Gina Davidson: Communities need gala champ Karen Keil

KAREN Keil seems to be one of life's indefatigable women.

Thursday, 12th May 2016, 10:25 am
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2016, 11:27 am
Karen Keil during the 2009 campaign to save Drumbrae school. Picture: Greg Macvean
Karen Keil during the 2009 campaign to save Drumbrae school. Picture: Greg Macvean

She got elected to the council at her first attempt four years ago, without doubt because of her strong links to the community she represents.

It might be because she’s a minister’s wife that she’s so embedded in Clermiston and Drumbrae, but you get the feeling that should you in anyway criticise these Edinburgh suburbs she’d react like a mother who’s discovered her child is being bullied. No quarter given, no mercy shown.

She first made a name for herself in the pages of this paper when she was campaigning, along with many other parents, to save Drumbrae school from closure back in 2009. Perhaps it was that which got her political blood up and convinced her to stand for election. But it’s certainly why I was unsurprised to see her criticising her own coalition administration when she came out fighting for the Clermiston & Drumbrae Gala, an event she chairs and has done for nearly two decades.

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She may have been rapped across the knuckles by her boss Andrew Burns for her public criticisms of the licensing fees which community fairs are charged – the SNP group also complained about her actions – but she was right to be critical.

The fees which are applied to gala days such as that at Drumbrae or Corstorphine, or the other 15 held throughout the city, are the same as those applied to the massive, expensive and tourist-focused events in Princes Street at Festival time or during winter. It’s no wonder that many are now saying that this could well be the last year they will run.

The volunteers behind the Corstorphine Fair were the first to break ranks and complain publicly about how much they were likely to be charged – £7000 was the expected top figure. Over at Clermiston the total was £3000 – half the fair’s usual income.

Fees for funfair rides, fees for ponies, fees for public entertainment, fees for market stalls – fees, fi, fo, fum the council smells the blood, sweat and tears of fairs’ volunteers and wants a slice of the action.

I’ve been to the bi-annual Corstorphine Fair a few times. The sun always seems to shine – though that might be a trick of the memory. It’s an amazing day out, a mix of community and charity stalls (more than 100), funfair rides and slides, ice-cream vendors and burger vans, a stage for entertainment of differing aptitudes, all set in the lovely St Margaret’s Park. And there’s always someone on stilts.

It’s the biggest event of it’s kind in Edinburgh attracting around 20,000 people. Possibly not all from Corstorphine, but the vast majority will be neighbours. While it’s understandable the cash-strapped council wants to draw in as much money from large-scale events as it can, which is why it changed the rules in 2013 meaning anything which attracts more than 500 people has to pay more, it seems unfair for this stance to ensnare not-for-profit community galas.

And while there are ways to appeal and have fees waived or reduced, it’s not fair on these community events that there costs are constantly rising, being regarded in the same light as massive city centre events, usually aimed directly at tourists.

Edinburgh is a city full of inequalities and social divides. But gala days and fayres and fetes – call them what you will – are the glue that binds communities together.

Run by volunteers, they need all the support they can get to thrive and survive – they don’t need exorbitant fees and red tape put in the way of bringing people together.

So more power to Karen Keil’s elbow and that of all the volunteers of Edinburgh’s galas who do their bit to make their communities stronger.

Robert’s spreading happiness - and happy meals

MY mild-mannered hero of the week is Robert Aitken, who spent £70 in McDonald’s on burgers and fries before handing the grub out to rough sleepers on the city’s streets. The good-hearted Fifer said he felt the need to help after seeing so many homeless people in the city centre. Brings a whole new meaning to a McDonald’s “happy meal”.

Five years of interest ahead

SO much for my electoral predictions last week, the crystal ball was a little hazy. Like everyone else I knew the SNP would be back in government, but to clutch at straws I did say there would be much talk of a Tory resurgence and there’d be more Greens in Holyrood.

I shouldn’t, but here’s a very safe prediction – it’s going to be an interesting five years watching an SNP minority government being forced to work with opposition MSPs, learning what the Tories will say with their new-found voices, and listening to what Labour will do to try and claw it’s way back into voters’ affections. Expect the unexpected.

Ferry good fish supper

TUCKING into a fish supper from one of the best chippies in Scotland – the Anstruther Fish Bar – will become much easier from this weekend. Rather than a two hour driver you can hop on the Forth Ferry at North Berwick and sail there in 55 minutes. They might have to stock up on sauce.

Cutting back on cutting back...

RELAXED cutting is the phrase used by the council to describe the reduction in grass mowing in parks and play areas across the city. It’s all part of a scheme to increase the biodiversity of the city’s green spaces, to create a “living landscape”. Which is all very environmentally-friendly and should be encouraged (I’m assuming Princes St Gardens and the Meadows will still be more manicured).

Of course, that this policy also saves on costs is just a happy accident. And given the lack of mowers available – I’ve been told for instance there’s only one to get round all the council-owned cemeteries – it seems eminently sensible.