There is an antidote to the sinister rise of anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric some would be happy to unleash into our society – and that cure for poisonous prejudice can be found in Westhill.
The town had its doubts about the arrival of 150 male refugees in April, to be housed in the Hampton hotel while their asylum claims were processed. But fast-forward some four months and that wariness has morphed rather wonderfully into a warm welcome.
Local groups are now banding together to help the new residents adjust to life in the area as they await the outcome of their asylum claims, and the refugees, in turn, are helping improve the community, with odd jobs, a bike repair enterprise, and even a litter pick.
And what has brought about this change in attitude? Basic human decency, that’s what.
The people of Westhill saw these men for who they are – ordinary folk who have lost everything to war and chaos in countries like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Locals saw the needs of their guests, they got to know them, and stretched out a caring hand of friendship. The men, who are now trying to rebuild their lives, took it and repaid it in kind and with gratitude.
This should be the way of the world, where those who can lift those who need help back to their feet, with compassion and dignity.
It is a sad reality of our times that the plight of those fleeing terror and brutality is used as a political game by some politicians in this country for their own nefarious interests.
There are grisly characters who gleefully paint those looking to rebuild their shattered lives on these shores as villains and spongers, out to cream our benefit system and sully our “way of life”. It is in their interest to sow division and create a fear of the other, to act as a smokescreen for their own gross incompetence and the stench of corruption around them.
It wasn’t a handful of frightened men fleeing for their lives from a brutal regime who created appalling austerity, ripped us out of Europe, then, quite deliberately, crashed our economy, was it?
Westhill is leading the way. It’s a path we should all follow
So, it is like a breath of fresh air to see what is happening in Westhill. Ordinary people – both those who live in the town and those who have newly arrived – working side by side to create a better future for everyone.
This is something the north-east has been doing for generations. We have an enviable reputation as a place that celebrates diversity, welcomes all who come here, and does everything in its power to help them put down roots.
Westhill is leading the way. It’s a path we should all follow.
And how much richer, better and prouder will our communities be if those fleeing into our arms today call the north-east home tomorrow?
Fast food is increasingly dangerous for pedestrians
You know that thing about the Highway Code being updated recently – did I miss the bit where it says none of the laws apply if you are on two wheels, delivering takeout food in Aberdeen?
Red lights? Don’t apply if you are on a bike and there’s a hot pizza in your insulated bag.
Riding on the pavement? Fine, just get that box of noodles to someone’s door in time.
Pedestrians crossing on the green man? Carve through fast enough and no one will notice, other than catching the vague scent of curry in your slipstream.
Sadly, though, none of this is remotely funny.
I’ve had more than a couple of close shaves, where I’ve stepped off the pavement on a green man and nearly been knocked flying by a speeding idiot on a bike. You have to look both ways, even when the “cross now” beeps are beeping.
And who hasn’t had to step smartly to one side because a delivery bloke is tearing towards you on the pavement? On the pavement!
It’s not just pedal bikes. It’s big, chunky ebikes and even scooters – all driven at high speed by someone glued to Google Maps on their phone to see where they are supposed to be delivering chips. It’s getting like a reenactment of Death Race 2000.
Surely it’s time for a little light enforcement – or, even better, a lot of heavy enforcement – to curb this menace?
Scott Begbie is a journalist and editor, formerly for The Press and Journal and Evening Express