One of the top bosses of the firm behind The Fife Arms in Braemar has spoken out about the lack of help available to rural residents in Aberdeenshire as vulnerable people continue to go without power.
Ewan Venters, CEO of Artfarm, the independent hospitality and development company owned by Manuela and Iwan Wirth, says more needs to be done for rural communities when crisis’ like Storm Arwen arise.
The storm battered homes and businesses across the country on Friday night as tens of thousands of homes were ploughed into darkness.
Based in London, Ewan has been coordinating the emergency response for The Fife Arms in Aberdeenshire and has been working alongside general manager, Marc Denton, to further support the local community, as well as their guests.
Storm Arwen impact
The team at The Fife Arms quickly got to work in assembling blankets, hot food and drinks for locals, with some delivering supplies to those most vulnerable in the village.
He said: “In the last hour or two there is power back in Braemar. I think it is possibly being driven by temporary generators until they get everything back up and running.
“The hotel has a backup generator on the grounds of the property so we were able to look after our guests up until Sunday morning. We stopped new people coming to the hotel on Saturday and the other guests left on Sunday morning.
“We lost power on Saturday evening and the chef’s team ended up doing a open fire barbecue in the courtyard.
“In a sense, when you’re in the moment it is quite jolly, but what wasn’t jolly, is that the response from the Scottish Government has been pretty shambolic at getting the emergency services, the army and power company employees deployed.
“It has taken until, we think, Monday afternoon to restore power to 40,000 homes in Deeside. There have been so many vulnerable people without power, heating or phone service since Friday.
“As of 10.30am, the water tanks of Braemar were dry. Without power there was no ability to pump water into the tanks. I know Aberdeenshire Council were dispatching lorries to Braemar to top up the tanks and to put a generator in the village to pump the water.”
Fife Arms command station
Establishing the hotel as a community hub, the team helped serve up hot drinks and food to keep locals fed and provided a place to help people stay warm.
He added: “The Fife became a command station and the team were distributing blankets, were making hot drinks and there was a lot of distribution of items by other local people to others, too.
“Those who were able to get out and about were able to take refuge in the hotel. It has been a big community drive from everyone.
“There is probably still hundreds of homes without power and there will still be a lot of distressed people without heat, power and potentially water. It has been incredibly dangerous for the super young and the super old.
“On one level I am desperately proud of the team behind The Fife Arms and the support they have provided for the community, but on the other, where was the professional support services?
“It is a humanitarian disaster of sorts potentially occurring. Without power, water and heat, people in the most vulnerable sectors of our society in rural communities could be at great risk.”
With winds bringing down trees and icy roads causing chaos, Ewan says lessons need to be learned.
“I am inquisitive to know why the army wasn’t swept into action to mobilise generators in local hot spots to help these communities?”.
Community safety is key just now
With the hotel now operating as a safe haven for locals in need, Ewan is unsure when it will reopen to guests.
The priority right now is ensuring everyone is safe and well.
“The first 24 hours, the staff were managing from their own properties but as guests left on Sunday morning, we moved most of them into the hotel. Otherwise we could have had a lot of sick or ill employees who wouldn’t have been able to respond in the way they did.
“Everybody just did the right thing. Our responsibility operating in a rural area is of course to look after our guests, but turn our attentions fast to the local community and figure out how we can best help.
“We lost our phone lines yesterday but had them up and running this morning and we started a message board so loved ones of people living outwith Braemar who couldn’t get in touch with family and friends could contact us so that we could try and get messages to them.
“The Co-op in the village has been phenomenal – they brought us 10 chickens this morning so we could make more food for the community.
“We saw The Red Cross in the village, briefly, and when they turn up you know you are in trouble.”
“My main question is, where was the local government to support? Where is the army? Where is the help?”