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‘Show me how it will be done’: Highland weaver calls for clarity on Cromarty green freeport jobs

Port of Nigg from the air.
What, when, how many years? Prickly Thistle asks when freeport jobs will happen. Image: HIE

A Black Isle business owner has questioned the extent of consultation during Opportunity Cromarty Firth’s (OCF) winning green freeport bid process.

OCF secured a share of the £52 million green freeport government funding, which it has said will be key to attracting at least £2.5 billion of new private sector investment, creating 25,000 jobs and ensuring local content targets for offshore windfarm developments are met, rather than the work going abroad.

But Highland weaving mill Prickly Thistle founder Clare Campbell has raised questions over where the thousands of jobs cited in the bid will come from and to what extent environmental philosophies were considered.

Prickly Thistle owner and self confessed ‘tartan rebel’ Clare Campbell said ‘show me how it will be done’. Image: Flair Gunn

The importance of the announcement – which also saw the Forth Green freeport win the other Scottish freeport status – was underlined by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in attendance at the Port of Cromarty.

The winning bid for Inverness and the Cromarty Firth, submitted by OCF in June, allows for a package of tax and customs allowances, as well as investment incentives for areas around airports, seaports and rail terminals.

OCF was up against some hefty competitors in the shape of North East Scotland Green Freeport, a joint application from Aberdeen and Peterhead, Orkney Green Freeport, Forth Green Freeport and Clyde Green Freeport.

Map of green freeport area
Freeport area is significant. Image: Clarke Cooper/DCT Media.

Ms Campbell, a former accountant who re-established traditional weaving in the region when she opened the mill in Evanton, Easter Ross, in 2018, has also asked for evidence on how “green” the freeport will be.

Challenging the freeport

“Who did they speak to, how circular were they in their thinking? We were not consulted,” she said.

“It is one thing to say you are going to create thousands of jobs, but what, when, how many years?

“You can’t greenwash it with a headline, show me how it will be done.

“Does it grow skills transfer, is it circular? For me, it was at what point did you reach out to the real community?

“If you were really going to shake up this linear way of life, then businesses from all sectors can collaborate.”

Prickly Thistle founder Clare Campbell in front of a loom.
Prickly Thistle founder Clare Campbell. Image: Jasper Image.

Ms Campbell insists her volley of questions to OCF are in line with her company’s attitude: “We love nothing more than being challenged,” she said.

The Prickly Thistle owner also raised a very specific question relating to her sector, namely that of the sustainability of textiles to the many thousands of workers who may now be required in the freeport catchment area.

Ms Campbell said: “We have a very clear textiles question. We had a local oil and gas supply company who came to us and said we have got textiles waste, a huge problem.

“We are looking to pilot a trial to build a circular economy into the business. I am thinking if there are 30,000 (new) jobs how much polyester will be kicking about? I am open for a conversation.

“Workwear is worth $36bn globally.”

OCF was contacted for comment.

Business unplugged

Separately the company also recently decided to unplug itself from social media and three months later, Ms Campbell insists there are “no regrets whatsoever,” citing negativity surrounding the effect it can have on mental health.

Social media symbols with woman looking at them
Image: Shutterstock/Gemma Day

“Absolutely, we want to sell things but how do you do it in a way not to target someone’s vulnerability? I just thought, is it worth it for the sale of a scarf?

“Everyone has a slight fear they might miss out on something, but that is nuts.”

In the weeks since dropping social media, the firm has found the change to be positive with many people contacting them to say what they think about the move.

Ms Campell added: “Literally everyone I speak to wants to do it. I met a lady in Dundee who really liked our brand and said she went to follow us on Instagram and then realised we’d unplugged.

“She said she loved us even more when she saw that.”

Prickly Thistle founder Clare Campbell sitting in a chair with her arms in the air
Prickly Thistle now only contactable by traditional means. Image: Prickly Thistle.

Prickly Thistle is now contactable purely via its website, email, phone or in person.

Prickly Thistle is the first textile mill and clothing manufacturer in the UK to become B Corp Certified.

The accreditation is awarded to businesses which provide evidence to show how they are a force for good, benefitting society as a whole through social and environmental consciousness, as well as actions.