Bringing people together at a time when the rules encourage us to stay apart is an immense challenge – but Carloway’s new social inclusion officer is more than up to the task.

Newly appointed by Carloway Community Association, DJ Macleod has been charged with promoting social inclusion in the district between Dalmore and Lochganvich, specifically by helping to set up daytime and evening activities in Breasclete and Carloway community halls.

DJ has returned to the island, and to the family croft at Arnol, with his wife Elizabeth, a lecturer in history at the University of the Highlands and Islands, and their baby daughter Mary Grace.

Carloway residents will remember DJ as the former youth worker for Carloway and when he worked for the Comhairle’s education department. More recently he’s been working in Dornoch and Tain schools as a behaviour support and inclusion officer, and it was from that role that he came home in March.

DJ said: “I lost my job at the beginning of the pandemic and we came home to help with the lambing. I was delighted when I saw this job advertised and I feel lucky to have been appointed, even though we’re starting the project at a time when social distancing restricts us to remote activities.

“I have had to start with ideas which can bring people together remotely, and competitions are a good way to do that. We have had a scarecrow competition which was targeted at families – working together across the generations.

“That was won by the Macfarlane family from Garynahine, including their twin boys Robert and Samuel, aged nine, with their brilliant tandem BMX bike scarecrow installation.”

Currently running is a what DJ describes as ‘a slow-burner’ – a potato competition, targeted at the younger generation. About 20 individuals have taken up the offer of a complete potato-growing kit, including maincrop seed potatoes, fertiliser and a growing bag.

Each participant is responsible for planting and tending to their own crop, and will harvest their whole bag of potatoes on Friday 9 October, weighing the harvest and entering their total crop-weight remotely. DJ said: “It will be judged by weight, and the winner will receive a trophy and a surprise extra prize.”

Activities like these are designed to begin a process of social inclusion which was the main aim of the post being created. Funding from the European Social Fund and the Scottish Government’s Aspiring Communities fund underlines the significance of the work.

DJ said: “The main emphasis of the role is to encourage inclusion, especially within low income households, but every activity is open to all.

“Carloway Community Association is leading the project in close partnership with Breasclete Community Association and Urras Oighreachd Chàrlabaigh (Carloway Estate Trust) and the aim is help reduce social isolation by increasing participation in community events, improving access to support services and signposting support for those who need it.”

DJ will also be taking time to examine and report on the provision of childcare in the district, as at the moment despite there being a good number of infants around, there is no daily childcare provision for age 0-3 years at all. “It’s a big issue” said DJ, “and one that needs to be discussed at the highest levels.”  

Physical meetings, groups and activities will begin once people can safely meet again in community centres at Breasclete and Carloway, but in the meantime, DJ is getting people motivated and engaged through remote projects and renewing his networks and contacts.

The pictures show DJ at home in Arnol with wife Elizabeth and daughter Mary Grace, and presenting a prize to the winners of the scarecrow competition, Samuel and Robert Macfarlane from Garynahine, with their biker crew scarecrows (and mum and dad looking on).