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After almost three years of tireless work battling red tape, construction of a purpose-built helipad to transfer patients from Campbeltown Hospital to larger hospitals for potentially life-saving treatment is underway.
On Monday morning, McFadyen’s Contractors began work on the £270,000 helipad, which will be named the Robert Black Memorial Helipad in honour of the Campbeltown paramedic who died in May last year after a battle with Covid-19.
The project was led by ambulance technician Stuart McLellan, from Neilston in East Renfrewshire, after he saw emergency services struggling to airlift patients from the often water-logged site while visiting relatives John and Dorothy Biggins in Campbeltown in 2018.
After discussions with locals, including councillors and community councillors who were supportive from the start, Stuart began his campaign, and in October last year, he announced that the Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads (HELP) Appeal would fund the project.
South Kintyre Development Trust agreed to take on a licence to operate the helipad and take responsibility for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the site on behalf of the community.
With planning permission granted by Argyll and Bute Council on December 23, work began on January 11.
It was important to Stuart that Kintyre companies carried out as much of the work as possible, so McFadyen’s Contractors and McKinven and Colville were appointed as the main contractors. All specialised equipment is being supplied by FEC Heliports.
Stuart told the Courier: ‘At first, I thought, is this too big a project? But I’ve never really been beaten by a project yet so I thought I’d give it a bash.
‘I’m the sort of person who thinks if a job’s needing done, get it done right. There’s a solution to every problem, that’s the mindset I’ve had for this project and it seems to have worked.’
As well as support from stakeholders, Stuart has been overwhelmed by the support he has received from the community and local businesses.
‘I have been inundated with positive messages,’ he said. ‘The support has been incredible, and we’re actually still getting offers of support coming in from local businesses.’
The Ardshiel Hotel has offered to host the project team at a hugely discounted rate, Glen Scotia Distillery has offered sponsorship towards an opening event, and Beinn an Tuirc Distillers plans to release a unique bottling to raise funds for the helipad’s maintenance.
Airline Loganair has offered to fly some of the required aviation experts to Campbeltown on its scheduled flights free of charge, something which will directly help deliver the project on budget.
Stuart said: ‘There are very few people flying anywhere, staying in hotels or going to pubs; these businesses are from three sectors that have been massively affected by the pandemic but they have still managed to support this community project.’
Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles told the Courier: ‘Loganair has very long-standing links with both Campbeltown – which we’ve served since 1977 – and the Scottish Ambulance Service, and when we heard of the community initiative to build the new helipad, we were delighted to help.
‘The fund-raising programme and Stuart McLellan’s efforts have been excellent and deserve our whole-hearted support.’
It is hoped construction of the helipad will be complete by early April, with an official opening event scheduled for April 17, plans for which will depend on Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time.
Councillor John Armour, a supporter of the project, said: ‘From the first meeting to discuss the proposed helipad project, the enthusiasm to get this in place has been fantastic. It has taken a bit longer than expected to get to construction stage but here we are and that is all down to Stuart’s never-give-up attitude.
‘I am proud to have supported this wonderful project from day one and work with Stuart, firstly to help get agreement with the council to use the land, then with planners to get the planning permission approved.
‘I was delighted that my request to planners to try and get this through before Christmas was agreed, ensuring that the project could start on Monday.
‘Well done to Stuart for all his hard work getting everything in place, I know there were times when it would have been easier to give up and where others may well have done so but his determination to see this project in place has got us to where we are today.’