Ticks and crosses: Village’s novel way of tackling Covid-19

Ballachulish in the Highlands has amassed a team of around 50 volunteers in just a few days.

The idea is simple.

If you’re healthy and able to go about your daily business, you put a green tick on your window or front door. If you’re not so well or otherwise need help, you put up a red cross.

That’s the innovative approach to looking after the community during the coronavirus pandemic being taken in Ballachulish.

Like so many other communities in Scotland, this Highland village is trying to band together and look out for one another, particularly the most vulnerable among them.

For local councillor Niall McLean, it’s partly about taking at least some of the weight off the shoulders of public services and government both locally and nationally.

“At the beginning of all this, I was quite worried because I thought, you know, what have we got?” he said.

“We’re in a small village, we’re reasonably isolated, we’ve got one shop.”

A team of locals decided on Saturday to take matters into their own hands – and in the space of a few days, they’ve amassed 50 volunteers from all walks of life, from doctors to joiners to plumbers.

The self-styled community “resilience group” had, within 24 hours, 20 vehicles at its disposal – everything from cars, to vans, to a snowplough.

The team has already been able to install public hand-wash stations, like the one outside the village’s main shop, the Co-op.

“I was absolutely astounded with what came forward when we started this initiative,” said Mr McLean.

“We’re a strong community and I think you’ll find as well in your community that there is a huge amount of strength and it just needs identified.”

As governments try to coordinate their response to the virus, he feels the inherent bureaucracy in their processes means they will inevitably struggle to act quickly enough given the scale of the crisis – a comment he doesn’t mean as a criticism but just as a fact.

Mr McLean said: “We’ve pulled together the resources in the village, we’ve looked at who’s in need and we’ve looked at who’s got extra and who’s got capability.”

He added: “A lot of people are worried about whether or not the cavalry’s coming. Well, we decided: we are the cavalry, and we’ve got the horses.”

With the group’s ever-growing team of volunteers, they had the capacity to deliver the green tick and red cross flags to every one of Ballachulish’s roughly 700 inhabitants.

Mr McLean believes the concept could take hold in communities across Scotland and the UK and benefit them massively, giving them a clear idea of local needs.

Already, nearby villages in the Highlands, as well as groups as far afield as Cornwall and Wales, have been inspired to take up the idea for their own.

So that any community anywhere in the UK can launch a similar project if they wish, the Ballachulish group has put all the materials they use onto a new website, covidgo.uk.

“If we can carry out this initiative here in Ballachulish, anyone can do it,” said Mr McLean.