support with SVQs, a jargon buster and many different aspects of professional learning and development.


I would also particularly highlight the Step into Leadership resources for:

  •  frontline workers
  • people using services
  • managers
  • corporate and strategic leaders.

Available at: http://www.stepintoleadership.info/

There is also information about a range of matters concerning professional learning and development, SSSC registration, and care and support on the SSSC news page  http://ssscnews.uk.com/

Finally, a reminder that support workers in Community Support Services can apply to join the registers for care at home and housing support services  from 2 October 2017, and will be required to do so as part of being employed in that role.  An introductorypower point from SSSC is provided here.

- Linda Birnie, Training and Development Manager

Young Person’s Awareness Raising Sessions


A mental health awareness raising day was provided to third year pupils at Nairn Academy on Wednesday 7th June by Jane Groves and Linda Birnie, that provided sessions to five classes during the course of the day. This included information about mental health, importance of talking about mental health and addressing stigma, and how this could be approached, along with signposting to sources of information and help.

Feedback from a professional included:

“I would like to think the pupils have a clearer understanding of what is meant by mental health and the issues that can affect it. Pupils should know that issues relating to mental health are common and that although there is a stigma attached this should not be the case. I felt the pupils picked up on the fact that talking is very important whether it is yourself or someone else who is experiencing issues with mental wellness. It was also very clear that there is hope and they learned what to do to try and help themselves (self-help and where else to go). … I thought the session was really good and liked how the information was put across in such a positive way…”

Young people were asked “what is the most important information for young people to have about mental health” included in their responses:

“get help”

“are you okay”

“people are there to help”

“stay calm and talk to someone”

“other people are just the same”

“that help is everywhere, and you aren’t alone”

“not to stigmatise”

“to know who to speak to”

“knowing its okay and knowing there’s always someone to talk to”

“where to seek help and how to seek it”

“don’t give up and get help”

This and other feedback will be used to help ensure that future sessions best meet the needs of young people.

Training and Development

I wish to update colleagues on Training and Development work I will be supporting. This will include working to strengthen the planned Birchwood Highland training and learning journey from induction onwards. Ultimately for many colleagues this will include post registration learning as part of ongoing professional development. There is an emphasis on staff developing their leadership skills, and taking on the personal responsibility for their own career progressionand continuous professional development. Training and developmentare a key partof providing a quality service.

As part of a continuous improvement approach I will be lookingto support particular themes of:

·       looking at how best we can further support service users with any additional developments, and  accordingly  will be visiting services with Val Jeffrey, who is a member of the Board of Directors to consult with service users. 

·       making Birchwood Highland activities accessible and attractive to more young people including via promoting mental health awareness sessions in schools,

·       encouraging volunteeringactivity across all age groups, including young people,

·       further highlighting the support we can offer people with dementia, to ensure that helpful information is available to enable people to make informed decisions about the support and care needed, and

·       ensuring that the range of services we offer people, including through self directed support, and services to young people leaving school or college and requiring support  is clearly highlighted

·       looking at how we can promote positive outcomes for people through reducing loneliness and isolation to add value to other aspects of our services.

I will be continuing with coordinating the support workers forum, and value the views of participants for informing developments.  I am also planning a set of laughter yoga sessions later in the year as part of promoting resilience and self care. Many areas of the Training and Development Manager role connect with the work of colleagues, and I look forward to working with people and taking these forward together. I am contactable via Head Office and at linda.birnie@birchwoodhighland.org.uk  and am happy to talk through any aspects of training and development.

Linda Birnie, Training and Development Manager



Huge Congratulations to the following staff who have recently completed their SVQs or other qualifications


Derek Thain, ISS

Callum Macadam, ISS

Nicola Divers, ISS

Nadine Rodgers, BHRC

Nikki Mackenzie, BHRC

Sanda Kodimah, BHRC

And to Mark Skillin, BHRC and Lorraine Davidson, ISS for completing their PDA in medication.

Policy Updates

Care of Substances Harmful to Health (Updated July 2017)

Starters & Leavers

A warm welcome to:

Chloe Aikman – Support Worker at Easter Ross

Jennifer Scott – Senior Support Worker at Easter Ross

Joe Kindlen – Support Worker at Lochaber

Lyndsay Murray – Support Worker at Caithness

Carl Peet – Support Worker, Easter Ross

Clare Walker – Support Worker, Easter Ross

Tanya Pokorniecki – Support Worker, Recovery Centre

Shona Nicolson – Staff Nurse, Recovery Centre

Mairi Weir – Relief Support Worker, Lochaber

Jennifer Nicolson – Support Worker, Caithness

Lorna Haggerty – Support Worker, Caithness

Marian Mowatt – Support Worker, Caithness

Kim Helliwell – Relief Support Worker, Caithness

Màiri MacDonald – Fundraising and Communications Manager, Head Office

As well as a huge welcome to all our new staff, I would also like to say a special mention for a number of staff who have rejoined Birchwood Highland after a spell away, either doing different jobs or going on to study before deciding to return to work with us.

We are delighted to welcome back two recent returners – Shona Nicolson, Staff Nurse, BHRC and Jennifer Scott, Senior Support Worker, Easter Ross as well of course Julie Calder, Team Manager, Caithness who worked with our service a number of years ago as a support worker and rejoined Birchwood Highland in April.


A fond farewell to:

Kelsey Bowen – Support Worker, Easter Ross

Lesley Frame – Staff Nurse, Recovery Centre

Michael Brown – Support Worker, Lochaber

Pauline Burnett – Fundraising Manager, Head Office

Heather Nic, Support Worker, Easter Ross


Training Dates

Diversity and Inclusion – LGBT Awareness – 19th July, Inverness

Medication Training – 28th July, Invergordon

Recovery Star and Support Plans – 28th July, Invergordon

Mental Health First Aid – 23rd and 24th August, Invergordon

Adult Support and Protection – 30th August, Wick

SafeTALK – 11th September, Inverness

Blood Borne Virus Day – 28th September, Inverness