Post pandemic base party reconnects community

Four-year-old Eve McKerral from Campbeltown had a great time at the Party at the Base.
Four-year-old Eve McKerral from Campbeltown had a great time at the Party at the Base.

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Kintyre’s incredible community spirit came to the fore last Saturday as more than 800 residents and visitors attended the biggest event held since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Party at the Base at Machrihanish Airbase Community Company (MACC) Business Park was the brainchild of quarantine quiz queen Helen Gilchrist.

When the first Covid-19 lockdown began in March 2020, Helen hosted a ‘one-off’ quiz to relieve boredom but it proved so successful it turned into 11 weeks of online fun, with thousands of people around the world tuning in as Helen ‘went live’ on her Jolly Monday Show Facebook group.

Not only did it keep people’s spirits up during one of the longest periods of isolation many had ever experienced, but more than £14,000 was raised for charity after participants asked Helen to set up a GoFundMe page so they could ‘pay’ to take part, as they would if attending a regular quiz.

The total also included money raised through sales of a calendar featuring some of the town’s more risqué characters, made by Helen and her friend Leighann Burns.

Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance received £7,000 of the money raised, with some funds used to buy hampers for essential service providers including staff at Campbeltown Ambulance Station, Campbeltown Hospital, Kintyre Care Home and Lorne Campbell Court. Donations were also given to local causes and charities.

But Helen was determined some funds should be set aside to host an event primarily for the community’s children, who coped so well with all the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She initially hoped to host a party in July 2021 but pandemic restrictions limiting the organisation of large-scale events remained in place longer than expected.

Finally, last Saturday, the party went ahead, featuring attractions for children of all ages including fair rides, a flight simulator, inflatables, a climbing wall, a ball pit, bungee trampolines, face painting and photobooths. There were also stalls selling sweets, juice and other goods.

Although primarily aimed at children, adults were catered for too, with bars and live music throughout the day from Kintyre Schools Pipe Band, Tommy and Stewart Blue, Mari Allibone and Che Martin, with Mid Argyll-based band Gubbed rounding things off.

The fun began at midday, with a ‘quiet hour’ set aside for children who prefer things less noisy and busy, with everyone joining in from 1pm.

From then until 10pm, when things wrapped up, a bus shuttled people between Campbeltown and MACC Business Park, free of charge.

Asked if she was happy with how the event turned out, Helen said: ‘It was amazing, the children had a ball.

‘Some parents commented on how it was so safe; they could let their children run about, no hassle.

‘Someone else said from the minute they got to the bus terminal until they left the base, it was laugh a minute.’

She added: ‘This was two years in the making and it was a relief on Sunday when it was all over. I was exhausted but I enjoy doing it.’

The children even helped out with tidying up some of the rubbish left behind.

‘At one point I thought we’d be there until midnight clearing up all the rubbish but some children came in and asked if they could help us clean up,’ Helen said.

‘So I started giving out bin bags and the children basically cleared the whole park. They filled 30 bin bags of rubbish. I was like the Pied Piper – as soon as I gave one of them a bag, they were all wanting one. They were amazing.’

Although she was the main organiser, Helen said the day could not have taken place or been so successful without the help of many people.

She said: ‘I’d like to thank Malcolm McMillan and the staff at MACC because nothing was too much of a problem for them; Ewan McIlroy at AM Transport who was a huge help; Billy McFadyen who jumped in at the last minute to help with supply generators; Colin Craig at West Coast Motors for providing the bus free of charge; Richard Semple and Stevie Gorman for standing all day directing traffic in the car park; the fire cadets from Campbeltown Fire Station for helping out on the day; Kenny Craig for taking photographs and everyone else who helped in any way.

‘The rock stars of the day were Bobby Cairns and Willie Durnan. I could never have done it without them; they were there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and they helped out in any way they could, they were amazing.

‘Anyone I asked for help, they didn’t even think about it, it was ‘yes’ right away.

‘Folk travelled from the USA and Portsmouth to be there and it was lovely to see people meeting up with people they hadn’t seen for years because of the pandemic, and even Campbeltown people meeting up because there hasn’t really been gathering like that since before the pandemic.’