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Cullen hotel wins SCDI award for 'amazing' Covid response


By Calum MacLeod

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Cullen Bay Hotel retained all its staff through the Covid crisis and helped provide thousands of free meals for the local community.
Cullen Bay Hotel retained all its staff through the Covid crisis and helped provide thousands of free meals for the local community.

A MORAY hotel's commitment to helping its local community before and during the Covid crisis helped it win out over big name rivals to become a winner at the Scottish Council for Industry and Development (SCDI) 2021 Highlands and Islands Excellence Awards.

Cullen Bay Hotel saw off competition from Port of Cromarty Firth and aquaculture giant MOWI to win the Crown Estate Scotland Award for outstanding supporter of coastal communities.

Announcing the winner at the online awards event, Crown Estate Scotland chairwoman Amanda Bryan said that while the three finalists were all quite different, they had all demonstrated energy and commitment to supporting their areas in their own way.

However, Cullen Bay Hotel had been selected the winner for its huge commitment to the Moray area, not just through Covid, but over the previous eight years.

"In that time they have welcomed thousands of visitors, boosting Moray's tourism industry," she said.

"They have employed many local people, including young people, and maintained their full complement of staff, even during the Covid pandemic. They support local businesses by using local produce, and quite amazingly, they served up thousands of free meals to people from Cullen and neighbouring towns over the last year during the Covid crisis."

When asked why he was doing this, hotel owner Ian Watson said it was because it was the right thing to do.

Accepting the award, Mr Watson said: "We are accepting this award not only on behalf of ourselves and our staff, but everyone who contributed or donated, companies or individuals. It was absolutely overwhelming. It also give an opportunity to connect with the community in a way that you wouldn't normally get and we have to thank everyone who appreciated what we did. It's just phenomenal. We are overwhelmed."

There was another win for Moray with AES Solar collecting the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Award for excellence in upskilling, reskilling and emerging leaders.

SCDI chief executive Sara Thiam welcomed the awards event as an opportunity to recognise the people who have kept the Highlands and Islands economy going through the hardest of years.

"Not only have many continued to provide much needed products and services to communities, many have transformed their businesses for the better," she continued.

"The ability to work across public, private and third sectors marks SCDI members out and their commitment to people and planet will ensure that they will continue to create prosperity in the Highlands and Islands for many years to come.”

The online ceremony, hosted by comedian and impressionist Alistair McGowan, saw a total of 10 awards announced for businesses, social enterprises and individuals.

Excellence in people development winner Aquascot is now fully employee owned.
Excellence in people development winner Aquascot is now fully employee owned.

Among the winners was Alness fish processing firm Aquascot, which won the SCDI sponsored people development award for its commitment to offering is staff – or partners, as they are known in the employee owned company – opportunities to learn and progress.

Fellow aquaculture firm MOWI won the excellence in international business title.

Ben Hadfield, MOWI Scotland's chief operating officer, said: "The last 18 months have been tough for everybody in the Scottish salmon industry. I know how hard the team here at Mowi has worked, especially to overcome the challenges posed by Brexit so it is great to see this acknowledged by the SCDI through this award."

Other winners included Inverness hotelier Tony Story of Kingsmills Hotel Group, who was named outstanding business leader, and Inverness-based Williamson Foodservice, which won the Highland Council Award for Highland spirit and resilience, while AES Solar of Forres won the award for excellence in upskilling, reskilling and emerging leaders.

The most southerly award went to SAMS, the Scottish Association for Marine Science near Oban, winner of the marine innovation/growing the blue economy award.

Durness-based Plastic@bay, which removes plastic pollution from north beaches and helps give it new life in recycled products, was named winner of the excellence in natural capital, climate change and sustainable communities, pipping Aviemore-based McGowan Environmental Engineering to the title.

Martin and Claire Murray, the co-founders of the SCDI Highlands and Islands Chair's Award for outstanding business.
Martin and Claire Murray, the co-founders of the SCDI Highlands and Islands Chair's Award for outstanding business.

Dunnet Bay Distillers, founded by Martin and Claire Murray as a lifestyle business eight years ago, received the SCDI Highlands and Islands chair's award for outstanding achievement.

This was announced by outgoing regional chairwoman Jane Cumming, who praised the couple not only for their business success, but their commitment to sustainability with their innovative refill pouches.

She commented: "I’ve been hugely impressed watching their progress – they are a company that is always moving forward.

"To me they exemplify what is great about our wonderful part of the world – their location is an asset, not an obstacle and they are flexible and innovative in their approach. This has put them at the forefront of gin production in a region more usually associated with Scotch whisky and I am delighted to honour them with the chair’s award for outstanding business achievement.”

Ms Cumming was also able to share a positive message from a speaker from the Bank of England, who had suggested to a SCDI vistual meeting that the Highlands and Islands was in a better position than most to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

"As he pointed out, we already survive in a challenging environment economically," she said.

"We are very far removed from many of our key markets. We also have a large proportion of SMEs and micro businesses, who are usually more flexible and innovative than other companies. We have some great people here and I believe his analysis could well be right. I do hope so."

Tony Story of Kingsmills Hotel...Picture: Gary Anthony..
Tony Story of Kingsmills Hotel...Picture: Gary Anthony..

The SCDI Highlands and Islands Business Excellence Awards winners for 2021:

SCDI Highlands and Islands Chair’s Award for outstanding business achievement: Dunnet Bay Distillers

Alvance Aluminium Award for outstanding business leader: Tony Story, Kingsmills Hotel Group

Benromach Award for excellence in international business: MOWI

Ocean Winds Award for Excellence in marine innovation and growing the blue economy: SAMS

SCDI Award for excellence in people development: Aquascot

The Crown Estate Scotland Award for outstanding supporter of coastal communities: Cullen Bay Hotel

The Harper Macleod Award for excellence in natural capital, climate change and sustainable communities: Plastic@bay

The Highland Council Award for Highland spirit and resilience: Williamson Foodservice

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise Award for excellence in upskilling, reskilling and emerging leaders: AES Solar

The Open University in Scotland Award for SME enterprise of the year: Mesomorphic


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