Friday — and I’m feeling almost punch drunk. Completely dazed, thrown about, and wondering ‘what just happened here?’ In a good way, I think. What a week it has been. There has been so much going on – some of it incredibly exciting but exhausting too. A lot of it surreal.
Anyone who follows my Twitter feed or Facebook page will have seen that Alex Thomson and a crew from Channel 4 News were here this week.
They arrived on the plane on Monday, the result of a four-month long conversation about the wind farm story on Lewis, and flew off at lunchtime today, heading back to Heathrow.
Alex Thomson is, of course, Chief Correspondent with Channel 4 News and he flies all over the world, covering stories. I first got to know him in September when he sent me an email.
“I read your blog on the wind farm issue near Point with great interest,” he wrote. “It seems a great story about sustainability, money and faith in the community. It might well make a strong item for C4 News. Can we have a chat when it suits?”
Absolutely we could! The journey from that email to this week, though, has felt long. Although Alex and C4 were keen on the story, plenty got in the way — which is understandable, given their global news remit. I totally get that.
There were budget challenges so they couldn’t travel to us — “overspent because of hurricanes and earthquakes” — then there was conference season and then he was abroad again, having only come back very recently from Washington.
But Alex and the crew — cameraman Stephen and producer Amelia — finally arrived in Stornoway on Monday, off the Inverness plane at 3pm.
They needed a quick tour to get their bearings with regards to the wind farms — the controversial sites proposed by Lewis Wind Power as well as the three at Beinn Ghrideag, which are owned by Point and Sandwick Trust and have become a blueprint for what the community can do.
So I met them off the plane and led the way. Alex jumped in with me — I knew I should have cleaned the car — while the others followed in their hired 4×4.
I asked him, by the way, if he ever got jet lag. I had been wondering and the answer is “no” he doesn’t.
I was impressed by how well informed they all were on what is a complex issue. They were pleased to have a good few days to work on the piece and they were lucky with the weather. Monday wasn’t auspicious but it brightened up beautifully after that and apparently they got some cracking footage, even capturing sunrise and sunset shots and the obligatory breakers at Dalbeg.
I met Amelia for coffee this morning before they left for the airport and she said it had been a “great trip”. Hectic, obviously, but lovely — and they were delighted with their footage. Cameraman Stephen was in heaven, she said.
Amelia is hoping to come back again — get those tickets for HebCelt, Amelia! — so that she can see a bit more of the sights. As jobs go, though, it does sound like a good trip.
Their piece on the wind farm battle has not been screened yet. It is likely to go out sometime next week — I’ll post details on social media when I hear them — and I am very much looking forward to it, although I’m quite pent up about it too. I’m keen to see the results of all their interviews.
In terms of who they spoke to, look out for interviews with North Street crofter and campaigner Rhoda Mackenzie, Point and Sandwick’s developer (and former Western Isles MP) Calum MacDonald, council leader Roddie Mackay, Stornoway Trust factor Iain Maciver and LWP community liaison Kerry MacPhee.
They also filmed in a crofters’ meeting in Willie Macfarlane’s barn in Melbost on Tuesday night — and I cannot wait to see that! I’ve heard there was a tractor and hay bales…
Even though I knew they were here, it was still strange to see them out and about. Driving through town on Tuesday, I passed Alex on Cromwell Street, about to cross the road outside Tommy Nicholson’s and looking down at his mobile. Not the cove’s usual context. ‘Alex Thomson on Cromwell Street? Should he not be in Kabul or DC…?’
The whole thing has been surreal and now I just want to see it on the telly. It was supposed to go out on Thursday night but got bumped from the schedule by a piece from Syria (fair enough). The piece will be about eight minutes long and it’s a strange mix of emotions, waiting to see it go out.
One wise friend sent me a message last night. He’s very kind and gentle, and a longtime campaigner, particularly in matters of community and ecology.
He said: “You must be feeling a bit roller-coastered with the high octane of C4 revving up, then it being postponed. Not good for the constitution. ‘Be still’…” These things happen, he advised, and we must carry them. “The Buddhists call it practising equanimity.”
Channel 4 wasn’t the only ‘big thing’ happening this week. The other was the launch of ‘Calum’s ferry’, as it’s been dubbed, by the folk at Point and Sandwick Trust.
This, of course, was the launch of the hydrogen ferry project, which is led by Calum MacDonald.
I won’t go into it all again here — if you missed the announcement, read it on the pointandsandwick.co.uk website — but it is very exciting and it would be incredible if the vision could be turned into reality.
At lunchtime on that mad Tuesday — while Alex and crew were at large in Stornoway — I popped down to the old pier, to get a quick photo of Calum to go along with the story, with the Loch Seaforth in the background.
This news release was one of my PR jobs for Point and Sandwick Trust this month and it’s been amazing to see how much press it received.
There were pieces in all the local papers — including front page coverage in the Gazette and the Free Press — but also the nationals. It was picked up here by The Times (The Times!) and the energy trade press loved it too. It even made it to the US, appearing on the North American Clean Energy website. The BBC also featured it. Angus Macdonald interviewed Calum on camera and they also ran it on their website. Result!
I’ve known about this project for months and, as I said on social media earlier in the week, it’s been so hard to keep schtum.
Basically, the idea is to develop a ferry that can run off hydrogen and to create that hydrogen from the electricity produced by a wind turbine, locally owned and situated. The technicalities are tricky but that’s what the feasibility study is all about — resolving them.
The whole project is being led by Point and Sandwick Trust but its partners are CMAL, who own the CalMac ferries, Ferguson Marine shipyard and others, including Wood Group, which is somewhat ironic considering that they have become partners in the LWP projects along with EDF.
There is one last thought that I want to leave you with, about this. It is a quote from Calum, included in the news release.
He said he was “particularly pleased the Scottish Government has shown such belief in and support for the community energy sector by asking us to lead the project”.
That, to me, sums up everything important about this week’s media activity — “belief in the community energy sector”. Or the lack of it, in some cases.
I blogged, a few days ago, about the Comhairle’s decision to join forces with the Stornoway Trust to try to buy minority shares in the LWP projects — and their refusal to answer questions about how much that will cost and where on earth they think they might get the money from.
Read all about that in ‘Anyone got £71million to lend the Comhairle…?’
I wish everyone was on board with the community energy sector.
But right now, it’s after 9pm on a Friday night and I feel like I’ve been eating, sleeping and breathing community-owned wind all week. I need to get me some of that equanimity. I wonder if I’ll find it at the bottom of a very large glass of wine…