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Real-ity Check – Owners message to First Minister

[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]This rural challenge needs joined up thinking as area looks to reopen.

By Sarah Heward and Alan McColm

Sarah and I spent much of this week analysing what we believe are a ‘broader’ set of challenges facing rural businesses such as our own, as a consequence of Coronavirus and Lockdown.

We are very concerned that there is insufficient understanding, focus or investment at National level in some key areas. Areas where individual businesses have little or no control.

We have written a letter to the First Minister (of Scotland) asking her to encourage more ‘joined up’ thinking and action to address these concerns.

This will require substantial investment and improvement of rural infrastructure, rather than disinvestment and redundancies (e.g. recent NTS redundancies). It will also require strong and effective communication to reassure many members of these rural communities that measure will be put in place to support them as the Highlands and Islands begin to ‘open’.

This request is not simply for our own benefit or even just for rural businesses. It is for Scotland’s economy. It’s a necessity if Scottish tourism is to adapt to the post-civid world and achieve the government’s stated ambitions of becoming the world’s premier tourist destination by 2030.

I shared Sarah’s video in an (Facebook) earlier post, where she describes the contents of the letter and urges those of you who are interested, to have a listen and perhaps join in by sharing or even writing yourselves.

Take care and stay safe… Alan

Real Food Cafe – Tyndrum

Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister of Scotland

19 June 2020

Dear Nicola,

Re: Scottish Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Strategy.

By way of introduction, 15 years ago I opened a road side diner, The Real Food Café, in what was a derelict Little Chef on the A82 at Tyndrum. Building the business has been very tough, however I persevered and, with my team, created an iconic and very popular café which has won many awards and accolades; most recently being named The Best Informal Eating Experience, in Scotland at VisitScotland’s Thistle Awards 2020.

We employ a minimum of 18 people depending on the time of year. We buy goods and services locally, support our community, and various charitable events and causes. Furthermore, we pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in various forms of tax revenue to the Exchequer every year. The business provides a service seven days a week from 07.30 until 21.00 to locals and thousands of visitors to the area every year.

My husband, Alan McColm now runs the business and I support him in this. The scale of the challenge presented  by Covid-19  thus far has been quite unlike anything we have previously had to face. Closing in the third week of March just as our busiest season was about to begin could not  have been worse for our cash flow. Our staff have been furloughed, but my husband and I have not received a penny of support or an income since the closure of the cafe. The business received a £10K grant and we have borrowed close to £250K from the bank to see us through.

The successful re-opening of the Scottish tourism and hospitality industry is crucial to many thousands of businesses and jobs, especially those based in rural areas.

We need practical measures designed to provide a foundation for the successful re-opening of our sector. Investment not simply in jobs, but in a changed infrastructure which takes into account the needs of visitors to the Highlands and rural areas. The additional pressures placed on businesses providing services in these areas need to be addressed, such as adequate loos, refuse collection, parking, rescue, environmental management and communication.

In addition, rural communities must be encouraged to ‘open their hearts’ as well as their doors, to encourage visitors from across the UK to feed our economy whilst there is still some season left.

Many in our small rural communities are afraid. After weeks of lockdown, we have had fewer Covid-19 cases compared with elsewhere, and there have been plenty of scare stories in the media to heighten anxiety

Their concern has been exacerbated  by visitors dismissing government  guidelines and travelling further than they should, and because there are no facilities or adequate infrastructure, the mess they leave behind has fuelled resentment.

Stephen Kerr MP visits the Real Food Cafe

Public bodies need to be supported and augmented to provide the local knowledge and leadership required to present Scotland at its best and reassure locals that our thinking is ‘joined-up’. The message needs to be balanced between ‘public health advice’ and ‘economic resurrection’ , particularly in rural areas and the Highlands and Islands. The communities need a range of assurances, from NHS support to increased funding of local support services such as Mountain Rescue and Rangers from the National Parks and The National Trust for Scotland. The latter has served redundancy notices on 400 of their 700 employees. In the Killin NTS office, five out of six employees have received redundancy notices, which does nothing to reassure anyone that the visitor infrastructure and environmental impact is going to be managed adequately.

We have been most impressed with the clarity of your communications. The personal, human involvement and leading from the front has been welcomed and we would encourage you to continue in this vein. We are also very grateful for the support of our MSP Bruce Crawford and our MP Alyn Smith who have both committed to trying to get more financial support for us.

You’re Hired : Some of the recent apprentices at the Real Food Cafe

We met recently at Holyrood at an SVQ certificate presentation and tour hosted by Bruce. We are willing to contribute in any capacity you and your colleagues feel would be valuable.

Finally, we hope that you keep in good health and humour and look forward to your reply and support for businesses such as our own.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Heward                                                                                                                Alan McColm

Founder & Director                                                                                         Managaing Director

The Real Food Café, Tyndrum                                                                        


Riddell Graham – VisitScotland, Director of Industry and Destination Development

Gordon Watson – Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Chief Executive

Philip Long OBE – The National Trust for Scotland, Incoming Chief Executive

Neil Wells – The Loch Lomond and Trossachs Destination Group, Chairman

Bruce Crawford –MSP, Stirling.

Alyn Smith – MP Stirling

Killin Community Notice Board

Strathfillan Community FB page

The Real Food Café FB page

The Killin News

The Stirling Observer

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