Sep 132012

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Congratulations to all those who took part in the Paralympics – whether as athlete, supportive family member, friend, carer or spectator.

This was by all accounts the biggest, most successful, most visible (and probably most vibrant and dynamic) Paralympics to date.

And yes, congratulations to Team GB for their impressive haul of metals – but nationalism should not be the most important focal point of this great event.

This might be a good point to mention that sporting achievement and medals are not the only area where people with special abilities excel. 

Want proof?  Please visit VSA’s Easter Anguston farm before 23rd September and walk the art and sculpture trail, part of the North East Open Studios programme.  Not only is this a well laid out, environmentally sensitive show with wonderful artwork on view.

It’s also a collaboration between people from different age groups, skill levels and abilities – local professional artists’ work is shown alongside the work of children, people with autism, and people from other countries.  This show treats them all the same, and you’ll be hard pressed to tell what kind of person has created the works that greet you:  they are all, without exception beautiful and amazingly creative.

Things are improving for people with special requirements and special sets of skills, but unfortunately, there are signs all around that we’re just not doing as well as we should in terms of help, inclusion and respect.  Let’s do better.

Hopefully here in the Deen emergency services have now stopped parking their vehicles in ‘Handicapped’ parking spaces.  You might remember a certain instance when a fire truck parked at a local supermarket in the handicapped spaces so the firemen/women could go shopping.

Perhaps some relevant definitions won’t go amiss.  And furthermore, as we’re all suffering from UTG fatigue, this will be a web-free column this week (well, I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it).

Uncomfortable: (adjective) state of being at ease or mildly distressed.

Pity the poor staff and customers who were at Costa Coffee in our own Bon Accord shopping mall yesterday:  they were made ‘uncomfortable’.  The Walker family were feeding their young, ill child Brayden  via a feeding tube.  How rude of them!

Naturally, they were asked to leave.  We can’t have that sort of thing in public, and Mrs Walker should just stay home with her child.  According to the Scottish Sun, Brayden’s parents were asked to leave and never return to the Bon Accord Centre café in Aberdeen.  Somehow, Old Susannah doesn’t think they will want to.

I also mystically predict that Costa Coffee will continue to feel ‘uncomfortable’ for some time to come as sales slump.

  Well done to the staff of Costa.  No nonsense approach there

This must be the first time that such an offensive sight was seen in our town.  Let’s hope we can stick to our traditional public behaviour standards of assaults and good old-fashioned drunken exploits.

I would like to commend the bravery of the person who made the complaint against the Walker family; it’s important to stand up for your right of not having to look at ill people.  Well done to the staff of Costa.  No nonsense approach there.  Rather than explaining to the complainant that not everyone is well and healthy, or that everyone has the right to peacefully pursue a normal life.  Nope, just a get out and don’t come back.

Well played!  Wonder what they’d have said to Christopher Reeve or Stephen Hawking?

Brayden suffers from the kidney condition posterior urethral valves and needs 24-hour care.  Therefore, like anyone else suffering with a medical problem, he should just stay out of sight, at least until ATOS hit him with a benefits assessment appointment at some future point.

ATOS: (proper noun) a multinational company, services include IT services – and work fitness assessments.

Old Susannah has an acquaintance (who i would like to consider to be a friend, too) who was in a serious accident over a year ago.  In that year there have been operations (they are on a first name basis with doctors and nurses at the local hospital treating them), setbacks, challenges and so on.

This person is currently in hospital (again), and has not been able to move without discomfort (if at all) for much of this time.  As well as the physical devastation, there must also be a heck of a lot of stress and residual trauma.

Naturally, a benefits assessor has visited, and told this layabout to get back to work and that their benefits are to be cut.

In the spirit of the age, ATOS, the benefits assessment firm, comes to mind.  They are proud sponsors of the Paralympics.  Hooray!

They were also implicated in scandalous treatment of the long-term disabled.  The Guardian newspaper had this report in July:-

“Dr Steve Bick, a GP with 20 years’ experience, applied for a job as an assessor with Atos to carry out the work capability assessment (WCA), and secretly filmed his training for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, which will be broadcast on Monday 30 July at 8pm. Undercover filming shows Bick being told by his trainer that he will be watched carefully over the number of applicants he found eligible for the highest rate of disability payments.

“The trainer tells trainee assessors: “If it’s more than I think 12% or 13%, you will be fed back ‘your rate is too high.'” When Bick questioned how the company could know in advance the precise proportion of people who needed to be put in this category, the trainer replied: “How do we know? I don’t know who set the criteria but that’s what we are being told.”

“Bick asked: “So if we put 20% in, we would get picked up on?”. He was told by the trainer that, in that scenario, his cases would be reviewed.

“The DWP said it was unable to respond in detail to the programme’s  findings because it had not been shown a full transcript, but a spokeswoman said it was “nonsense” to suggest there were targets or expected results of any sort. She said assessors’ results were monitored to make sure they adhered to an average, adding: “If individual Atos healthcare professionals record results considerably outside the average, their work may be audited to ensure quality. If no issues are found with the quality of work, no action is taken.”

“In the footage, one of the trainers admits during a session that the auditing process makes her feel uncomfortable.”

There’s that word again – uncomfortable.

So here’s this person I know, trying to get their life back together, going through operations, experiencing pain, and this is the criteria – apparently – that assessors are using to ‘keep targets low’.

No doubt my friend will be forced back to work, ready or not, if they want to keep a roof over their head and keep eating.  No doubt the young Walker child will be expected to get some kind of low-paid demeaning job as soon as he’s old enough to talk.  And this is, of course, a good thing.

We’ll have 6,500 brand new jobs of all kinds once we build the web, and we’ll need all the low-paid cleaners, street-sweepers, graffiti-removers and tree-fellers we can get.

Damn – and I wasn’t going to mention the web.

Next week:  More definitions, and hopefully a review of all the articles the P&J and Evening Express will publish about the new granite web scandals over the secrecy of the TIF application and the radio blitzkrieg that should have never been.

PS – a true reason to be cheerful:  the Led Zeppelin 02 Concert Film ‘Celebration Day’ will finally be released.  Once it’s out, look for me in whatever cinema it’s showing in for the first few weeks at least.

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Sep 132012

On Wednesday 12 September VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm in Peterculter opened its annual one-week outdoor art gallery and sculpture trail.  This is in conjunction with North East Open Studios 2012 (NEOS), which runs a yearly event during which regional artists open their studios to the public over a one-week period. Suzanne Kelly reports.

Over 70 guests attended the preview evening, and were treated to guided tours of the artwork placed around the farm’s grounds.

Guests were also able to meet some of the artists – some of which are service users – and view the farm, farm shop, animals and education areas of the facility.

John Booth, Deputy Chief Executive at VSA, was one of several speakers welcoming the guests.  Thanks and floral presentations were made to several volunteers.

Alex Kay, a well-known name on the Aberdeen art scene, has a deep connection with Easter Anguston Farm’s NEOS gallery; she commented

“Every year it gets bigger and more interesting.  It brings a different dynamic to the farm and the work that’s done there. For the service users heavily involved in farming, it means developing a new skill set.  There are some real stars there.” 

Alex and her partner Simon led a tour around the site.

I was introduced to William Moir, who had made a wonderful sculpture of a Koala bear, which was situated in the perfect setting – a tree.  This beautiful sculpture and all of the other exhibits were extraordinary; the artwork on show radiates enthusiasm, optimism and colour; it is some of the happiest artwork I have seen in a very long time.

There is an Alice in Wonderland-themed area featuring a Mad Hatter’s Tea party section, a very winsome snail soft sculpture, and an endearing painting of a rabbit.

These works are displayed in two tiny summerhouses; nearby festive umbrellas hang upside down from trees, decorated with artwork and streamers.

Elsewhere there are colourful papier mache figures copying ancient Egyptian cat mummy styles, fabric wall hangings in the form of stylised deer heads, large and small knitted panda bears by Knit Wits adorn the garden centre area.

Participating artists include children, service users and artists from a variety of backgrounds.  The sculpture trail includes remarkable works in situ including a beautifully crafted miniature pond with fish and lily pads by Heather Ivers.  A pottery dragon sculpture called ‘The Watcher’ by Bibo Weber adds a fantasy element.

Nearby in a small glade of conifers were realistic handcrafted miniature mushrooms, while overhead a few giant dragonflies hung from the trees.  (Unfortunately by then it was too dark for photos of ‘The Watcher’ to come out well, yet too light to get the glow-in-the-dark effect from the dragonflies.

The appearance of a giant rainbow over the farmlands added a magical, happy touch to the event (and was a welcome distraction from the short-lived rain which punctuated the sunshine).

The artwork is in the farm’s grounds which is a most impressive wildlife haven.  The Royal Society for the Protection of Bird’s Claire Marsden was on hand and is the Red Kite officer.  Red Kites were severely reduced in number throughout the UK, but are being successfully reintroduced.

A sign explains the importance of hedgerows, what plants the hedges are grown from, and the kinds of wildlife which depends on these plants. Like the hedgerows, Easter Anguston Farm’s wildlife pond also supports biodiversity and is important to the area’s wildlife.

Graduate students from Total E&P UK, the Altens-based oil company, volunteered to make improvements to the pond such as building a small jetty.  These graduate students recently raised over £600 for the VSA at Total’s offices during a coffee morning fundraiser, and Total is matching this sum.

The graduates’ coffee morning also highlighted to Total personnel the many services the VSA provides.  The graduates have other fundraising and community volunteer projects in the near future, including ‘Le Tour de Deeside’ bicycle race based loosely on the Tour de France, with additional challenges added.

The organisers send their thanks to the attendees, and said:

“It was a brilliant event and we were delighted with the turnout… and even more delighted with the fact that most of the rain managed to hold off until the walk around was finished! ”

The VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm’  NEOS 2012 gallery is open between Saturday 15 September and Sunday 23 September, from 10am until 4pm daily with free entry, a café and free parking.

North-east social care charity VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm trains adults with additional support needs, and is also a tourist attraction.  The Farm has more than doubled its artists and exhibits from 2011 and boasts a new relationship with Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW).

More E. Anguston Art here:

Stop press:

For those inspired by what they see, SSW will host a workshop for visitors to make their own sculpture, keepsake or piece of jewellery.  Participants will be guided through the ancient technique of cuttlefish casting, a form of metal casting, at the drop-in sessions on Saturday 22 September between 10am and 4pm.

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Aug 312012

Four Total E&P UK Limited graduates will today unveil to their colleagues Le Tour de Deeside, a fundraiser in aid of VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm, a Peterculter-based visitor attraction that offers training and support to adults with learning difficulties. With thanks to Claire McBain.

Easter Anguston Farm, run by VSA, will benefit from the takings at an adult and family cycle event on Sunday 30 September 2012.

Graduate engineers Louise Reid, 25, from Aberdeen, Jamie Kirkwood, 25, from Fraserburgh, Steven Grzywa, 26, from Portlethen and Drew Annand, 26, from Brechin have organised and will host the event for TEP UK employees, family and friends to mark the end of their graduate scheme.

Le Tour de Deeside will comprise a team cycle race along the Deeside Way, with integrated Olympic-themed challenges.

Funds will be raised from entry fees, tomorrow’s internal coffee morning at TEP UK – when the Le Tour de Deeside is unveiled and its family fun day in September.  Louise, Jamie, Steven and Drew will also volunteer at the farm.

Louise Reid, graduate process engineer at Total, said:

“VSA stood out to us because we knew the money we raised would make a difference close to home.  We wanted to see the results.  It had to be a project we’d be interested in as young adults and a story people attending our event could identify with. 

“Easter Anguston Farm fits the bill perfectly.  We’ll physically see our funds in use and can push the project on by donating our own time.

“I’m so excited to be part of this.  I can’t wait to meet the service users and understand what the farm means to them.  Knowing our efforts will directly benefit them is a real motivator.  I want to raise awareness of VSA within TEP UK and inspire others to follow in our footsteps.”

Fiona Davidson, farm operations manager, said:

“We’re so grateful to be the chosen charity.  I’m positive we’re giving them something back too.  This project will force them to pull together to become short-term experts in something they’d never face in day-to-day employment.  Not to mention the skills they’ll develop with fundraising, event organisation and meeting our service users. 

“We’re also so thankful to Total.  Corporate matching is a great initiative and will give this project a big boost.”

“When they visited, we decided revamping the pond would match their estimated funds and time available.  I’m working on a major development of the farm and this was one of my initial targets. 

“Making areas like this more attractive is so important.  We don’t want Easter Anguston to just be a working farm.  It’s becoming an attraction where the family can spend a whole day.”

For more information about Easter Anguston Farm contact Fiona Davidson on 01224 733627.

Le Tour de Deeside will take place on Sunday 30 December from 12noon.  Teams will register at the Robert Gordon University Business School, Garthdee, where a barbecue will follow afterwards. 

For further information, photographs or to arrange interviews, please contact Claire McBain on 01224 358611 or 07808768530 or e-mail

May 032012

With thanks to Claire McBain. 

Entries for North East Open Studios (NEOS) 2012 may have been declared closed but VSA, the UK’s largest city social care charity supporting people in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, has announced it still has space to accommodate further artists and creators at its annual NEOS event at Easter Anguston Farm, Peterculter.

NEOS is an award-winning, not-for-profit collective of artists, makers and galleries in the North East who open their doors to the public each September. VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm has been a venue for the last four years.

Belinda Rowlands, farm manager at VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm, said:

“We are so excited to be a NEOS venue again. It gets better and better every year. We’ve already attracted some great local talent for 2012 and, as usual, we’ll be celebrating the creativity of VSA service users, displaying artwork from Easter Anguston Farm trainees and Friends for Life clubs’ children with additional support needs.”

“However, there’s still space for many more to join us, whether old, young, a dab-hand or a newbie. It’s an ideal occasion for artists in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to present work to a captive audience and support the local community at the same time. Our space is most suited to sculptors, ceramicists, land artists and other outdoor exhibitors but there is very limited indoor space remaining too.”

“We’re also keen for students and other groups to consider working collectively on a NEOS project. For the last few years, we’ve been lucky enough to be home to the Knit Wits, a group of knitters led by VSA Trustee Rosy Wood, who come together for NEOS each September. The knitters covered the farm in multi-coloured woollen sheep last year and have already organised their 2012 designs. They’ve gone for a topical animal theme but to find out more, you’ll have to visit in September!”

Well-known local artist Alex Kay has been heavily involved with NEOS at Easter Anguston Farm over the past four years. She said:

“Easter Anguston sets itself apart from other galleries by creating a unique link with art and the community. Local creatives can showcase their work while raising awareness of the UK’s largest social care charity. That’s what drives me to be there every year.”

The Peterculter-based attraction, comprised of a 70-acre working farm and 20-acres of woodland, nurtures adults with learning difficulties. It provides meaningful work and training, in social skills as well as horticulture, aiming to eventually ensure trainees are confident about entering the potentially intimidating mainstream job market.
The farm is open to the public and has a coffee shop, education centre, farm shop and garden centre where the trainees sell their homegrown fruit, vegetables and plants.

To find out more or get an application form for exhibiting at NEOS at Easter Anguston Farm, contact Claire McBain, fundraising officer, on 01224 358611 or e-mail 

More information about VSA:

  • VSA is the UK’s largest city social care charity, providing the best of care to the most vulnerable people in the community. VSA, established more than 140 years ago, looks after around 5,000 people in Aberdeen City and Shire each year.
  • Its work falls into three main categories: education and lifelong learning, older people services and social care and wellbeing, incorporating carers’ services. These services help children and families to build better futures, older people to lead more independent, dignified and fulfilling lives, adults with disabilities and mental health problems to get the most from life, and both adult and child carers to juggle everyday life with caring responsibilities.
  • The fact that 96p in every £1 donated goes on direct charitable expenditure really sets VSA apart from other not-for-profit organisations. Money raised in the north-east stays in the north-east. VSA encourages supporters visiting its services to see exactly how their money might be, or hopefully has been, spent.
  • For further information about VSA and its work in the local community, visit