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Covid: Piping competitions pay the price over pandemic travel restrictions

european pipe band championships
Piping Inverness in 2019

The Covid pandemic has put paid to Europe’s biggest pipe band competition – causing a multi-million pound blow to the Highland economy.

The European Pipe Band Championships, part of the popular Piping Inverness event, was one of the biggest highlights of the instrument’s calendar in the Highlands, attracting 100 bands and 17,500 visitors when last held in the city in 2019.

The setback has come at the same time another massive competition was called off in Lewis, and other major events such as the Black Isle Show are being cancelled across the region.

The European championships were scheduled to take place at Bught Park in the Highland capital in June, but organisers pulled the plug due to uncertainty around Covid travel restrictions, given competitors normally travel from across the globe.

Ian Embelton, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA), said: “Our decision is based on the latest guidance from the Scottish Government, as well as advice taken from our key partners.”

Inverness B&B owner Andrea Skinner, of the newly-formed Scottish Guest House and B&B Alliance, said: “It is such a shame. Now that we are in the second year of cancellations of events like this then the momentum we have built up over several years of hard work will have gone.

“It will take a long time for events such as this to get to the success rates that they had over the last few years.

“The longer it goes on without an opening date we will lose more events and a lot more business, not only to Inverness and the Highlands but to the whole of Scotland.”

Inverness West Councillor, Alex Graham, a former city provost whose constituency covers the Bught Park venue, said: “It is hugely disappointing that this major event has been cancelled.

European Pipe Band Championships

“Since it came to Inverness from Forres it has been a great asset to the city, attracting thousands of participants and spectators and providing a massive boost to the economy just prior to the summer tourist season kicking off.

“I understand the reasons behind the decision and hope it will return next year in all its glory.”

Fellow Inverness councillor and self-confessed “rusty piper”, Ron McWilliam, added: “The cancellation of Piping Inverness for a second year is dreadful news for both piping and the local economy.

“The absence of competitive events is a serious setback for those playing at a professional level. Speaking as an incredibly rusty piper myself, I can confirm that practice is important.

“However, public health must come first. When this tragic pandemic is over I would like to see a focused effort from the civic team in Inverness to secure prestigious piping events for the city in the longer term.”

Council convener Bill Lobban added: “Whilst it is very unfortunate to lose yet another major event from the Highlands we have to consider first and foremost what is best for the community as a whole and the organisers deserve a deal of credit for taking what must have been a very difficult decision .

“We are still in the midst of the pandemic and the paramount consideration must be to keep the virus under control as much as possible.

Organisers LCC Live first hosted Piping Inverness in 2019 as part of a three-year agreement with the RSPBA.

Director Les Kidger said: “We’re so disappointed that Piping Inverness, which incorporates the European Pipe Band Championships, won’t be taking place this year.

“Events like this, take a considerable amount of time to organise, and with so much uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, we have, in partnership with the RSPBA, made the decision not to host this year’s event.

European Pipe Band Championships

“We are talking to the RSPBA about the possibility of extending our delivery contract into 2022 and 2023, as we’d love to welcome the European Pipe Band Championships back to Inverness.

“2019 was a terrific event and brought many thousands of people to the local area and had a huge economic impact on Inverness and the Highlands.”

He added: “We will be reaching out to our delivery partners, including Highland Council and Highlife Highland, in the near future to discuss the possibility of hosting this renowned European event in Inverness and bringing it back for a further two years.”

Last month, councillors agreed to spend £303,000 from its Common Good Fund on supporting the development of a refreshed events and festivals programme.

It aims to support the economic recovery and social well-being of the city Covid restrictions are relaxed.