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HRH Princess Alexandra formally opening the Puffin Pool


Provided by Dr Malcolm Steven, Chair of the Puffin Pool Board from its initiation in 1992 until 2018.

The Puffin Pool began as an idea by interested clinicians working with arthritis patients in the Highlands.  The Highland Rheumatology Unit had developed from a house built in Strathpeffer Spa with charity funds raised by Victorian patrons to accommodate poor patients who could not afford to stay in the hotels.  The Nicolson MacKenzie Hospital had experienced medical and nursing staff and specialist physiotherapy which provided valuable assessment and treatment to Highland arthritis sufferers, particularly those living in the islands and remoter mainland villages where specialist treatment was hard to access.  By the late 1980's it badly needed a more modern facility and the opportunity arose to relocate the Unit to the former Peterkin Maternity Unit at the Ross Memorial Hospital in Dingwall.  This meant that the dedicated/specialist staff could offer intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy combined with specialist nursing and medical input with access to the newer arthritis drugs. It was appreciated that hydrotherapy should be part of the physiotherapy armamentarium but lack of NHS funds seemed to preclude provision of a heated pool.

Undaunted a group of NHS clinicians and Ross-shire based volunteers decided to establish a charity and fundraise, encouraged by the success that this approach had been for Highland in  acquiring its first CT scanner and the Highland Hospice. Happily there were a cohort of people, mostly Ross-shire based  who took up the idea with enthusiasm and fundraising by patients, families, communities and local companies raised the large sum of around £400,000.

The Puffin Pool name which proved such a successful one for fundraising and sticking in the public mind was chosen at an early meeting by Isabel Urquhart, Margaret Buchanan and Jan MacLaren.  The Highland Cross were particularly pivotal in the fundraising and have continued to be major benefactors.  The late Neil McKechnie also garnered a large grant from Ross and Cromarty Enterprise which was used to create a Capital Development Fund which generated income to subsidise the running costs and underwrite future large expenditure on the Pool.  Local lawyer Stewart Christie, our first secretary, wisely set up the Charity as a Limited Company and like our most recent and long serving Secretary Hugh MacKay, was also instrumental in fundraising and recruiting other Board members from the community.  Jim Bremner took over as Treasurer early on and kept our finances on the straight and narrow and supported the Pool staff on an almost daily basis.

A major change of concept came through the input of Rory Mair, Chief Executive at Ross and Cromarty District Council, who saw the need for a facility which had a role beyond that of the arthritis community and the larger pool which resulted hugely extended the role of hydrotherapy to other groups of adults and children with a variety of acute and long term conditions . The District Council also donated the invaluable services of their architect Ian MacDonald whose design has proved not only attractive but practical and enduring and the Puffin Pool was duly built adjacent to the Highland Rheumatology Unit on land leased from them for a nominal rent.

Important though the building has been, the success of the enterprise has been down to people. Day to day running was wisely contracted to Highland Council staff and more recently High Life Highland whose team under the able leadership of Lisa MacDonald were deservedly recognised at their recent awards ceremony. 


Aqualeisure have from the outset given us critically important support in plant maintenance and repair.  Managing Director Brian Hepburn has always been more than just a supplier of service, freely giving invaluable technical advice. The most important people have undoubtedly been the physiotherapists who assess users and ensure they are having effective physiotherapy.  Fran Bowen's contribution has been outstanding and her energy and enthusiasm have made the difference between the Puffin Pool being just another leisure facility and its actual provision of professional, therapeutic, hydrotherapy.

The necessity to continue fundraising after the Pool was built, came as a shock and disappointment but I came to realise that the process of fundraising gave the users and community a sense of ownership and willingness to support us which is greater than seen for public bodies such as the NHS and the Council. In that respect, countless individuals have contributed and the charity shop initiated by Margaret Buchanan and staffed by many volunteers has been at the centre of our visible presence in the community as well as undertaking outstanding fundraising.

Malcolm Steven

Retired Consultant Rheumatologist

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