Review of the year 2011 - January to April

April saw the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton
April saw the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton
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GOOD or bad, perhaps just plain ugly, however you look back at 2011, it certainly had its moments.

From its wintry arrival with more deep snow and traffic mayhem to economic chaos, the astonishing international events across the Arab nations to the continuing and seemingly never-ending shambles of Edinburgh’s trams, the first few months of the year were hardly dull.

There was our fair share of gloomy news thanks to a bruised economy, soaring unemployment figures and a eurozone crisis. And there were heartbreaking scenes of earthquake destruction in New Zealand and Japan.

a huge earthquake struck Christchurch in February

a huge earthquake struck Christchurch in February

Then, just as it seemed 2011 was turning into a year to forget, riding to the rescue of a despondent nation came a prince and his charming bride.

Prince William wed Catherine Middleton in a sumptuous ceremony in April watched by around three billion viewers around the globe. There was pomp, there was ceremony and there were celebrities in curious and ill-advised outfits.

And, while most of us simply relished the prospect of an extra public holiday, for one Edinburgh-based charity the royal wedding brought unexpected cheer.

Bruntsfield-based Venture Trust was left both reeling and elated in mid-March after the organisation was chosen to benefit from William and Kate’s charitable wedding gift fund – just one of 26 national and inter- national charities to be selected.

The amazing Jack Henderson began his fundraising feat in March

The amazing Jack Henderson began his fundraising feat in March

Each cause was chosen by the happy couple to reflect their own interests, including wildlife and conservation charities to others which support service personnel and their families. Each received a slice of the £1 million plus wedding fund of cash gifts to the couple that flooded in from around the world.

For the Venture Trust, the windfall was a major boost to their efforts to help disadvantaged young Scots turn their lives around by taking them to the heart of the Scottish wilderness, where they could confront and often conquer the demons that had driven them into difficulty.

The royal donation meant the charity has been able to support more youngsters than ever before and lay down foundations to expand their service even further.

“Over the last 12 months we have had 850 participants, that’s 40 per cent more than in previous years,” says Kathryn Welch, funding and communication officer for the charity in Bruntsfield Terrace. “The money has helped them get into employment, further education, voluntary work. So the royal wedding support has been particularly significant.” The charity runs various projects to help troubled or disadvantaged young people make positive changes in their lives, culminating in a Highlands adventure where they learn to draw on new skills which they can then translate to everyday life.

Wintery conditions returned to some parts of the country yesterday, while the severity of gale force winds was clear by this tree that fell in Bonnyrigg High Street. Pictures: Ian Georgeson/Neil Hanna

Wintery conditions returned to some parts of the country yesterday, while the severity of gale force winds was clear by this tree that fell in Bonnyrigg High Street. Pictures: Ian Georgeson/Neil Hanna

The cash – understood to be in the region of around £40,000 – came out of the blue, Kathryn says, with the challenge now to build on the momentum from the cash boost.

“If Prince Harry decides he wants to get married, then our door is always open,” she adds.

So, 2011 brought unexpected and good news for one city-based charity. Here, as the year fades, we look at other key events from the first quarter of 2011.

JANUARY

Expenses claims at Westminster had dominated the headlines, so it was appropriate that 2011 began with another expenses tale – Tory councillor Alistair Paisley being forced to defend claiming £2.40 for cycling to work.

Weather news took charge at the start of the month. Snow caused chaos as Edinburgh Airport was forced to close while, on the roads, petrol stations ran dry as motorists stocked up before the VAT increase.

There was the tragic death of Martin Douglas, who was knocked down by a car driven by an off-duty police officer outside the Playhouse Theatre in the early hours of January 1. The body of Betty Brown was also discovered in a quarry near Carlisle. The 55-year-old from Gorgie had been missing for seven months.

Our first of many tram reports brought the ambitious prediction that a test track could be up and running by the summer. Further delays, problems, and arguing put paid to that. Meanwhile, new council chief executive Sue Bruce arrived to dire news that the Capital was £1.3bn in debt. Panda-monium kicked off with the Evening News revealing the deal to bring two giant pandas to the city zoo.

We also told how police probed the failed New Pyjamas fundraising campaign at the Sick Kids, and highlighted a cash crisis engulfing the Mark Wright Project centre for army veterans.

One of the strangest stories was news that the city council was set to spend £60,000 shifting sand on Portobello beach – 200,000 tonnes to shore up flood defences.

FEBRUARY

Two remarkable tales of courage emerged this month. Brave milkman Graeme MacIntyre chased and caught a drunk driver who had crashed into at least five vehicles in Trinity.

Then paperboy Daniel Lomholt-Welch raised the alarm after finding an unconscious 90-year-old woman on his morning run. Daniel was put forward for a bravery award.

There was the bizarre tale of Border terrier Duffy, towed away to the pound inside his owner’s car. Thankfully, he was discovered in the nick of time.

And, in Dalkeith, school pupils were busy ignoring healthy eating options and taking advantage of Domino’s Pizza’s two-for-one Tuesday deal by ordering up to £500 worth of takeaways to be delivered, with extra audacity, at the school gates.

To add to a string of odd tales was 14-year-old Ceilidh Howie’s unusual “slam dunk” accident – she became stuck fast in a basketball hoop in the grounds of Wallyford Community Centre and had to be rescued by firefighters.

There was gloomy news from the City Chambers when budget savings meant 1200 council posts would be cut. Never mind, we had the trams to look forward to . . . February 25 was the day they were supposed to start running. We recorded the spectacular failure with a front page which highlighted how 72 per cent of the work was still remaining to be done.

The month also saw the killing of 33-year-old chef Stewart Taylor by Frank Moore at a flat in the Grange. Stewart’s girlfriend Lynsey Methven suffered serious injuries. And tributes were paid to 17-year-old Dale Bennet, who died after an alleged attack in Gorebridge. The month ended with the city reeling from reports of three violent deaths in the space of three days.

Meanwhile, on the world stage, Christchurch in New Zealand was hit by a devastating earthquake.

MARCH

Few stories could warm the heart like that of little Jack Henderson. We revealed how Jack, six, planned to raise money for the Sick Kids by drawing pictures in return for donations. A simple, lovely idea . . . and by the end of 2011 he’d be a global sensation, raising more than £32,000 and even grabbing himself a book deal.

There were raised eyebrows at Russian-born entrepreneur Kristina Love’s plans to open up Glam Massage in Easter Road. When councillors dismissed her request, she opened a glam hairdressing salon instead.

Austerity measures forgotten, the city council announced £30,000 on portraits of Lord Provosts which prompted protests. We commissioned our own arty pic of George Grubb, a bargain at less than £100. We offered it to the powers-that-be. Nine months on, the offer still stands.

There came the first hint of problems at Edinburgh Zoo when we exclusively revealed that Gary Wilson, acting chief executive, had been suspended over anonymous allegations. He was later cleared and reinstated.

We reported the death of university lecturer Roger Gray after an alleged stabbing at his home in Merchiston.

The month ended with the news that five more council staff had been suspended as part of the probe in the statutory repairs scandal.

Perhaps overshadowing all were two major international stories – the Arab Spring uprisings had sparked civil war in Libya and Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami.

APRIL

April was dominated by the marriage of Wills and Kate, marked by street parties and a day off work for many.

The story of four-year-old Shale the wonder cat on April 1 may have sounded like an April Fool . . . only it wasn’t. The puss plunged 100ft from her owner’s penthouse flat in Granton – and survived.

A skeleton found on the banks of the River Almond in Livingston was initially linked to the disappearance of 88-year-old Mary Ferns. It was later discovered to be the remains of a man.

Melanie Purdie, sister of murder victim Lee Duncan, found dead at his flat in Lauriston Place in February, made an emotional appeal through the News for help in catching his killer.

A long-standing ban on commercial vehicles driving through Holyrood Park was enforced by the police. Even funeral directors were warned hearses could be given an on-the-spot fine.

Meanwhile, on Arthur’s Seat, mystery stone sculptures were discovered – an impressive bagpiper, a boat, and a cow alongside declarations of love. The artist remains unknown.

Plans of a merger between Edinburgh colleges, Jewel and Esk and Stevenson, into the second biggest institution of its kind in Scotland emerged.

And the first hint of a plan to halt the truncated tram line at Haymarket – an issue which would blow up at the city chambers later in the year.