Islay pub owner sparks community initiative

DURING lockdown, our beloved pubs and restaurants have been cruelly snatched away from us but, while some pub owners closed their shutters and awaited the easing of restrictions, David Graham of Ballygrant Inn on Islay saw this difficult time as a shining opportunity to help those in need.

“At the start of the lockdown we realised that some of our senior citizens might feel remote and shut away, and maybe didn’t have family close to hand for emotional, and other forms of support,” explains David. From the very first Monday of lockdown until recently, he has been delivering lunches to vulnerable residents living on the island.

Every year, David hosts a Christmas lunch for the elderly at the Ballygrant Inn – an event that is funded by a ticketed Burns supper each year. Realising he had surplus funds from the event, David’s lockdown lunch scheme was born.

The scheme has proven hugely popular on Islay, and David was delivering meals to around 60 vulnerable people each day. Though David and his son were initially single-handedly delivering the service, volunteers soon arrived on the scene to lend a hand.

“Our volunteers were some of our pub regulars,” says David. “We didn’t have to go very far to find help.”

Ensuring that everyone involved was well trained in terms of safety precautions, they followed guidelines and advice that had been given by the local council.

David felt it was the right thing to do, explaining that they were already catering for some workers, including some from Scottish Water. Neither he nor his volunteers have been taking a wage for this work, considering it a gesture of goodwill during what is a very testing time.

Unbeknownst to David, elsewhere on Islay, the community council had also created a volunteer group that was working to aid island residents – it is known as the “Islay Resilience Group” and was funded by a £50,000 donation from Ardbeg distillery, with additional funds from the Scottish Government. Putting their experience together, David and the Islay Resilience Group built up a much bigger initiative, introducing David’s model to other hotels and restaurants on the island. This not only aided vulnerable residents, but also boosted the local economy, with hotels being able to pay some of their staff using the funding.

David said the system has turned into something really positive, explaining that “there are now volunteers who phone people just for a chat to make sure that mentally they are okay, so there is a point of contact if anyone needs it”.

And the goodwill reached further than David had ever imagined. Bruichladdich distillery supported a lady who lives on the island who usually makes soaps and handcreams – using the distillery’s spirit, she made bottles of hand sanitiser. Diageo’s distilleries – Lagavulin and Caol Ila – followed suit, producing their own hand sanitisers to supply the residents of Islay via the pre-existing lunch club network.

As lockdown continues to ease and we begin to wonder what life might look like for the foreseeable future, the lunch club also begins to wind down its services. However, lunches will still be provided for those shielding, and by the sounds of it a wonderful sense of community spirit will remain for many years to come.