Common Ridings and Gala Days help ensure we have a thriving community spirit – Christine Grahame

Penicuik holds a celebration week for the Hunter Lad and His Lass
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Community is a strange and diverse beast. It can be your street, your tenement, your village, sometimes even your town or city. During Covid that community was all of us, evident when at 8pm we applauded health and social care staff, banged pot lids, blew horns and even played bagpipes.

I recall the first time that happened being resistant as it seemed too American for me. Next week, there I was, hanging out the Velux applauding, quite taken aback and moved by the sounds from strangers in tenements nearby. Walking the local neighbourhood in those allocated 30-minute slots, I met folk who like me had lived in the area for years, but I had never ever spoken to.

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We have lost that. No more chats, no more walks like these. The fear, the restrictions we all had, united us but now we are back to “normal”. However, there are parts of my constituency where community thrives, especially in these summer months of Gala Days and Common Ridings.

In Midlothian, the Newtongrange Gala Day, a legacy of mining days, no matter what the weather, has the funfairs, competitions, crowning of the Gala Queen accompanied by her entourage all beautifully dressed to kill. Meantime the brass band plays on.

In Penicuik, there is the celebration week for the Hunter Lad and His Lass, a commemoration of Robert the Bruce gifting and designating its boundaries. This involves the Hunter, his Lass and supporters riding the marches. I was impressed that the Hunter had never ridden before and had taken a crash course. Apt as he fell off.

Their installation took place last Thursday. First, there was dancing from a local dance school, then the winner of the primary school talent competition performed. This year’s winner was a far-from-intimidated Damien reeling off jokes with aplomb. Move over Kevin Bridges (you heard it here first). There is a whole week of competitions culminating in Penicuik in the Park on the Saturday. More funfairs but also lots of stalls in particular from the voluntary sector.

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That is the day when the wider community of Penicuik streams into the local park and enjoys simply being there. Mind you £3.50 for a poke of chips did make me wince. Gravy was extra.

The Cornet and his followers head for Lauder Moor (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)The Cornet and his followers head for Lauder Moor (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)
The Cornet and his followers head for Lauder Moor (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)

Across the Scottish Borders, community is alive and well, exemplified in the Common Ridings whether it is the Beltane in Peebles, Braw Lad in Galashiels, Whipman in West Linton right across to Lauder and beyond. I am privileged as the local MSP to be invited to attend many of these when the idea of community is demonstrated across the generations and when the streets are filled with cheering crowds as the principals and entourage walk the local streets.

I even get the odd wave! The various principals then attend Ridings across the South of Scotland. At the Penicuik installation, for example, the West Linton, Musselburgh and even Kelso principals were in attendance. This links communities together.

So there it is, community. In some places, it defines itself through commemorating historic events or, in the recent past, through the pandemic. In these, I hope, quieter times, community is also globally celebrated at Hogmanay, as we reflect on the year past and the year ahead.

Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale

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